Kids & Pets
July 12, 2020
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Dog fights – often more bark than bite

By: Mickey Zeldes
June 7, 2019

You are walking your dog down the street and are suddenly charged at by a large off-leash dog.  While at a dog park two dogs suddenly start going at it.  Or your two dogs, who normally snuggle together, out of the blue, are fighting.  What do you do?  If you’ve ever witnessed a dog fight it sounds like both animals are being ripped apart and eaten – it is noisy and very frightening, especially if it’s your beloved pup in the middle of the fray.  Trying to break up a dog fight is the number one reason people are bit.  But, of course, you are not going to stand by and watch your beloved pet get injured, or worse.  Is there a safe way to intervene?

I love (not!) the websites that tell you the best way to handle a dog fight is to not let it start.  If we were all dog whisperers and great at reading dog body language that might be helpful advice but we aren’t (there’s lots of great videos and information about this on the web though, so I do encourage you to learn more).  It is also helpful if your dog is well socialized with dogs so they are not the ones snarling and lunging at every passing pup.  But that’s what needs to happen from the time they are puppies and not at all helpful in the heat of a battle!

Please know that human instinct is 100 percent wrong when it comes to this situation!  So you have to fight your natural inclinations to scream at the dogs and then reach for a collar to try and separate the two.  Most people become shriller when they scream and that can just excite the dogs more.  What your dog thinks is that you have just joined him (or her) in the fray and now his team has two!  You can try a loud deep shout to “knock it off” but unless it’s your two little Chihuahuas squaring off, it’s unlikely to halt an attack.  Reaching for a collar puts your hands right where the other dog’s mouth is going and thinking another dog is jumping him from behind, your dog might turn quickly and bite too.  Never a good idea!

According to the late Dr. Sophia Yin, a well-known animal behaviorist, most fights are amazingly noisy with fur, feet and heads flying but are more the “spit and drool” variety where both dogs come away unscathed.  At the most there might be a small puncture from a quick bite and release.  The dogs can shake it off and be fine together later.  But, of course, you are not about to risk that it’s something more severe!  So here are some tips to break up a fight safely.

Instead of reaching for the collar, grab the back legs (if you have another person you can each grab a dog this way and pull them apart) of the attacking dog and pull or swing him away.  Having the back legs suddenly picked up unbalances the dog and he can’t swing around to get you.  Alternatively it is suggested that you put a foot against the rib cage of the aggressor and push (not kick) him away.  This might give you enough time leash up both dogs and separate them.  Other suggestions include using a hose to spray the dogs; placing a board or whatever object you have handy between the dogs; tossing a blanket or towel over one or both of the dogs; or distracting the dogs by opening a door, ringing a doorbell or using an air horn. 

Of course, what will work will depend on the size of the dogs and the intention of the aggressor.  Being prepared with several options and knowing what not to do will help you make a safer decision and result in the best outcome.  This is not something we often have to practice so do some mental role playing so you can resist the urge to just reach in!  And hope you will never need these tips.  

Upcoming Events

Kidz ‘n Critters Summer Camp – registration is now open for our camp program. Four sessions for different age levels from 2nd grade to 7th grade.  Educational and interactive – perfect for all young animal lovers!  For details and registration forms go to or stop by the shelter.

“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home.  FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati.  No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.

Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents.  Call 588-3531 for an appointment. 

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at