Bad day breaking up a dog fight

by Irene

My crew of 4 Giant Schnauzer mixes

My crew of 4 Giant Schnauzer mixes

I am an expat living in Cordoba, Argentina. I have 4 Giant Schnauzer mixes; the mom and her two daughters and son. Today a stray dog attacked one of ours and I feel we didn’t react as well as we could have. Breaking a dog fight is stressful and it is hard to think on the spot.

My pack is made of mom, Zena of 2 1/2 years and her children of 1 1/2 years old. A year ago they all had basic training with a professional trainer who tends to focus on guard dog training. Since then my husband and I continue with the basic training; sit, stay, come and lay down. Every morning we take them for a walk to a nearby river and park for them to run and play with some of the stray dogs in the area. It is hard to socialize them with non strays since most dog owners are fearful of 4 black hyper/over friendly dogs coming towards their dog.

Zena usually doesn't care for other dogs and walks away. Zena tends to be very independent and pushes the envelope when outside. We adopted her when she was 10 months old. Flora is very well behaved too, very hyper and too intelligent for her own good but a very good dog. Elsa wants to play and usually runs around with the strays. Her desire to play with the others has resulted in her "losing her head" and following them and not listening to us call her back. We now keep Elsa on a leash when we approach strays until we are in an area where we can control her from running away. Elsa, well let's say she admires her mom. Our male, Marvin, fortunately so far has been really good with other males. He allows the males to check him out and lets them play with “his girls” but doesn't cower to the other dogs. If we see postures in the strays or in him that seem to potentially become aggressive, we call Marvin and he comes back to us. (He is a very well behaved dog).

After the dogs run for 20-30 minutes my husband and I will practice recall training at the park until they throw themselves on the ground to rest. We stand about a half of a football/soccer field away from each other and call the dogs back and forth. They sprint to us and are rewarded with praise on either side.

This morning my husband and I failed them. I know dog training is more training of myself than the dogs. We were walking along the river when we saw a beautiful Newfoundland on the other side of the river. I believe the dog is a female. She swam across the river to hang out with us. It was clear that the dog was either lost or thrown out of her home. My dogs and the newfie continued on our walk playing. Elsa once again starts to run to far ahead of us. We call her and eventually she comes back. I put a leash on her and then, the newfie attacks Elsa. I pull Elsa away from the dog but the newfie continues to try to attack. I think there were a few times where I crouched down to cover Elsa. My husband tries to hit the dog with a leash. Marvin tries to corral the dog away from Elsa but nothing seems to stop this dog from trying to attack Elsa. Flora stayed near us but at a safe distance.

Then Zena starts running. The newfie follows Zena down a path but he stops and comes back to us. By this time we have managed to collect the three and get leashes back on them to start to leave the area. My husband takes the three while I run to find Zena. The newfie tries to block me from going down the path to go after Zena. She doesn't demonstrate any aggression to me but is just being in the way. She then turns back to my husband. About 1/4 mile away is Zena sitting and watching/waiting. I collect her we hug and get a leash on her. I see from a distance the newfie is blocking my husband and the dogs from moving toward us. He had to walk in a different direction and meet up with me and Zena several blocks away.

Our failure was how we reacted to this situation. I am very thankful the attack wasn't worse. Elsa has a few scratches and a sore foot.

My question is, what is the best way to handle an attack?

I'm always watchful of my dogs' and other dogs body language and shift my dogs' attention if I see a potential issue. However this dog was a big old teddy bear there were zero indications of issue. My husband and I joked that we can't take in another big black dog. Elsa was not even near the dog until I put a leash on her. In addition, I couldn't get Elsa to safety nor think of commands for the others to sit or stay or anything. I know I will have to train myself to react more logically. I know I should not have crouched down to cover Elsa but that was my reaction. Are there any steps or things to remember?


Hi Irene, what a story. First, let me tell you that you both reacted really well, never feel bad for trying to protect your dog. It is true that trying to cover Else may not have been wise because you could have been badly injured if the Newfie decided to continue the attack. But, it seems that it was out of the blue and from your story, all 6 of you were working together to protect Elsa. And we learn from experience, the first thing you did when you got back was learn “What could I have done better?”. That is excellent! So, following are a few tips to break a dog fight.

Tips to break a dog fight

  • Dog Body Language: As you very well said, it is important to be alert to the body language of both your dog and other canines around the area. Most people can see the most obvious signals, like growling or barking. However, there are more subtle signals that we need to learn to seetoo. For example, freezing and watching you from the corner of the eyes may signal that the dog is unsure and you should break the situation. Like you mention, calling your dog in a happy and calm way. Learn more about body language in the link above.

  • Do NOT get in the middle: Never try to protect your dog with your own body, put your hands in between the dogs or EVEN grab your dog from the collar. This last one is how most dog owners get bitten by their own pooch. In the heated fight the dog reacts to the restraining by turning its head and biting.

  • Loud and sudden noise: A way to separate dogs fighting without getting your hands in the middle is to create a loud noise that startles the dogs. This gives you a couple of seconds to separate them, or call them apart. Loud noises can be keys thrown hard on a hard surface, honking if you are near a car, throwing a pan to the floor if you are at home, Yelling, clapping and stomping your feet if nothing else is available, etc. If you live in a place where stray dogs are common, you can bring with you a an air horn, just in case. The noise should stop the dogs within a few seconds, if it doesn’t go on to the next step.

  • Getting wet: If you have water available like from a hose or a bowl, throw it over the dogs to startle them. You can even try with a water bottle if you have one at hand, but a big bucket of water on the head will work best.

  • Dog repellent spray: You can also carry with dog repellent spray, such as citronella or pepper spray.

  • Separate the dogs with a barrier: try to get a long thin object to put in between the two dogs so they can’t see each other. I you are outdoors, you may try to find a large branch, to try and separate them without putting your hands in the middle of the dog fight.

  • Physically separate them: Have one person per dog and everyone must grab the dog at the same time. The idea is to grab the dog from their back legs, the top part of the back legs and move them as if they were wheelbarrows. This will make the dogs loose their balance and stop biting. Again, never grab from the collar because you will get bitten.

Hope it helps. Let us know how Elsa is recovering!

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