What’s actually going on in dog fight? Are your dogs scuffling or out to hurt each other?
“They were trying to kill each other!” my client exclaimed. The accused dogs were two medium sized, fluffy female mixed breeds, who were lying calmly next to each other on the couch at the moment. “It sounded terrible.”
I nodded. “Was there any blood or damage?”
“Well…no…but we stopped them after a few seconds! If we hadn’t…”
“Were their teeth bared, both of them? Did they look like a dust devil made of teeth and hair?”
“YES!” My client was clearly relieved that I understood the situation. I nodded again.
“Well, I’ve got good news for you. Your dogs don’t want to kill each other – they don’t even want to hurt each other.” My client clearly did not believe me. “Dogs don’t use noise and bared teeth to hurt each other – if they want to hurt each other, they just do it, quietly and without hesitation.” I had to smile a little. “You don’t have a pair of psychopaths on your hands here, you have a pair of teenage girls who were slapping each other’s hands and pulling hair. It’s not GOOD – we don’t want them doing that – but it’s not abnormal.”
An altercation between dogs is never pleasant and it always gets the heart pounding, but the vast majority of incidents between dogs are superficial. To better understand what’s going on during these altercations, here are a few simple facts about dog-on-dog conflict.
1.) Dogs don’t miss their targets on accident.
When two dogs are gnashing their teeth together and snarling furiously, it’s no accident that they actually make very little contact. If one dog gets his mouth on another and leaves nothing behind but some spit, it’s also no accident. Some scrapes, nicks, bruises, and even very shallow punctures can happen, but remember that dogs can exert a bite force of 200-300 pounds of pressure per square inch. If their teeth are making contact with a living thing, and no one is truly injured, it’s not an accident or a fluke – it’s bite inhibition.
2.) Serious bites and fights are often silent.
Dogs use growling and snarling the same way a rattlesnake uses his tail – it’s a warning that says, “Back off!” When dogs are truly intent on doing damage to their opponent, a warning is counterproductive. Serial killers don’t warn off their victims, and truly aggressive dogs don’t give their targets much time to get away. When a dog fight involves lots of noise, and “sounds terrible,” it means the dogs were trying to back each other off and END THE CONFLICT, not escalate it. In contrast, very serious dog fights are often nearly silent, because the dogs are fully occupied with trying to injure their opponent vs defending themselves.
3.) Real bites happen faster than you can blink.
If a dog is truly intent on laying a hard bite on a victim, whether canine or human, it will do so faster than most people can even believe – and often with no warning. Remember these are predators! They once depended on the speed and strength of their bite to survive. Even the most mild-mannered pet can lay a crushing bite in a split second if it feels so inclined. The reality is that most dogs aren’t out to seriously hurt anyone – they use aggressive displays to defend themselves and make themselves feel safe, or even to gain/retain valuable resources, not hurt others.
4.) Things can always escalate.
Maybe you’re feeling a lot better about a recent indecent between your dogs. Good! We hope this helps you gain some perspective. However, please remember that these things can escalate if the underlying cause of the fight isn’t dealt with. Don’t take chances – if you’re not sure what caused an issue between dogs, get professional help! Learning to read their body language and diffuse a potential fight is critical, as well as reducing or eliminating their urge to fight in the first place. Once dogs have escalated to the point of injuring each other, behavior modification becomes much riskier and more difficult.
A little understanding of these incidents goes a long way. If you have any concerns about your dogs’ interactions, seek help! Dog fights are frightening for humans, but most are the result of dogs need space, safety, better training, and clearly boundaries. Happy training!