How Do I Stop My Dogs From Fighting? Effective Methods to Stop Dog Aggression

Updated on June 29, 2019
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.

You usually can stop your dogs from fighting all the time.
You usually can stop your dogs from fighting all the time. | Source

Many dogs can be taught to get along. Dogs are social animals and live together in a group, so even if you have a household made up of two females, two males, or an overactive puppy and a short-tempered older dog, you can usually find a way to help them get along.

Dogs that fight at home create a serious problem, which is something that needs to be worked with. Some of the methods are harder than others, and none of them are easy. If your dogs are fighting, however, trying these alternatives are well worth your time.

Are My Dogs Fighting or Playing?

Are your dogs really fighting all of the time? When my dogs are really frisky, the growling and teeth gnashing can be intense. My senior dog, an old Pitbull, sounds like she is going to savage the others, but when the smaller dogs back off she will flop on her back, expose her belly, and invite the entire canine family to continue the game. How can I even tell when the real fighting begins?

Playing can usually be identified by:

  • The play bow.
  • The stronger dog runs from the smaller dog.
  • The stronger dog lies on her back to encourage the other dog to play.
  • Growling but no actual biting that breaks the skin.

In actual fighting, you will also probably notice:

  • Dogs growling even louder.
  • The weaker dog will act submissive and hold his tail between her legs.
  • The stronger dog will mount and might throw a front leg over the other dog to force him down.
  • The stronger dog will toss the other dog down on his back.
  • When a larger or stronger dog has the other down, he or she will bite forcefully, often breaking the skin.

If you do see the game getting too rough, and feel that it is going to get into a real fight, it is a good idea to make some noise (don’t yell or you might make things worse) or clap your hands and stop it before it starts. Try grabbing a leash, use your excited voice, and tell your dogs it is time to go for a walk.

If the fighting has already begun, however, there are some things you can do to stop things before your dogs hurt each other.

Not all dogs will perform a play bow but you should watch for it.
Not all dogs will perform a play bow but you should watch for it. | Source

How to Stop Dogs During a Fight

Breaking up a dog fight can be dangerous. Yelling only makes it worse, and grabbing the dogs collars (as recommended by some dog trainers and other web sites) will often get you bitten. There are things you can do, however:

  • Ring the doorbell: When dogs start to fight, they become focused. (This is why so many people get bitten by their own dogs when they are fighting. The dogs are so focused that they do not notice their owner´s hand.) Sometimes all you need to do to stop a fight is break that focus. Ringing a doorbell is a lot more effective than talking since the dogs often turn their heads to see who is at the door.
  • Throw a blanket over the attacker: This works well at the beginning of a fight, so if you have a blanket available use it immediately. This method is most effective when it is combined with being sprayed down. The dogs will sometimes back away from the wet blanket, ending the fight. If you do not use it right away, however, do not even bother.
  • Spray them down with a hose: This is not always an option, but if the dogs get in a fight out in your yard this is one method that might work for you. This is more likely to work early in a fight, so grab a hose as soon as it happens.
  • Use pepper spray: Many dog owners do not want to have this around as it can be considered cruel. What is really cruel is allowing a strong dog to rip open the face and tear out the eye of a weaker dog. To use pepper spray, you have to spray it on the attacking dog without getting bitten. (Some brands are milder than others, and this is the one I use to prevent loose dogs from attacking my dogs when walking them on the beach.) If both dogs are fighting, you do have to spray both. This is usually effective, but since dogs get so worked up it is possible that it will not work.
  • Throw a leash on one dog so that you can lift him and remove him from the fight: Try the pepper spray first, but if it does not work you can try to use a leash to separate the dogs. The main problem with this technique is that the dogs will often keep fighting and pull against you, so if you really have to work at it the dog might get choked out and pass out from lack of oxygen. This happens a lot more than you might think.
  • Grab both dogs by their back legs and pull them apart: This method requires two people since if you pull off one dog, the other can take advantage and attack even more savagely. It can also be very dangerous, as dogs will get caught up in the “heat of the moment” and bite the owner even without being aware of it. To decrease the chance of this happening, it is a good idea to spin the dog around as soon as they are separated so that he or she is off balance. Your dog will be too busy shifting around and will not have time to bite you.
  • Pry the dogs apart: This should be the last thing you try. You have to use a large stick to pry most dogs apart, and it can be dangerous, both for the dogs and for the owner; angry dogs do not want to be messed with and it can even be worse than pulling them apart.

Some dogs might be difficult to separate in the middle of a fight. If you own a strong dog learn techniques to prevent fights while he is still a puppy.
Some dogs might be difficult to separate in the middle of a fight. If you own a strong dog learn techniques to prevent fights while he is still a puppy. | Source

Teaching Your Dogs to Get Along

It does not matter if you have two females, two males, or dogs of mixed sexes living in your house. One of the most effective methods to keep dogs from fighting when out for a walk is avoidance, but since this is not possible with dogs in the same household training is often an important part of allowing your dogs to get along.

  • Prevent the problem before it starts: Figure out the triggers that are causing your dogs to fight. It may be the doorbell, a dog walking by the house, the arrival of a favorite person, the introduction of a cat or small animal, a favorite toy, or even dinner time. If you can figure out the trigger, you can sometimes avoid a fight even before it starts. When the doorbell rings, for example, command the dogs to down/stay and then use a leash to take each of them to a separate room before answering the door. (Prevention does not work all of the time, but when it does it is a simple and most effective method of stopping fighting between your dogs.)
  • Obedience training: Having dogs that respond to obedience commands will make a big difference in your life, and probably in their lives too. Your dog needs to respond to the “down” command 100% of the time. Even when he has learned it effectively, you will want to repeat this at times when he is distracted. If you are not experienced in teaching dogs, then you should start out with a class as soon as possible.

  • Provide adequate exercise: I discuss this issue so often because it is so important. If your dogs go for a long walk in the morning, they are much more likely to come back to the house and sleep during the day. It is also a good idea to take your dogs for a walk together, as this simple exercise will build a bond between most dogs.

When the fighting does start, despite your best efforts, there are two possible methods to deal with the problem

  • Flooding: This technique has been recommended for many years but it may not work and may end up traumatizing your dog. Some amateur trainers will recommend that the dogs be kept together when stressed by a trigger so that they are forced to deal with it while under supervision, others describe this as the “let them fight it out” method. It works, sometimes, since the losing dog will become submissive and be unlikely to ever get in another fight with the dominant dog. It is also dangerous, and the dogs may end up with lacerations, missing eyes, torn ears, etc. This technique can cost thousands of dollars in vet bills and may end up killing one or both of your dogs.
  • Classical counterconditioning: Although this method can take a lot longer than flooding, the results are more consistent. Put a basket muzzle on both dogs before bringing them together. (As well as preventing injuries, this muzzle that I use will allow them to breathe and has a calming effect on some dogs.) While the dogs are in the same room, command them both to lie down and then give them treats and praise when they obey. Continue to give treats and praise the dogs as they are together in the same room. If one of the dogs growls, tell him no and separate them. Do this for no more than 5 minutes, or even less if one of the dogs is very reactive. Bring your dogs together for more time at each session. As I mentioned above, this can take a long time.

Even dogs that get along will fight sometimes.
Even dogs that get along will fight sometimes. | Source

A New Breed of Dog?

Some dog breeds are just better in a single dog household. Other dogs are bred to live in group situations and are much less likely to fight.

  • Basset Hound
  • Beagle
  • Coonhound
  • Foxhound
  • Otterhound
  • Some spaniels (Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel)
  • Some sighthounds (Borzois, Greyhounds, Whippets)

Dogs that are adapted to a living in a kennel/pack situation are notoriously hard to obedience train. They can be taught basic obedience, but if you are looking for a new dog to show in the obedience ring, none of these breeds are probably going to work.

Rehoming Your Dog

There are some dogs that will never get along. This is difficult for many people to accept, but if you think about it, the situation has happened even with you.

Do you remember a classmate that you did not like? How about one of your coworkers? Imagine that you had to live with that person, and see him or her first thing in the morning, all day long, right up until the time when you went to sleep.

It is that bad for some dogs. Rehoming a dog that is living a life of misery is not cruel.

If you have to rehome one of your dogs, the best thing to do is be honest and let the new owner know what is happening at your house. The dog that you rehome may have no problems at his new house, but if he does you should be responsible and find another home.

Do not just dump your dog off at the local animal shelter. A dog that does not get along is probably going to be put down quickly.

If your dogs fight, have you considered rehoming one of them?

See results

Dogs are individuals. There are no clear rules for any situation since so many dogs react so differently. If you have tried some of the tips in this article and your dogs will still not get along, please consider consulting an animal behaviorist.

Your regular vet or dog trainer can give you refer you to the behavior specialist nearest you.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

  • Why is my older dog attacking my new puppy?

    Young puppies are almost never attacked and hurt by older dogs. When a puppy gets older, however, he loses that special aura of protection and is more likely to be thrashed for misbehaving.

    The age at which a puppy has to act like an adult varies. In a multiple dog household, the older animals will start training the young dog as soon as he gets home.

    It is hard to tell what the dynamics are between your older dog and your puppy, but it sounds like the puppy is becoming an adult and is being seen as challenging. Of course, some old dogs never like the new puppy trodding on their home turf, and will attack without provocation.

    What kind of training have you done? Are you in charge? You need to spend some time in the backyard with them when you let them out. Watch the older dog, and see if the puppy is committing some "crime" that is causing the attack (stealing favorite toys, for example). If this is the case, you can remove the triggers, and the dogs might get along.

    If the dogs still fight, you should try to talk to a behaviorist, and you may even need to rehome the puppy. It is not right to make her grow up and live in a world where she is always afraid of being attacked.

  • My 1 yr old lab constantly tries to play with my 1.5 year old lab. They will play for a minute or so then the older one ends up hurting the younger. Twice she has split his ear. What to do?

    I think you have seen why many of us Pitbull owners crop our dogs ears. Many people complain about it, but when my dog wrestles and plays with another she never hurts her ears.

    I am not sure it is going to be okay to interfere with your dogs at this time. You can try the counterconditioning exercise that I descdribe in the article, but without worrying about the muzzles, but if your dogs are okay together they are probably okay together unsupervised and you probably leave them together all of the time. If you are around most of the time, you can also tell your dogs to lie down when they start playing, which will discourage the behavior.

© 2018 Dr Mark

How can you stop your dogs from fighting at home?

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    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      5 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Chad, sometimes two females will never get along. If the dogs are hurting each other and you do not have a way to keep them seperated you may need to consider rehoming one dog. Here is an article that gives more ideas on what do during a fight.

    • profile image

      Chad Mendes 

      5 months ago

      I have a Cane Corso that fights Rottweiler over jealously and always loses fight, both are Females.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      14 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      "I think I would have to resort to the pepper spray. My back would never be able to handle a dog like that!"

      Yes, exactly, LOL!

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      14 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      I was using this method a few months ago to break up a fight between a Pitbull/Cane Corso mix and a Rottie mix. As I was wheelbarrowing the dog to keep him off balance I had a vision of trying this with a dog like K2.

      I think I would have to resort to the pepper spray. My back would never be able to handle a dog like that!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      14 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Very informative article, Dr. Mark!

      I have used lifting the hind legs of my dog while he was in a fight, but then this has to be done for each dog, otherwise your dog is at a disadvantage if the other dog is still on all fours.

      The job is difficult on a trail where door bells and water hoses are not available. In this case, pepper spray can come in handy.


      Suhail and my dog K2

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      14 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Very good point, Penny. So often severe dog bites are to kids and teens.

    • Penny Sebring profile image

      Penny Leigh Sebring 

      14 months ago from Fort Collins

      There are several good ideas that can be used to stop fighting in the home. Other than the doorbell idea, which is useful for any age, kids and teens or should remember to get an adult to help break up any fights, particularly if non-contact methods have already failed.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      14 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Thanks for that comment about Ajej. I guess I should use her photos more, but I feel sometimes like I am overdoing it. Good thing she does not charge me a modeling fee.

      One size does not fit all, but you know those of us who have not adopted a clicker are considered knuckle draggers? I tell clicker users that something else will come along, and that the clicker will fall out of favor, but they do not believe it. Oh well.

      I am having a terrible time typing this. I have a newborn Dorper lamb in my lap since everytime I try to put her on the ground she starts crying. (Her mom is a first-timer and had twins; I am not even sure if she is going to take care of her sister since she was kicking her when she was trying to nurse. This little girl is even smaller and when she tried to nurse the mom just knocked her over. Guess this little girl is going to be bottle fed.)

    • profile image

      Bob Bamberg 

      14 months ago

      Great information, Doc, some of it applicable to dog parks, etc. I like the "lift their hind legs" technique; something I had never heard about previously.

      I think pet owners have to think clearly in dog fight situations, which usually isn't the case. Most just react instinctively to pry them apart, always at their peril.

      I think the paragraph before your final sentence is a good one, too. One size doesn't fit all. Modern day trainers often consider old school trainers to be knuckle-draggers, yet techniques used by each still work for most dogs. Pet owners usually look for definitive answers, but in animal husbandry, those are rare.

      Just curious as to why, with such a beauty as Ajej, you use online images.


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