How to break up a dog fight

This happened during Positive Pet Training week when the theme was multiple dogs, but sadly I didn’t have a chance to write it up in time.

Not fighting
Playing. Not fighting

Mia and Leo hadn’t been in a nasty fight in almost two years, and generally are the bestest of buddies. Most of the time, I feed them sort of separately. Leo gets his food in his crate (The Bug Hut) and Mia gets hers in her condo or the kitchen.

When I give them Raw Meaty Bones inside the house, Leo runs from room to room looking for a place to hide it before settling down beside Mia to eat it.


Often, they sit back to back while eating their bones. Adorable.

The other week though, something happened. I don’t remember the moments before, but suddenly they were fighting.

I’m certain that Leo left his bone too close to Mia, and then when he went back for it, she snarled at him. With most toys or lower value items, Leo shrugs it off, but here, he didn’t back down, and that’s how they ended up fighting. Snarling and snapping at each other’s faces.

In that first moment, I started shouting, “Hey! Knock it off!” Because that’s what they tell you to do, right? Make a loud noise to shake them out of it? (We’ve used an air horn in the past. Didn’t work either.) But this is counter to what I believe about dog behavior. I don’t scold or yell “No!” to stop my dogs from barking and lunging inappropriately, because shouting begets more shouting.

I grabbed Leo’s hips and pulled back. Rob rushed in from the other room with a broom in hand. He thought he might use the handle to separate them, but instead, he grabbed Mia’s hips and pulled her back. Even though we were in a smaller space (in front of the TV) than we were the last time they fought (over a live rabbit, on the back patio), we succeeded in separating them.

(We had a hard time with that last one. Since then, I’ve been advised to “wheelbarrow” fighting dogs by lifting their hips while pulling back, so their back legs are off the ground. We didn’t have room to do that this time, but luckily we didn’t have to.)

No one was injured.

Even after they were separated, Leo continued to bark at Mia, and Rob said it was scary to see him so checked out (that’s called hindbrain).

After my initial, failed attempt at shouting a distraction, I started saying, “Shhh. Shhh.” I repeated this while putting Leo in his hut and Mia in the back yard.

Then I walked them separately, and when they reunited, they were buds again.

I don’t know if “Shh” is necessarily a better way to break up a fight than “Hey!” but it kept me calm, so maybe it soothed the dogs too.

Our hearts were pounding afterward, but I felt quite pleased with ourselves. This was a welcome change; usually I beat myself up about my failure as a dog parent. This time, Rob and I congratulated ourselves on how well we handled the fight.

But sadly, this means I won’t get to watch them eat Raw Meaty Bones side by side for a while.

How about you, readers? What was the worst dog fight you’ve had to break up? Do you have any field-tested techniques?

Hark! There is a blog hop I can join with this post: June is Multiple Pet Mania Month hosted by Cascadian Nomads, My GBGV Life and Wag’n’Woof Pets and sponsored by K9 Bytes, Merrick and The Umbilical Belt. The entire month is all about life with multiple pets culminating with the first annual Multiple Pet Day on June 30th. If you have or have ever had more than one pet, please take the Life With Multiple Pets Survey. We will be sharing the results on Multiple Pet Day. That is also the day we will announce the winner of our #MultiPetDay photo contest. Anyone can join in the photo contest or multiple pet mania month fun. Check out the posts below, comment, share and follow #MultiPetMania. If you are a blogger with more than one pet, please link up a post about multiple pet life below. Any and all things about living with and loving multiple pets are welcome!


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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

22 thoughts on “How to break up a dog fight

  1. Wheelbarrowing is the best way. We sadly had to learn it and use it a bunch of time when I worked at a rescue/doggie daycare.

  2. We always only had one dog so no dispute to break up. “Shhh” seems like a perfectly good response and if it kept you calm, that’s important, too.

  3. Unfortunately, I adopted two littermates who fought throughout their lives. And yes, using the hind ends to create distance is the best method. It’s great that you and your sweetie were on the same page and stayed calm under pressure.

    A vigorous game of bitey face can be scary enough, much less an actual argument.

    The amazing thing is that even when dogs show share a household end up aroused and fighting, they do hold back. Because if they wanted to, they could do a lot of damage to each other quickly.

  4. You are spot on. Grabbing the hips and pulling back works. Witnessed a dog fight with a usually tame corgi suddenly getting aggressive with another male dog. Had to to just that!

  5. Well that’s interesting. I didn’t know about wheelbarrowing. Thank you! And I’m sorry you won’t be able to enjoy their communal bone consumption for a bit. 😦

  6. This is a great tip that I hope to never have to use. I’ll definitely file it in my emergency brain compartment. LOL! Bentley and Pierre cannot have bones together. Bentley won’t share and Pierre is a thief so he goes in his “house” to eat and Bentley snarfs his down on his bed.

  7. I volunteer at a doggie daycare and if a fight breaks out I do the same thing–wheelbarrowing. I know one time that did not work so I used the pooper scooper and managed to get it between them and used it to keep them apart.

  8. I have heard about wheelbarrowing and we have used it a little bit. Mostly we avoid any long lasting treats around here, we’ve just had too many issues that way. But fights have also broken out over toys.
    Our beagle Cricket won’t back down from a fight. She may be the smallest but she is the toughest. It was an issue when we had our golden retriever Moses because he wouldn’t back down either. The only way we could split them up was with loud noises (I would bang cookie sheets together)…our house is too small to be able to pull them apart that way most of the time. I know it’s not ideal but it’s what works.
    Now when a spat breaks out between Luke and Cricket, so far Luke has always backed down (our other golden Sheba has always backed down too). Hopefully it stays that way. Fighting was the one thing about having multiple pets that I never saw coming. When we only had two they always got along great.
    Thanks for joining the Multiple Pet Mania hop!

  9. Thanks for joining! My sister Bailie and I fight now and then. Most of the time we get along great but sometimes I snap and go after her. Mom pulls me off her and holds me off to the side talking in a quiet voice to calm me down as I go into killer wolf mode sort of. We don’t fight over treats or food, I have some jealousy issues and don’t like it when I’m not the center of attention. Mom says our fights scare her, but we keep working at it in the hope I learn to let other dogs get attention before I do. I used to go after my Kuvasz sister Katie too, but now that she is almost 13 and not doing so well, she doesn’t bother me anymore.

  10. Stories of all the fights I have had to break up would be too long for a comment but I learned about wheelbarrowing when I worked at a dog daycare. The problem is that doing a wheelbarrow doesn’t work when the dogs were two different sizes. The trainer who ran the daycare wasn’t a 100% positive trainer (which is one of the reasons I don’t work there anymore) but I did like her protocol for breaking up unwheelbarrow-able fights. We were instructed to take the least intimidating-to-a-dog posture as possible and safely work our way between the dogs to break them up. If a broom or other tool was available and could be used safely, we did that, while still keeping ourselves out of an imposing posture. She also directed us to say “shh” constantly! She wanted us to use “shh” because it kept us employees from shouting (as is everyone’s instinct/gut reaction to a scary dog fight) but, most importantly, it kept the other dogs calm. The only time I had to break up and unwheelbarrowable fight was between my dachshund Wilhelm and a border collie mix who was and still is one of my doxie’s best friends. Even best friends irritate each other occasionally. I got as low as I could and slid this stick like toy, that was the nearest thing I could grab, between them. My memory is that the toy was too flexible to actually do any sort of prying them apart, but the distraction of a crouching, whispering person and a foreign object made them stop attempting vicious fang contact. Thank you so much for joining the Multiple Pet Mania hop. Maybe you can share more multiple pet antics again before the month is through!

    1. Well, look at that! My Shh instincts were right! I’ll try to get some more multi-pet posts in. I can’t believe I’ve missed more than half the month. I’ve been neglecting my blog reading duties, as well as my posting, this month. My next post should explain why.

  11. I’ve never heard the term wheelbarrow before, but I can see how that would get fighting dogs apart and keep you from getting hurt. My dogs get on each others nerves from time to time and then they are best friends again. I’ll remember this technique.

  12. Unfortunately I have a lot of experience with this and my mom’s dogs. I wrote about it recently when I told my dog bite story. I lost the tip of my index finger trying to free Pug the absolute WRONG way.

  13. I guess if you have 2 people to each grab one dog’s hips and pull, that’s a good way. I saw my vet once right after he’d had to break up a dog fight and he said to never reach in with your hand. He said to go in with your foot and try to separate them – assuming you have shoes on. He said going in with your hand is dangerous since you could get bit and your hand/wrist could bleed a LOT. He said in case you’d get bit, that’s why its’ better to go in (shoed) foot first.

  14. We had a foster come stay with us a few years ago and they were both chihuahuas. Wheelbarrowing does not work when one is biting the other’s ear – which is what they were doing. My pawrents each grabbed a dog from their hindquarters, but if pulled apart the neck and an ear would have been ripped apart as well. They had to gingerly grab the tiny little head/mouth to get those teeth out. These were two female chihuahuas. Very scary – tasmanian devil – like event!

  15. Good for you for staying calm and keeping a clear head, I would never think to walk them separately after the fight, but now I see it makes sense. Most of the fights I have seen have just been dogs posturing, a few snarls and snaps and it is over. I’m not sure I could maintain my cool like you did.

  16. Unfortunately, we’ve had to do that, too, but usually it’s with smaller dogs and wheelbarrowing alone doesn’t work too well when Barley can just pick the dog up off the ground. Luckily, once she realizes that I’m touching her, she gets that “oops, I wasn’t supposed to be doing that” look and lets go, but our trainer has recommended grabbing the dog’s hips and them gently flipping them onto their backs, which surprises them and causes them to let go of whoever they were holding on to. Glad everything turned out ok for Mia and Leo in the end–I know how scary that is when the dogs don’t have to stay under the same roof at the end of the day, so I can only imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been!

  17. I’ve personally never had to break up a fight, but I’ve heard “breaking sticks” work pretty good you put it in the dogs mouth and twist, it breaks their grip and someone else who is holding the dog then has control.
    I’ve seen the wheelbarrow used before and that works pretty good. My friend one time, jammed her hand down her dogs throat – surprised him and he let go of the other dog…but I wouldn’t recommend that technique.
    We got lucky somehow in that Dante and Ziva (not litter mates, but only a year apart) have never fought or showed any signs of a potential fight.
    Dante initially had some resource guarding towards other dogs not humans, when we first adopted him, but we don’t allow resource guarding in our house. When we would resource guard we would take the toy, treat, or object away and he seemed to learn that growling meant he didn’t get it. But if he allowed something to be taken from him, them myself or hubby would retrieve it from the thief and return it to him.
    The only recent problem we’ve had is Jack our foster, Dante and Ziva don’t mind sharing with each other but for some reason when Jack wants to share they growl and warn him away.

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