How To Stop Dogs From Fighting

Key takeaway

Dogs can fight for a variety of reasons, including anxiety and playful fighting, or because they’re protecting something or resource guarding. Knowing your dog’s body language can help you prevent fights, but you must also know how to stop dogs from fighting once it’s already started.

How To Stop Dogs From Fighting

Dogs fight for a variety of reasons, including play fighting, guarding, anxiety, and behavioral problems. While it may seem like your dogs are fighting just to fight, they can be fighting over just about anything. Dogs have sharp teeth and claws, which means they can injure themselves and anyone who tries to break up the fights. As a pet parent, you need to understand why dogs fight, determine ways you can prevent dog fights, and learn how to stop dogs from fighting once it happens. 

Why Do Dogs Fight?

Dogs may be fighting for several reasons, including:

Resource guarding

Resource guarding is fairly common in dogs who haven’t been properly socialized. Additionally, it can be a symptom of underlying anxiety that many dogs from shelters have due to being forced to compete with other dogs for their toys and treats. Resource guarding is typically accompanied by growling, stiff body language, barking, and even snapping or biting.  

Protecting

If your dog gets into a fight with another dog, even another household dog, they could be doing it to protect you. When another dog gets too close to you, your dog may become anxious or aggressive and start lunging, barking, or trying to bite the other dog. As a result, the other dog might feel threatened and choose to fight back. 

Frustration

Dogs may become aggressive when they are frustrated. For example, if they are digging and another dog starts digging in the same spot, a dog can become frustrated and snap at the other dog. 

Why do dogs fight

Anxiety 

Anxiety is a common issue in dogs that can lead to other behavioral problems, such as fear-based reactivity and aggression towards other dogs. In the case of anxiety, a dog might bark and lunge at another dog when they’re afraid. Remember, anxiety sparks the flight or fight response, and some dogs will have the fight response instead of cowering when they’re afraid. Confrontational gestures, such as barking, lunging, and showing teeth, can signal to another dog that your dog is being threatening, which can start a dog fight.

Behavioral issues 

As we’ve mentioned, behavioral issues are common in dogs, especially those that have not been properly socialized. Many behavioral problems are simply symptoms of anxiety and fear, so instead of calling dogs who are acting out of fear aggressive, they are called reactive because they are reacting to something that has made them afraid.

Medical issues

Dogs with painful medical issues may bite their owners or other dogs who come too close because they don’t want to be put in more pain. If one dog is simply protecting itself, another dog may see it as a threat and start a fight. 

Many of the reasons why dogs fight comes down to socialization and training. If your dog has been properly socialized, they know how to react to other dogs in their environment. Socialized dogs are typically more friendly and don’t become reactive or aggressive towards other dogs. Additionally, some dogs can benefit from behavioral training, especially if they have fear or anxiety, which might cause reactivity. 

Are My Dogs Fighting Or Playing?

As a human, it can be difficult to tell whether dogs are playing or fighting because dogs typically use their mouths and paws to play with one another. You can look at a dog’s body language to determine when a situation is either playful or aggressive.

Signs Dogs Are Playing

Play body language will look like the following:

  • Relaxed, playful body language rather than tense
  • Open, relaxed mouth versus tight, snarling lips
  • Play bowing with the front end down and back end in the air 1
  • Taking turns
  • Exaggerated gestures rather than quick, tense movements

Signs of play vs. fight language

Signs Dogs Are Stressed Or Fighting

Dog body language can also tell you when a dog is getting upset, anxious, or aggressive. Signs a dog is stressed and might begin fighting soon or is already fighting are:

  • Vocalizing
  • Lip licking
  • Tucking tail1
  • Ears back
  • Whale eye (whites of eyes showing)
  • Yawning
  • Pacing
  • Avoidance 

It’s important to remember that just because a dog’s tail is wagging doesn’t mean they’re happy or relaxed. Dog’s tails can wag when they’re fighting, but they will be more upright and swing differently. You know your dog best, so if you notice they are becoming tense, it’s always best to check on the situation to ensure no dogs get hurt. 

How To Cultivate Safe Play For Dogs

The best way to learn how to stop dogs from fighting in the same household or dogs fighting at the park is to create a safe play environment. Here’s how you can cultivate safe play for dogs. 

Know your dog's body language

Your dog’s body language is the first sign that they’re happy or stressed. As we’ve discussed, when dogs are stressed, they can start fighting other dogs. Additionally, you should know the warning signs to look for in other dogs your dog is playing with to ensure your pup doesn’t get hurt trying to play.

Avoid dog parks when necessary

Dog parks aren’t right for all dogs.1 If your dog hasn’t been properly socialized, they can easily become stressed in situations where there are multiple dogs instead of just one. If your dog is properly socialized and can handle all the activity and other dogs at parks, you can take them to a park and see how they react before letting them off-leash.

If your dog isn’t ready for the dog park yet, you can have them play at home either with another household dog or a dog they know well to help them start socializing and learning proper behavior. Some breeds might be naturally more territorial or protective than others, so not all dogs are meant for the dog park, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Remove toys, food, and treats

Even the friendliest dog can start resource guarding around other dogs because they’re afraid their toys, treats, and food will be taken away. Dogs can become incredibly territorial around dogs they’ve never met before. By removing toys, food, and treats, neither dog will have anything to resource guard. 

Watch your dog

If your dog is having fun, it can be easy to get distracted and look away. However, it’s always important to supervise your dog while they’re playing with another dog so you can get them out of a situation that could be causing them stress. For example, your dog might be having fun playing with a dog that’s a similar size, but a large dog might cause anxiety, which can lead to a fight. Since you know the warning signs your dog is becoming stressed, you can remove them from a dangerous situation before anything happens.

How to break up a dog fight

How To Break Up A Dog Fight & Prevent Future Fights

Dog fights can break out at any point during play. Even if both dogs seem to be enjoying themselves at first, it can quickly get out of hand. If you allow your dog to play with other dogs, it’s always important to know how to safely break up a fight and prevent future fights from happening.

1. Don’t Put Your Own Safety At Risk

When a dog fight breaks out, you may be tempted to put yourself between the dogs to stop it. However, when dogs become overly anxious, they aren’t thinking clearly and may bite you trying to fight the other dog. Instead, there are other ways you can break up a dog fight without physically getting between them. 

2. Divert Their Attention

Luckily, dogs can easily be distracted. While being easily distracted might not be ideal for training, it can help you stop dogs from fighting wherever you are. You can divert the dogs’ attention away from fighting each other by:

  • Making a loud noise
  • Dumping a bucket of water on their heads
  • Throwing a blanket over them

Anything that makes the dogs stop fighting for a few seconds allows you to get your dog out of the fight by pulling or carrying them away.2

3. Physically Separate The Dogs

Of course, you should never put yourself between two dogs that are fighting, but you can use an object to physically separate the dogs.2 Anything large enough to keep the dogs away from each other, even for a few seconds, can be used. Always be careful not to put your hands or face near the dogs to ensure you can’t get bitten in the crossfire.

You can also separate dogs that are fighting with the wheelbarrow technique. With the wheelbarrow technique, you and one other person will grab the dogs by the hind legs and lift them up while walking backward. This separation technique will keep the dogs apart so it’s easier to get the dogs away from each other and out of sight. 

Stop Dogs From Fighting: FAQs

Why does my dog keep attacking my other dog?

Dogs from the same household may fight every now and then, but with proper training, you can prevent them from causing any real harm to one another. The first step for how to stop dogs from fighting in the same household is to determine whether they’re playing or fighting by checking their body language. Once you determine the dogs are fighting, you can see if they’re fighting over anything, such as treats, toys, or food, and remove it if it’s safe to do so. 

In households where two dogs are fighting, you can typically distract them with a loud noise. To prevent further fights, continue to train your dogs on proper behavior using rewards-based training. 

Can dogs live together after fighting?

In many cases, dogs can live together after fighting as long as you have a clear management plan for preventing fights. For example, if your dogs normally get along and only fight over resources, you can allow dogs to play and eat in separate rooms or areas of the house. You can also watch your dogs closely to ensure they’re not going to fight over bones, treats, and toys. 

However, if your dogs are constantly fighting to the point of injuring one another, you can consult a professional pet trainer or vet behaviorist. Both of these professionals can help you determine the underlying cause of your dog’s fighting. For example, if one dog is starting fights, it might be due to an anxiety problem, and the other dog is simply reacting to the other acting threateningly towards them. 

Unfortunately, your last resort might be to rehome one of your dogs if the problem becomes unmanageable. If you want to prevent fighting, try to introduce a new dog to the home the right way. If you’re not sure how to do this properly, consult a trainer who can help you learn how to introduce a new dog to the household. 

Should I let my dogs fight it out?

No, you should not let your dogs fight it out if they’re not playing. Once you determine your dogs are actually fighting, you should separate them as soon as possible using any of the methods outlined in this article. 

Five dogs playing in grass field at dog park

Final Notes

Knowing how to stop your dogs from fighting can help you prevent injury to the dogs and yourself. Breaking up a dog fight incorrectly can get you hurt and cause more harm than good. Instead, you can break up a dog fight by diverting the dogs’ attention or physically separating them. To solve the problem of dogs fighting in the same household, try to figure out what could be causing the behavior. If your dogs are resource guarding, you can separate them when they’re playing with toys that make them protective. If you believe your dog has anxiety, you can work with a veterinary behaviorist who can help your dog ease their anxiety through medication and proper training. 

Dutch is your one-stop for dog health and wellness, offering behavioral services that can help ease dog anxiety and prevent resource guarding and fighting. With pet prescription medication delivered right to your door and online therapy, you can get the quality care you need for your pet from the comfort of your own home.

References

  1. “Are My Dogs Playing Rough or Fighting?” American Kennel Club, 30 Apr. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/are-they-playing-or-fighting/.

  2. Gibeault, Stephanie. “How to Break up a Dogfight: Stop Dogs from Fighting.” American Kennel Club, 29 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/stopping-dog-fight-confrontation-fighting-dogs/.