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How To Discipline A Dog After Fighting: What Dog Owners Need To Know

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

How To Discipline A Dog After Fighting

When dogs fight, emotions run high, and one of the first issues that arise is how to discipline a dog after fighting. As dog lovers, a real dog fight is deeply upsetting, and the question of what to do afterward often leads to a bitter disagreement within a household.

Whether it’s at home in a multi-dog household or out on a walk, dog fights happen. A dog lover must know what to do in this situation and be prepared. For many of us, simply having your dog in a harness with a handle that allows you to lift them out of the situation can be a lifesaver.

But while prevention is better than a cure for dog fighting, what do you do once a fight has happened? To answer this question, we’ve referred to the advice of several professional dog trainers and behaviorists, including popular dog training influencer Kat the Dog Trainer and Dr. Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, in her work on dog aggression.

After a fight, it is crucial to address the issue promptly and implement appropriate disciplinary measures while ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone involved, including the dogs.

Assess the Situation

Immediately after a dog fight, it is essential to assess the situation and ensure the safety of both dogs and any humans present. Separate the dogs by using a barrier or physical restraint, if necessary. Avoid putting yourself at risk of injury by using tools such as a leash, blanket, or board to create a physical barrier between the dogs.

Remain Calm and Avoid Punishment

It is crucial to remain calm and composed when dealing with a dog after a fight. Keep your emotions in check no matter how upset you may be.

 Dogs are highly attuned to human emotions, and reacting with anger or aggression can escalate the situation further. Avoid shouting, hitting, or punishing the dogs involved in the fight. Punishment can lead to fear and anxiety, potentially exacerbating future behavioral issues.

Do not fuss over the dogs in any way. This is to avoid cementing the event in their memory further. 

Provide Medical Care

Once the dogs are safely separated, assess their physical condition. Look for any injuries or wounds that may require immediate attention. If the injuries are severe or if you are uncertain about the extent of the damage, consult a veterinarian promptly. It is essential to prioritize the health and well-being of your dogs.

Separate The Dogs

After a fight, keeping the dogs separated for a period is advisable. Create a safe and comfortable environment for each dog, ensuring they have their own space and resources. This separation allows them to calm down and prevents any tension or further confrontation. 

Get Your Dogs Moving

If there are no bite wounds, grab a leash and get your dogs moving so they don’t dwell on the fight. This is excellent advice from Kat, but remember that there are some rules here.

Naturally, you can not walk both dogs together at this point, so if there are other people in your house, ask one person to take one of the dogs. 

Putting them in muzzles is also an option if they are muzzle trained. Ideally, two household members will each walk a dog, both with muzzles on, keeping a safe distance from each other or walking them in opposite directions completely.

Seek Professional Help

In cases where dog fights are recurrent or severe, seeking professional help from a certified dog trainer or a behaviorist is highly recommended. These experts can assess the underlying causes of aggression and provide specialized guidance tailored to your dog’s needs. They can help design a behavior modification plan and teach you practical techniques to discipline and manage your dog’s behavior.

How To Rebuild A Relationship Between Dogs After A Fight

After a dog fight, you mustn’t risk any physical interactions between your dogs. This means keeping them in their crates and letting them out at different times. Trainers differ in their approach, but we suggest keeping the dogs separate for a few days. 

After that, you can move their crates into the same room. Essentially, you want to create a favorable situation where they are aware of each other but not interacting. 

This means walking them on muzzles and enlisting the help of a second person to walk them at a distance from each other. 

Ask for your dog’s attention with obedience commands and keep them engaged with you, not each other. You want the dogs to focus on you while still being aware of each other. You don’t want them focused on each other as this will only increase the tension, especially while on a leash or with a barrier between them. 

Over time, you can test allow them off leash together but muzzled to assess how they interact. Watch out for any rough play that may escalate, and take note if one dog is overbearing or bullies the other. This calls for you to de-escalate the situation.

A Warning About Fighting Dogs!

One of the major reasons people get bitten by their own dogs is “redirected direction,” which happens when a fighting dog turns their aggression on their owner.

This is particularly dangerous with powerful breeds. So in a case of a powerful dog showing routine signs of aggression, it is vital to get a professional involved immediately. Sadly, in some cases, if the dog is too much for you to handle, you may either consider sending them away for training or rehoming the dog in a better-equipped home to manage the aggression (especially a home without children).

Understanding Why Dogs Fight

Understanding why dogs fight is critical to preventing dog fights, to begin with. One of the most dangerous myths that has evolved is that a well-socialized dog will get on with all other dogs at all times. This isn’t the case. But let’s go over some common scenarios where dogfights are likely to break out:

Genetics

Some dogs are genetically prone to dog aggression. Early socialization can teach these dogs to tolerate other dogs reasonably well and even get along with certain dogs. However, the tendency towards dog aggression can still be there. These dogs may default into a physical fight when they feel stressed or threatened.

Same-Sex Aggression

Many dog breeds are prone to aggression toward other dogs of the same sex. This is quite common in breeds with strong personalities. It often means that fighting can break out in a household with two adult males or two adult female dogs. Hormones can play a role in this, which is one reason to spay or neuter your pets.

Resource Guarding

A widespread reason for a fight is when dogs fight over something they both want. This could be a toy, food, a bed, or their favorite person. Often, the signs of building tension can be subtle, such as eye contact and lip licks. We will touch on this more below.

The Rivalry Between Younger and Older Dogs

One common reason for fighting is when a younger dog comes into the household. The older dog may be annoyed or threatened, leading to corrections or bites when the puppy tries to play. This is not a fight, and correcting youngsters is natural among dogs, but it can escalate into fights over time if they never learn how to interact politely.

Another situation that can occur happens when a dog starts to age. They can sometimes become targets for younger dogs who try to assert themselves more.

Fear Reactivity & Social Skills

Another common reason for a fight is not aggression at all but rather fear-based aggression. Often this happens with dogs with poor social skills, but the issue is slightly more complex. An example of fear-based reactivity may be when an owner takes an anxious dog to a dog park and lets them off leash. 

A pack of other dogs may approach out of excitement and immediately overwhelm a fearful dog. It’s much like being an introverted child and going to school, only to be swamped by other kids getting in your space, touching you, and yelling. A dog in this situation may nip or lunge to create some space for themselves, immediately sparking a dog fight. 

This is one example of fear reactivity in dogs, but in some cases, insecure and fearful dogs can look a lot like dogs that are aggressive for no reason. 

Remember not to introduce dogs on leash, as leash aggression is another common reason for dog fights.

Dog Parks And The Problem With Socialization

Another common predicament that causes dog fights comes directly from puppy socialization classes and dog parks. In puppy classes or doggy daycares, dogs are usually encouraged to run up to each other in a high state of excitement and immediately start playing. 

Unfortunately, this is not good manners. And when the same dog runs up to another dog in a dog park who does appreciate the invasion of space, you may have a fight on your hands.

What happens next is that the socialized puppy or dog that had always been extremely excited to see another dog now has a bad experience. They are likely to become fearful and reactive to other dogs and more likely to get into fights because of it. So, while it is vital to socialize your puppy, it’s just as vital that they learn to ignore other dogs on a leash and focus on you. 

Remember, you don’t run up and throw your arms around everyone you walk past. So expecting a dog to get along with every other dog (or vice versa) is unrealistic. Well-socialized dogs are dogs who know how to keep a polite distance and ignore other dogs when they’re in public.

Preventing Dog Fights: How We Tend To Miss The Signs

A key area of frustration for dog trainers and behaviorists is when dog owners say their dogs start fighting without warning. Dogs who display sudden aggression with absolutely no warning are incredibly rare if they exist at all. This section will use a series of videos to show how easy and common it is for dog lovers to miss the warning signs of a dog fight in time to prevent it.

Below is a video of two dogs not showing obvious signs of aggression. However, tension is building over a toy that one dog has and the other dog wants. Both dogs are well-socialized, and their owner, and professional Dog Trainer, Kat, does a great job explaining the signs:

The video below by Right Way K9 Training shows another typical example of how two well-meaning dog lovers want to introduce their dogs on leash and miss the warning signs. Can you spot the tension in the tan and white dog’s body that indicates the dog is not comfortable with a strange dog approaching?

@rightwayk9training

NEVER INTRODUCE DOGS ON-LEASH 🐕‍🦺🚫 You can tell by the desperation in my voice that I know what’s about to happen next. I understand that these folks had no idea the guy yelling to them out of a random westside apartment window was a professional Pet Dog Trainer. I also know that unsolicited advice is typically met with opposition, but knowing full well what was in-store for them I felt obligated to try. These dog-owners are clearly very nice people committed to enriching their dog’s lives. Their goals were simple: improve their dog’s leash walking skills while providing stimulating socialization. However, they made two mistakes that could’ve lead to the death of one of their dog’s and several injuries to themselves. These dogs and owners were incredibly lucky the outcome wasn’t worse.🍀🤞🏼 1) They introduced the dogs on-leash in a highly aroused state. A tense leash creates frustration and arousal, as does the sight of a new dog. This heightened state of arousal could cause even the most socialized of dogs to fight. Give dogs time to get used to each other’s presence by occupying the same space out of reach of each other. Once they’ve calmed down allow them to meet, off-leash. Dragging a leash is fine. 2) They did not understand their dog’s genetic histories. Pitbulls were bred for Bull Baiting (1209-1835). A bloody spectator sport that involved dogs attacking and killing back-tied bulls on sight. I’m certain that these dogs are compatible playmates but as responsible Pitbull owners you have to understand that they’re less forgiving of sloppy impromptu social outings. These aren’t Golden Retrievers. I encourage all dog owners, in order to manage realistic behavioral expectations and set your dog up for success, to learn about their dog’s genetic histories. Especially owners of strong hard-mouthed power-breeds. Are you and your dog struggling with leash-reactivity or socialization related issues? Contact us, it’s our specialty! We’re here to help. ❤️🐶 Click on the 🔗 in our bio or call (216) 644-4141. #dog #pitbull #dogtraining #dogtrainer #dogtrainingtips #cleveland #clevelanddogs #dogaggression #dogsoftiktok #tiktokviral #dogsoftiktok #dogsoftiktokviral

♬ original sound – Right Way K9 Training

So, understanding your dog’s body language is crucial to preventing a fight and de-escalating a situation before it happens. 

Other steps that are important to preventing a fight include:

  1. Avoid public places where dogs are off-leash and you do not know if they are safe around your dog or not.
  2. Ask owners who have their dogs on a leash not to allow their dogs to approach yours, even if the dog is friendly.
  3. Invest in muzzle training.
  4. Feed your dogs at home separately and be aware of things they may fight over, like chew toys lying around or on a bed. They may also fight over access to you.
  5. Above all, invest the time in understanding body language cues from dogs, especially the very subtle signs like lip licking or yawning that indicate stress or uncertainty. To prevent problems, it’s vital to really understand common behaviors like a dog nibbling on your ear or licking your nose.

How To Break Up A Dog Fight

Breaking up a dog fight safely is essential to protecting yourself and your dog. One method is to slip the leash up their neck to below their jaw and pull directly up to the sky (not backward). Essentially, you want to cut off the dog’s airway so it can’t get oxygen and force them to release.

To be clear, this is not a nice thing to do, and it can damage their throat. So reserve this method for dire situations, particularly powerful dogs that are locked onto another dog and are refusing to let go. Cutting off a dog’s airway and forcing a release is better than having the same dog potentially kill the other dog.

But it’s vital to assess the situation first to decide on the best approach, There are several safer techniques outlined in this video to break up a dog fight:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7xrLXQNG0I

Final Thoughts

Remember, prevention is always the best strategy. Proper training, socialization, and responsible pet ownership significantly reduce the chances of dog fights occurring. Disciplining a dog after a fight requires a thoughtful and calm approach. By prioritizing safety, providing medical care, and seeking professional help when needed

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

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Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.