How to Stop a Dog Fight – Before It Starts

Dogs are the most popular pets in America because they’re friendly, loyal, and adaptable enough to thrive with people regardless of the living situation. So, it’s no surprise that you see them pretty much everywhere. Of course, the more dogs there are, the more chance there is for them to interact with each other. And the more dogs there are crossing paths, the higher the chance for misunderstandings and even fights. For the most part, domesticated dogs are friendly and obedient. Still, it’s important to be able to understand enough about dogs to know when a fight might break out. There are some telltale signs that will give you the jump on a dangerous situation. Another reason to have your dog nearby on a safe collar.

Dogs, like people, can fight for all kinds of reasons. It may start out as play that suddenly gets out of control. Many fights begin as a squabble over food or a particular toy, or territory. Misplaced aggression can lead to fights as well. If one dog can’t act on an intended target of aggression (be it a squirrel, a stranger, or the mailman), he can respond by attacking a nearby dog, even if they’re friends. Finally, and usually most dangerously, fights can break out because a dog hasn’t been well socialized either with people or other animals.

Of course, it’s also important to understand the difference between aggression and aggressive play. Much like how young children will often play fight, dogs are known to do the same thing. There are some obvious body language signs that can tip you off to a rough, but playful fight. The most obvious is probably a move you’ve seen your dog do before when you’re enticing him with his favorite toy. They will put their front legs and chest low to the ground, while the back legs and butt remain up in the air. This is a clear invitation to play. Most surprisingly, a lot of vocalization is usually the sign of a play fight, not a real fight. Really aggressive fighting will not have as much barking as playtime.

Real fighting, on the other hand, has its own body language signals. A dog who is ready to fight will tighten up and stand in a way to seem as big as possible. They’ll also become extremely focused on the object of their aggression, to the point where it can be hard to pull them away. Other common signs of aggression are raised fur on the back of the neck and bared teeth. If you start to notice any of these signs, it’s not too late to act and stop a fight before it escalates. This is why it's important to read our article about how to manage other people and animals.

Finally, you should always remember that the more dogs there are in the mix, the higher the chance for a fight. Most dog parks are great places for everyone to play together and certainly the vast majority of dogs are at least socialized enough to handle it well enough. But it’s also a place you have to be on your highest alert – especially if it is an off-leash park. By understanding the difference between play and a fight, and identifying potentially hazardous situations before they escalate, you can help prevent serious injuries to your dog, yourself, or others.