Dog fights will happen inevitably. Dogs (like people!) will have disagreements, spats, or personality clashes. The fight could happen between two dogs who live together, dogs passing each other on the street, at the dog park, or at daycare. It would be nice if all dogs were well-socialized and trained, but unfortunately, that is just not the case. To minimize the chance of a dog fight in order to keep your dog safe and prevent any trauma, it is our job as the owner to be able to read telltale doggy behavior.
Signs of a stressed/anxious dog
It is really important for you to be able to tell whether or not a dog is stressed. Stressed dogs are more likely to lash out, or draw attention from more dominant dogs, who may take advantage of the situation and try to bite the other dog.
- Stressed dogs often try to make themselves as small as possible. They may try to crouch down, or try to hide behind their owners. They do this to make themselves as non-threatening as possible to other dogs.
- The dog’s tail is tucked. If the dog’s tail is tucked under its belly, it is not comfortable in the situation.
- The dog’s ears are pulled back. This sign by itself is not necessarily a sign of stress, but when paired with the whites of the eyes, and a crouching dog, this can mean your dog is uncomfortable in the situation.
- The dog is trying to remove itself from the situation. For example, if you are at the dog park with your dog and three other dogs rush up to your dog, trying to push around and smell your dog, and your dog is actively trying to leave, it may be best to intervene and help remove your dog from the situation before it escalates.
- You are able to see the whites of the dog’s eyes and they are trying to turn their head away. If the dog is showing the whites of its eyes, that generally means the dog is uncomfortable. This combined with the dog trying to turn its head away means the dog is trying to avoid confrontation, and it would be best if you removed your dog from the situation.
- The dog is licking their lips. This action combined with the dog turning their head away is a sign that your dog is uncomfortable. Lip licking is a behavior dogs do when they are trying to let another aggressive or dominant dog know they are not threatening.
- Your dog will yawn. Usually when a dog yawns it is trying to de-escalate the situation. They sense that the situation is getting tense, and will yawn not only because they are stressed, but because they are trying to prevent any aggressive acts from the other dog.
Ways to break up or minimize the risk of a dog fight
Sometimes, even though you try your best, you cannot remove your dog from an escalating situation. Unfortunately, as dog owners, we can do our best to control our dogs, however we cannot do anything about irresponsible dog owners. In this case I would recommend a few things:
- Try to physically block the other dog. When other dogs come after mine I generally like to position my dog behind me, and try to block the other aggressor from getting to my dog. However, this puts you at risk of being bitten, so keep that in mind.
- Properly socialize your dog. If you want to socialize your dog be sure to find other dogs that are balanced, and meet in a neutral place. Dog parks are not the best place for this, so try to find a supervised dog social, or meet up with friends with dogs that are sociable.
- Take your dog to training. If your dog is the aggressor or has anxiety, make sure to find a trainer you trust. Your trainer can recommend tools and ways to help build your dog’s confidence!
- Carry a can of air or a spray bottle. This can deter a dog when your dog is in a dicey situation. If you feel the other dog is getting too aggressive, you can spray them with water in the face (most dogs do not like this). You can also use a can of air, which is sold at pet stores, to make an unpleasant noise.
- If you live in a house with multiple dogs, or take your dog to a place with multiple dogs be careful. Do not let your dogs fight over resources such as toys and food. Always be sure to feed dogs separately and remove toys when you are not able to supervise them. You want to set them up for success, not failure!
Always be sure to keep an eye on your dog. You never know what may happen--even if your dog is well socialized, other dogs may not be. Watch for telltale signs and learn what nervous dog behavior looks like. Remember that your dog cannot speak, so it is our job to advocate for our dogs when they are in situations that make them uncomfortable.