top of page
Closeup of a Black Dog

Tips for De-escalating Negative

Dog-Dog Interactions

If you identify a dog displaying warning signs of increasing antisocial behavior, what actions can you take to avoid a situation getting out of control? Prevention is the best practice, that is, intervening with a distraction, calling the dog off if a chase is getting less than playful, or leashing your dog and removing her/him from the situation before a fight breaks out. But sometimes aggression escalates quickly and can result in fighting. If that happens, here are a few things you can do to make the situation safer for everyone involved: 


  • Remain calm. While it may be your first instinct, running toward and yelling at two dogs that are fighting usually has the opposite of the intended effect. Your own aggressive energy can cause the dogs to feel even more threatened.

  • Use distraction. Use something that you know evokes a positive response from a dog to try to divert his or her attention; for example, saying something like “do you want a treat?” or “where’s your ball?” may turn the dog’s attention toward you for enough time to safely intervene and disrupt the physical contact. 

  • Don't use your body; use aversive tools.

    • You should always bring emergency tools to the dog park, just in case. They will prevent injury to both dogs and people. People are known to get severe and damaging bites by trying to break up dog fights with their hands and bodies, as the dog may not realize they are biting a human, and may not inhibit their bites as they normally would if they feel they’re being attacked, or think they are biting another dog. Dogs have protective coats, whereas humans just have skin, so the same bite can be much more damaging to a person than another dog.

    • Try tools in the following order: clapping, using a strong voice (not yelling), water/spray bottles, insert chairs or boards or other furniture, spray with a hose or dump a bucket of water, citronella spray, or set off an air horn in the faces of the fighting dogs. If one or both dogs are still attached to a leash, and the leash is laying behind the fighting dogs, pull them back by the end of the leash furthest from the collar.

    • Tools need to be used very close to the dogs’ heads or in their faces to truly break up an intense fight. None of these tools will hurt the animals, but using an air horn will likely startle everyone around you, so this can be most useful in a pile-on situation, rather than a one-on-one spat. 

  • Engage the buddy system to “wheelbarrow.” Even if you don’t know the other people around, it’s a lot more effective to have a partner to get control of two dogs. If the dogs have NOT locked on (neither is biting and holding), each person should each grab one of the fighting dogs from behind, at their hips—where the torso meets the legs. Then pull all the way up like you would with a wheelbarrow and back away as quickly and as far as possible from the other dog. Be aware the dog getting wheelbarrowed may turn around to bite what is instinctively grabbing them. This is why it’s so important to hold the dog as vertically as possible, so the dog has the least amount of leverage, and try to get them as quickly as possible into an area where there are no other dogs, where you can let go. Multiple people doing this at once is safer than a bunch of loose dogs with only one dog being wheelbarrowed.

  • If Dogs are Locked-On.

    • It is important that you DO NOT pull the biting dog back by the collar or hips, as it can create more damage to the victim than just letting the aggressor hold on. Instead, after removing other dogs who are not directly involved, ideally have one person straddle the biting dog’s torso, and stabilize the aggressor’s head, so as to minimize him shaking the other dog in his jaws, which can increase damage. Also, take hold of the aggressor’s collar, and either try to insert a wedged stick (known as a break stick) or similar object into the biting dog’s mouth, so that s/he has to unclench her/his jaws.

    • If you do not have a break stick with you, try to push the biting dog’s head into the victim dog, so that the pressure will cause him to unclench his jaws. Once the biting dog has released the other dog, the second handler should pull the non-biting dog away by the hips and both dogs should be evaluated for injuries. Remember, do not stick your hands in a dog’s mouth, ever, or you could receive a very bad bite. It is better to stabilize the aggressor’s head so they do not shake the other dog, and wait for them to release on their own, than to pull a dog off who is in the process of biting down on another dog.

Remember, even if a dog is involved in a fight, that doesn’t mean he/she is a “bad” dog. Dogs can have disagreements and misunderstandings the same way people can and do. Punishing a dog for fighting is not a solution. 

The most important factor for preventing dog fights is determining whether your dog is a good dog-park candidate. To do this, you need to know how much physical and emotional damage previous altercations with dogs caused. Dogs that are repeatedly fighting and scaring other dogs or are significantly damaging other dogs should not attend dog parks.





Humane Rescue Alliance: How to Break Up a Dog Fight

bottom of page