In the first part of this article I talked about how to recognize the stressors and triggers that help to initiate a dog fight. In the second part of this article I talk about hands on strategies that you can use to eliminate or lessen the violent outbreaks with your battling dogs. Ideally you would want to strive to manage the dog’s environment and avoid the situations before they lead to a dogfight but you also have to know what to do when and if a fight breaks out.
Top Three Approaches To Deal With Dog Fighting
1. Modify The Dog Behaviour
You can change the behaviours by changing how the dog thinks of the stressors and triggers behaviour through the use of Desensitization and Counterconditioning to the trigger. The steps to this method of operant conditioning are covered in some detail in my article, How To Fix Reactive Behaviours In Huskies.
Determining the distance at which your dog reacts is vital to keeping dogs below their threshold and then you can work on changing how your dog feels about stressor by using High Value treats to form new more pleasant associations with the trigger. Behaviour modification is a process and processes take time. This is a long term fix for this problem and you will also have to use Behaviour Management in the short term to deal with behaviour issues.
2. Manage The Behaviours
There are marked differences between addressing the root issues causing the dog fights and managing the behaviours. Addressing the behaviours through behaviour modification, desensitization, and counterconditioning allows the stressors to eventually be eliminated.
While opting to only manage behaviours changes the dogs’ immediate behaviours for the moment but does nothing to keep the behaviours from occurring in the first place. But even when you are addressing the root behaviours with a behaviour modification method, you will still need to be able to control the dogs’ behaviours in the short term. So here are some strategies that you can use to temporarily modify the stressors that can cause your dogs to fight.
Eliminate the Stressors
Eliminate as many of the stressors that were outlined in Why Your Huskies Fight. When stressors are eliminated, the triggers for the problem behaviours are severely reduced.
Keep barriers up between dogs to reduce their free access to each other. Do not give both dogs full run of the house. Barriers also keeps dogs contained to areas where they can be more vigilantly supervised.
Avoid Close Proximity
Close proximity of dogs that don’t like each other or not comfortable with each other is a stressor. Avoid or at least be very vigilant when dogs are in small confined spaces like narrow hallways, doorways, or in cars. Do not allow dog to bunch up and crowd in narrow spaces to avoid a fight from breaking out.
Also, review how crates and sleeping arrangements are handled in your household. Place as much space between the dogs as you can. When the dogs are in the close confines of a car interior, dogs should be crated to keep them away from each other or at the very least confined and kept away from each other through the use of a dog seat belt restraint system.
Give all the dogs adequate vigorous daily exercise. Physical exercise reduces tension and stress and increases endorphins, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. These chemicals help to create a feeling of calmness and well being. Calm, happy, tired dogs are much less likely to have the energy to fight. Keep dogs separated or waking in parallel to each other on the walks to keep them from having access to each other. You may want to opt for them to wear a muzzle.
Avoid Incompatible Energies
Avoid placing high energy, dominant, aggressive, or unstable dogs together in the same home. These are incompatible behaviours. This is just asking for a problem to happen because the dogs’ unstable behaviours will be constantly triggering each other. Other bad combinations of dogs are same sex dogs, intact dogs, and getting two puppies at one time. When you place this combination of dogs together the odds of dogs fighting in your home increases tremendously.
Think about the consequences before adding this mix of dogs. In order to have the greatest possible success when adding a new dog to a household, please read my article, How to Successfully Integrate Another Husky Into Your Pack, to assure that you are placing compatible dogs together.
Avoid Competition and Dominance
Do not allow domination games or competitive games between aggressive or unstable dogs. It will only escalate into uncontrolled aggression. Many times these dogs lack the impulse control or the bite inhibition training to be able to calm themselves down. Stop all dominant posturing as soon as it is displayed. Also, avoid toys that create excitement. Squeaking toys that are meant to mimic the sound of a dying animal will only serve to throw unstable and reactive dogs over the bite threshold.
Do Not Allow Resource Guarding or Ownership
Do not allow any dog to stake claim on a person or an item. Ownership will be equated with a rise in social ranking. No resource guarding behaviours should be allowed. Toys, foods, and treats should not be left out and only used under direct supervision. Unstable or aggressive dogs should not be allowed to believe that they own anything.
If you allow these dogs “own” an item, you are reinforcing the concept that they have social ranking and the privileges that go along with that rank. A dog that believes that he is at the top of the social ranking order takes what he wants and does what he wants as defined by the rules of his social position. By sending mixed messages to your dog(s) you may be reinforcing the very guarding and fighting behaviours that you are trying to prevent.
Develop and Practice Strong Leadership Skills
You must step up and gain control of dogs through strong leadership skills. Dogs, especially huskies, will not follow weak, disorganized, or inconsistent leadership. Use the technique of umbilicaling with your dogs to help establish yourself in the leadership position. Please read my article, Establish Leadership With Your Husky Using The Umbilical, for more information on how to safely and effectively umbilical to establish leadership with your dog.
Create a Structured Environment
Create a firm, structured, and predictable environment. Dogs, especially unbalanced, frightened, or aggressive dogs become even more unstable and reactive in a chaotic, unstructured, environment that is lacking in direct supervision and leadership.
You can avoid minor behavioural skirmishes from turning into major behaviour explosions by interceding at the first moment you see dogs reacting to triggers from stressors. But this cannot happen if the dogs are not being carefully and directly monitored. For those times when the dogs cannot be monitored, separate them using barriers to keep them safe.
Feed Dogs In Crates
Dogs should be fed in crates or behind barriers. Feeding in crates prevents dogs from gulping their food and then attempting to eat the other dog’s food. It also prevents anxiety and the need to guard food among the dogs. No free feeding should take place if you have dogs that fight.
Feed Healthy Additive Free Food
Make sure that the food you feed is of good quality. Poor quality food can interfere with a dog’s well being which can in turn cause them to behaviour issues. A food low in essential fatty acids can cause issues with brain functioning. Foods dyes and the artificial preservative ethoxiquin are known to trigger agitated behaviours in dogs. As well, foods high in grains may also be high in residual pesticides from the grains. This can also trigger behaviour issues in dogs.
Training Is a Must
Obedience and socialization training is a must both from the stand point of dog compliance and the quality of human leadership. Also make sure to address how your state of mind or personality plays a part in the dog’s behaviours. Are you tense, afraid, ambiguous, or unsure? The dogs will pick up on these energies and it will be reflected in their behaviours.
Ask a qualified instructor or canine behaviour specialist to help you create a plan to achieve an inner calmness and to develop Command Presence. Become A More Effective Communicator With Your Dogs. Remember, dogs do not speak English. They only associate the sound of words with an action. If you communicate more efficiently with the dogs, you have a better chance of being able to diffuse an escalating behavioural situation.
Use No Aversive Training Methods
Do not use aversive training methods or equipment on aggressive or reactive dogs. Shock collars, prong collars, or choke chains, when used on unstable dogs, tends to only add stress to an already stressed dog and do nothing towards eliminating the dog behaviours. Also, harsh verbal corrections, physical corrections, and punishment only add stress to an already stressful situation and should be avoided at all costs. To add more stressors or pain to a situation while you are trying to eliminate other stressors becomes like trying to bail out an actively leaking boat. Do not let your choices and behaviours add to the problem that you already have with your dogs.
Dogs and Guests
Aggressive and reactive dogs and the added stressors of new people in their environment don’t mix. Please do not assume that your dog will be “fine” with guests. While it is obvious that the excitement of noisy parties will set a dog off, even just the addition of one new person added to the home environment of the dog may be enough to cause a dog to launch a territorial attack on an unsuspecting guest.
They may view and understand this new person not as your guest, but as someone who is encroaching on their territory. Do not be lulled into a false sense of complacency with these unstable dogs. They don’t have to display the overt signs of aggression, growling, snarling and the other body language that comes along with these behaviours. These dogs can just lie or sit there in silence wait and then when the stressors finally push them over their threshold, they will launch a vicious attack at the unsuspecting victim. Your guest will most likely not even see the attack coming until it is too late.
Remove the dogs from the area or at very least keep a barricade between guests and the dog. Also, make sure that dogs do not have access to each other while guests are their environment. The extra added stressor of a new person in their environment is often enough to cause the dogs to release their anxiety on each other in the form of a fight.
Stress Reduction Products
You can try using one of the many dog soothing products they produce to create a feeling of calmness in the dogs. Anxiety wrap garments, DAP (pheromone) collars, and playing soothing music during stressful and tense situations may help to bring stress levels down in your dogs. You may want to introduce using a muzzle for one or both dogs.
You may wish to try acupuncture or soothing massage to treat the anxiety in the dogs. You could also try using herbs, Bach Flower Remedies, essential oils, or homeopathic remedies for treating the agitation levels in the dogs. Please consult a professional in these fields to assure that you are using the best product for your dog’s issues.
3. Removing The Trigger Dog From The Home
Sometimes, even after you have done your very best at managing and modifying the behaviours, the situation is just not improving. Not all dogs will like each other or will be able to get along with each other. When dogs fight, everyone in the household is under chronic and unrelenting tension.
This kind of stress is not good or fair to anyone. It is okay to admit that despite your best efforts, this re-homing effort is just not going to work. Don’t think of it as a failure, instead reframe the experience and think of it as loving a dog enough to be willing to do whatever it takes to make him feel happy and comfortable.
Also, consider what is best for your existing dog(s). While you may have had good intentions when you brought the new dog into the household, you also have an obligation to your existing dogs and as well as to the other human family members.
Living in a chronic state of stress takes it’s toll on everyone’s nerves and health. And remember too, that the “victim” dog will only take so much abuse from the abuser before he begins to not only retaliate to the attacks but to begin launching his own attacks in an effort to drive off the other aggressive dog.
Pretty soon you could end up with several problem dogs in your home. Sometimes the “right” answer to the problem is to remove the offending dog from the home. And remember, that just because your home was not the right home for this dog does not mean that he cannot be successful in a different home environment. Many times the best environment for a reactive or aggressive dog is a home where there are no other dogs, pets, or children.
Making the choice to re-home a dog may be the kindest and most loving thing you can do for that dog. Always see the dog and do what supports his unique needs.
The circumstances for dog behaviour must be individually evaluated. If dog fighting is an occasional problem that can be managed through interventions and strategies then this situation can be dealt with. If a dog’s behaviour is best dealt with by moving him to a different environment, then this too is a situation that can be dealt with. But occasionally there are situations where dogs are so vicious, violent, unstable, or broken that they pose a danger to humans and other animals.
Sometimes dogs have neurological issues that even medication cannot help with. Unfortunately, sometimes the only humane answer to this issue is to protect people and dogs and the choice is made that a dog must be euthanized. No one likes the idea of having to destroy an animal but if you and other professionals have done all they can reasonably do given their abilities and resources, then sometimes euthanization is the best option.
But please, exhaust all other options first before deferring to this very permanent solution. Whenever possible consider re-homing the dog to a more suitable environment. Very often the right person can turn around a dog that was thought to be an otherwise hopeless case.
How To Safely Stop A Dog Fight
Even when you use behaviour modification techniques or management strategies, you may still end up having to deal with a dog fight. When dogs launch into a physical altercation, people’s first reaction is to reach in and grab the dogs’ collars and pull to separate them. Unfortunately, this puts you, the owner, at a very high risk of sustaining not just a bite, but getting mauled by the dogs.
Once the dogs are well into a bite threshold zone, they are no longer controllable through voices cues. The only thing you can do at this point is to physically separate them but you have to do it safely. What ever you do, DO NOT reach in to separate the dogs by grabbing their collars. In response to the collar grab, they will turn and begin attacking the stimulus; your hand.
Safer methods for you to use to separate fighting dogs:
- The best way to break up a dog fight is to grab the back legs of the aggressor, lift the legs up off the ground and simultaneously twist to flip the dog over onto his back. If you have two people, each person can grab a dog and flip them over. Do not try to hang on to the dogs as they will turn to attack you too. And be prepared that as soon as you let go you will have to immediately act because the fight may not be over. Work on physically getting the dogs away from each other until you can regain control of the situation.
- Instead of using your hands to separate fighting dogs, use an object like a broom, a stick, an umbrella or even a chair. You can try to force the object between the dogs in an effort to separate them.
- You can try creating very a loud noise in hopes that you can startle the dogs into momentarily abandoning the fight, long enough for you to intercede. Try banging a cookie sheet that you can then slide between the dogs or you can use a forced air “pet corrector” that issues a loud whoosh of air. You can also try banging pots together or even slamming a nearby door very hard to create a loud jarring sound. Avoid yelling at the dogs because to dogs that might seem like the people version of barking. They interpret this as you joining into the excitement.
- You can try throwing a blanket over the dogs, dousing them with water, spraying vinegar and water into their faces, or even use dog spray ( watered down version of pepper spray) if you feel that you absolutely must. Remember that deploying pepper spray in the house means that you are going to get “sprayed” too.
- Do not attempt to deal with this situation during or after the fight through the use of physical punishment. Adding aggression to an already aggressive situation will do nothing to remedy this behaviour. The fighting can only be managed or the behaviour remediated through behaviour modification.
There are no one size-fits-all answers when it comes to working with dogs. Each case needs to be assessed and the best solution has to be applied to the problem. Always be willing to SEE THE DOG and to do what best supports the dog’s needs.
The best answer may not always be an easy one to live with but as a responsible dog owner you have to be willing to love the dog enough to do what is ultimately in the best interest of the dogs. As always we welcome you questions, comments, and stories regarding this topic.
When we share our stories and our wisdom, we may well be helping someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping all Snow Dogs …one owner at a time.