What would you do if you saw two dogs fighting at the dog park? Better yet, if you saw YOUR dog and another dog start fighting?
We had an incident earlier this week that got me thinking...how many people actually know how to stop a dog fight WITHOUT getting hurt? The incident occurred when two dogs got into a scuffle in the rec yard while getting their daily walks by the volunteers. The volunteer tried to separate them himself, without asking for help, and ended up getting bit by one of the dogs. Thankfully, the bite didn't break the skin and it wasn't serious enough for either dog to be sent to animal services...which is what happens whenever a dog bites someone (intentionally or not).
Note: There IS a difference between an actual fight and two dogs just play fighting, for example, at a dog park. So be careful to not confuse the two! Some dogs just play a little more rough than others and that's ok, just as long as no one gets hurt :)
So, what do you do when you see two dogs in the middle of something like this?
First mistake people make is going with their gut instinct...run to the dogs and try to physically separate them yourself...right? WRONG! This is how people get bitten and hurt! Let me share with you what I've learned while working at the shelter, from both experience and some research.
Rule # 1: Stay calm! Your adrenaline is going to spike and it's important to not panic because that's how accidents happen. Most dog fights are harmless, and reacting in a calm and collected manner will allow you to separate the dogs in a safe way. This is important to remember before AND after the fight...once the madness is over, take a deep breath and regain your composure. It's happened to me before, especially the first time, and you will be jolted after an experience.
Rule # 2: Never EVER stick any part of your body (i.e. foot, arm) in between the dogs to separate them. Do not try to physically separate them by yourself.
Rule # 3: Call for help! From someone nearby or call someone to come to your rescue! It's important to really assess how serious the fight is and weigh out the risk involved in separating the dogs, either alone or with someone. If you feel that this is too dangerous, DO NOT even try getting in there to stop them because you WILL get hurt! I've heard horror stories of someone just trying to do a good deed in stopping them and they get the bite intended for the other dog. Stories of people having reconstructive hand surgery, chunks bitten off, etc. Trust me, sometimes it's better to just wait for help. BUT there's always a chance that you could try to stop them (safely)! Most dog fights are harmless and can be easily separated following some of these tips.
So what should I do to STOP them???
First, try splashing water on them from either a hose, a bucket, or even from a water bottle that you may have on you. This will temporarily stun and shock them and will give you the chance to quickly separate them. Have one person leash and restrain one dog while you grab the other and immediately separate them so they aren't even near or facing each other.
or...You can also try interrupting the fight with a sudden loud noise such as a clap, stomping, or by banging two metal objects together (ex.bowls). I wouldn't yell or scream because that would just agitate them even more.
What if water or noise doesn't work?
If all else fails, you can try a different approach. But whatever you do, DO NOT GRAB the collar of either dog! That puts your hand waaay too close to their faces and in their hyped and agitated state, they may mistakenly redirect that bite to your hand. It may have not been intended for you, but if you are close enough...they won't know the difference. So what to do?
If you feel that they can safely and easily separated by two people, try approaching them simultaneously from behind and separating them completely (preferably the owners). Have both people get behind the dogs and simultaneously grab the dog's upper back legs. Try to grab towards the top of the back legs, near the hips, so you don't risk injuring them. Then, lift them up like a wheel barrow and walk backwards and immediately redirect them and have them face opposite directions. This will make it extremely difficult for the dogs to bite and redirect any of that aggression to you, thus making it much safer for you to separate them.
I learned this stuff the hard way, and OH MY GOD was it scary as hell when I had to separate them for the first time. Part of my job is matching a new dog to a dog already up for adoption since the kennels have two to a cage. I try my best to assess the new dogs personality and try to match it with one that would get along the best with. For example, pairing up two unneutered males is a last resort for me, because both dogs are full of testosterone and are more likely to fight. But if they are both puppies...then I would probably put those two together because they haven't reached their peak yet. It's a tricky job...and sometimes, no matter how well of a match I think I may have, they will just NOT get along.
I remember I was matching two dogs when I first started my job, and of course I picked the two dogs that just didn't get along with each other. I brought in the new dog to the kennel, and at first I was stunned when I saw them both lunge towards each other. All these thoughts ran through my head...oh crap, now what do I do? Do I reach in and stop them? Do I stick my foot in there to separate them? I'm not gonna lie, I stuck out my leg in between both of them (stupid), and I saw one snap near my leg trying to reach the other dog. OK, I thought, let's try a new approach. And then I remembered what my coworker had told me the other day, and I calmly reacted by tossing water from a water bowl right on top of the two fighting dogs. Success! :) I was able to safely get myself and the other dog out of the kennel...rattled nerves and all.
If you have more helpful and safe tips or stories about encounters at a dog park, please share! :)