Last week I was walking 3 brothers that I walk every day. As we rounded a corner, 2 large off leash dogs approached (not in a polite manner, I might add) and one started acting aggressively. It only took about 5 seconds for a serious fight to break out between one of the off leash dogs and one of the dogs I was walking. With 5 dogs in the mix (3 on leashes held by me!) – things could have escalated to insanity pretty quickly.
It doesn’t really matter the back story…your dog is in a fight with another dog. What do you do?
Step 1 – Don’t panic (or fake it ’til you make it)
“Panicking” doesn’t necessarily mean running around in circles, screaming like a lunatic, waving your hands above your head. “Panicking” in this context is any behavior out of the ordinary that your dog will take notice of. For us gals…this often means raising our voices an octave and getting that squeaky, desperate quality. It could also mean shifting our weight back and forth or trying to run. It could really be anything that your dog is going to pick up on and interpret as danger! this other dog means us harm.
You must stay calm. Your dog is already “in the red” and is not thinking normally. If your thoughts start to go all wonky – no one is thinking properly. And when no one is thinking properly – that’s when the situation will spiral out of control.
(“Fake it ’til you make it” is hard…but not as hard as “Don’t panic”. It is just a reminder that while on the inside your heart might be racing and you seriously feel like you are about to loose your lunch – the most important this is that you project that calm energy that Cesar Millan is always talking about. The dogs won’t know the difference!)
Step 2 – Trust
no one (no dog)
I know. I know. This is a really horrible thing to say. Let me explain – in this situation, your dog is 99% wild animal and 1% sweet creature that you know and love. Your dog’s brain has undergone a change and your dog is literally not your dog. (Haven’t we all seen sibling dogs that get along perfectly well snap at each other when worked up?)
DO NOT put any part of your body in-between fighting dogs (unless you are prepared to have that body part sustain a dog bite.) DO NOT think that your dog will recognize that it is your hand/leg/torso and refrain from biting you. In this aggravated state – your dog cannot determine friend from foe. While you still think of your dog as a friend…at this point EVERYONE is the enemy to your dog. By not trusting your dog in this situation – you will avoid blood and heartache. (Feelings tend to get hurt when your own dog bites you.)
Step 3 – Give direction (to humans )
The whole reason I am writing this post is because of this step. Reread the situation I described at the beginning of this post, or here is a recap: a dog fight has erupted between my dog (on leash) and neighbor dog (off leash). Now, I have broken up many a dog fight – even sustaining a few bites in my day protecting dogs (yeah, I’m kinda a bad ass) – so I will admit I’m a little more trained in the corect way to act in this situation than the average dog lover. As I was doing everything I could to slow this quickly spiraling-out-of-control situation, I took a half a second to glance up at the owner of the other dogs. He was standing about 10 feet off. Watching. Doing nothing.
Now, when I retold this story to friends and family they all had different reactions. “Maybe he was scared and didn’t want to put himself in harms way by getting closer to a dog fight?” “Maybe he was stunned?” “Maybe he didn’t realize how serious the situation was?” In the moment, though, all I was thinking is WHY ISN’T THIS GUY HELPING ME? (Him – large man, standing at a safe distance. Me – little lady in the middle of 5 dogs (4 big, 1 little…2 free, 3 tethered…3 I know like my own, 2 I don’t know at all.)
In my calmest – but firmest – voice, I instructed the man on what to do. I am not kidding. As I’m physically trying to keep our dogs from ripping each other apart, I have to stop to state the obvious to this man (who thankfully did exactly what he was told.) “YOU NEED TO COME GET YOUR DOG!” “You need to physically come over here and help me separate these two.” “Now please back up.” Seriously.
Honestly, I think this man (like many who find themselves in this situation) didn’t believe that his dog would ever get in a real fight. Your dog could be of the “sweet as pie, wouldn’t hurt a fly, gentle around kids, doesn’t mind cats” variety…but certain situations can bring about reactions from your dog that you might never understand. (Isn’t that the same with humans??)
When you find yourself with a dog who has crossed over to the “red zone” the most important thing to do is diffuse the situation as quickly as possible. If you can remain calm, remember these are animals, and take control by giving others direction – you will be able to walk away as if it was a regular day at the park. (Surprisingly dogs can do just that….while it might take a few minutes for your heart to stop pounding!)