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To a caring dog owner, having their dog bitten is almost as traumatic to them as being bitten themselves. Many fights between dogs are avoidable, but once started they are very difficult to break up.
Fights often take place when dogs are allowed to roam free, walked off a leash, or are able to rush out at other dogs passing their home. Preventing contact between two dogs is one of the main reasons why a dog has to be on a leash in a public place.
WHY DO DOGS FIGHT?
Fighting between dogs of the same sex is common and will occur naturally unless a dog is taught not to do so. Dogs have always fought over food, the right to mate, the position in a pack, and in defence of their young or territory. Today many of these circumstances still occur, although individual dogs may vary in their inclination to fight because of their breeding, socialisation, experience and training.
A dog of any breed may fight another dog it has not been adequately socialised to other dogs, or has been deliberately or inadvertently trained to be aggressive. Some breeds of dogs and individuals of breeds have been selected for their fighting or guarding qualities, and may be more likely to fight other dogs.
Male dogs will usually fight with each other more than female dogs do, but fights between females are common when or both are in season. Prospective owners should choose their dog carefully. If purchasing two dogs a person should obtain one of each sex and have them sterilised if they are not going to be used for breeding.
Dogs that have been well socialised with other dogs from an early age are less likely to fight. Aggression between dogs of the same sex does not usually develop until just before or at sexual maturity, so an owner has plenty of opportunity to prevent it from occurring.
Fights between strange dogs frequently occur when one of the dogs is protecting its territory, its owner or itself. Dogs allowed to wander onto the road will usually claim its owners front verge and the road as their own, and may attack other dogs passing by.
Dogs on a leash sometimes become very possessive of their owner. Fights often break out between two dogs on a leash passing close by each other, or when two dogs are off the leas and their owners are in close proximity. Owners with aggressive dogs must take particular care when near other dogs. Many dog fights begin because an owner's attention is elsewhere and the dog is not corrected immediately after an incident occurs. What may happen when two dogs meet cannot always be predicted. A normally friendly dog may take a particular dislike to another dog and start a fight with it.
A smaller dog may be attacked and killed by a larger dog when its movements or sounds are mistaken for prey. Dominance/Subordination: Two dogs that fail to establish or maintain a dominant-subordinate relationship will fight. This may happen with dogs that meet infrequently, live together and are evenly matched, or have an owner who interferes with their relationship. Where two dogs are living in the same household their owner must ensure that one is dominant and the other subordinate, and then continue to reinforce the dominant dog's position.
TREATMENT FOR A DOG THAT FIGHTS OTHER DOGS
Castration can reduce fighting in male dogs, as the operation is responsible for changing both the odour of the dogs and consequent other dog's reactions to it and the amount of testosterone (the male hormone which precipitates the aggression) that is produced. Female dogs may also be aggressive towards each other, but male/female fights are less common. When the fighting is due to a dog being frightened or protective, or if a dog has been trained to fight, sterilisation will have no effect. If sterilisation has no effect, a progestion (synthetic hormone) treatment may have to be give by a veterinarian in conjunction with training and behavioural therapy.
CONDITIONING TO OTHER DOGS
A dog that fights other dogs can be conditioned through supervised interactions to accept other dogs in close proximity. An unfamiliar dog should be brought towards the problem dog to a distance where no aggression occurs. The dog that is aggressive must be must be facing the approaching the facing dog and is to be rewarded for not barking or growling. Several trials will need to be conducted over a number of sessions with the dogs the same distance apart. Over a period of several weeks the distance between the two dogs can be gradually decreased, if no aggression occurs at each set distance apart. The procedure must be repeated with different dogs until the problem dog's behaviour changes. Less structured interactions can take place as the dog progresses.
PREVENTING A DOG FIGHT
This alone will not stop two dogs from being aggressive towards each other. However, the control that owners gain over their dog through training can assist in both preventing and breaking up fights, as the dog is more likely to obey any commands given.
Preventive action can be taken by owners who understand the body language and facial expressions of their own and other dogs.
COMMON SIGNS OF AGGRESSION OR DOMINANCE IN DOGS INCLUDE
Slow and deliberate movements when approaching other people's dogs A stiff-legged walk and an enhanced profile Ears erect and the hairs on the back and neck raised. A lowering of the head and extending of the neck forwards. Tail horizontal or upright. A direct stare. Pronounced and frequent lifting of the leg and urination. Growling, snarling or the curling of the upper lip
WALKING THE DOG
Some dogs will approach another dog, investigate and wait for a reaction from it. Others will attack without warning, or from behind cover. Little can be done when this occurs. When one dog is being walked on a leash and another not on a leash approaches, every attempt must be made to prevent the dogs from making contact with each other. The owner of the leashed dog should leave the scene with their dog by backing away, slowly and cautiously and keeping between the two dogs. Fortunately most dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs are not aggressive towards people. If the owner blocks their dog from the other dog, it may defuse the encounter.
INCREASING THE DISTANCE
The distance from the other dog must be gradually increased, If the threatening dog follows, commands such as "Stay" or "No" should be given. Often dogs will obey these. Actions by owners such as turning their back immediately or quickly, striking out or moving forward and allowing their dog to challenge the other dog, may cause the offending dog to attack.
A small dog can be picked up and carried high as its owner backs away from the other dog.
BREAKING UP A DOG FIGHT
Separating two dogs that are fighting can be dangerous as not all known methods are effective with every pair of dogs. Dogs fight at different intensities and for different reasons. Learning how to avoid situations that can lead to a dog fight is better than having to break one up. Frequently one or both dogs will redirect their aggression towards the person attempting to break up the fight. Whether this is considered to be a dog attack on a person will depend on the circumstances leading up to the incident. Often dogs do not recognise their owners immediately in these situations and bite them when they come too close.
Owners in other instances can accentuate a fight by intervening, as the dog will then fight not only to protect itself but also its owner.
TECHNIQUES SEPARATING TWO DOGS
If there are two people available, both dogs should have their hindquarters lifted off the ground and then be dragged backwards by the tail. This will confuse the dogs and may cause them to relax their grip on each other. If the hindquarters are not lifted first, the dog may anchor itself by its front feet. Further injuries can then be caused to the other dog. In dogs without tails, the hind legs should not be substituted for the tail, as the dog can easily turn around and bite the person holding it. Grabbing the head or shoulders of one or both dogs is dangerous unless the person doing so can get directly behind the dog's shoulders and have the strength to control its head.
USING A BLANKET
A blanket can be thrown over the heads of both dogs to confuse them. This may stop the fight and allow time for one or both dogs to be removed.
DISTRACTING THE DOGS
Throwing a noisy object at the dogs, or making a loud sound near their heads to startle them may gain sufficient time to stop the fight. A succession of commands such as "No" or "Stop" should be given at the same time.
Water can be poured over both dogs, or squirted into their faces if a bucket or hose is readily available.