Dogs are Animals and Animals Fight.

And most of the time, it's actually alright.

A while ago, my friend had a tiff with her spouse. There was an uncapped tube of toothpaste implicated. They settled things in a species-normal fashion, with some pointed looks, a few huffy words, and a bit of the ol' silent treatment. Eventually, they forgot all about it. No one was harmed, threatened, or scared, and when she told me about it afterwards, we laughed.  Ah, love.

A while ago, my dog had a tiff with another dog. There was a choice spot on the couch implicated. They settled things in a species-normal fashion, by barking and snarling, then scrapping -  there were some inhibited, non-injurious open-mouth blows to each other while they stood on hind legs, after which they both settled down comfortably in different beds. No one was harmed or scared. When I told my friend about it later, she suggested keeping the dogs apart forever or maybe putting one or both down or re-homing or something really must be done.

Hold on.


Dog fights seem exceptionally scary to humans, my poor friend included. There are teeth - lots of teeth. And the teeth are large. And white. And there is noise - lots of noise. And it's intense. We humans are only a few hundred years removed from Little Red Riding Hood, when you think about it. Large, wolf-like predators using their teeth - that's just scary to humans.

So was my friend right? Should dogs who have tiffs with other dogs be separated, re-homed, or worse? If a dog fight makes our human hearts race, our blood run cold, and our stress hormones spike, well it simply must be stopped, right?

As you've probably guessed from my introduction, dogs who have occasional, non-injurious fights do not need to be euthanized, re-homed, or even separated. They don't necessarily even need (heavens be) to be trained. The Toothpaste Cap Incident isn't on a slippery slope leading to divorce, mayhem, and acrimony. Similarly, dogs are allowed to have normal conflict over normal, conflict-inducing things, in a species-appropriate way. It is not a slippery slope leading to bloodshed, mayhem, and death.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Talk to a modern, reinforcement-only trainer if any of these apply to your dogs.

Exception 1. The fights are actually injurious

If there are anything more than minor wounds on the face and legs, talk to a trainer. That is, if a dog is causing the type of injury that needs shaving, suturing, drains, or antibiotics at the vet, then the dog who has the damaging bite must be kept apart from other dogs except when muzzled. They are not bad dogs or evil dogs or anything other than great dogs... but we just can't have even one more bite. There is no known way of reducing the damage of a dog's bite in these scenarios, so don't be fooled by snake-oil salesmen offering relief for a fee. 

Exception 2. One of the dogs is getting scared

Most fights are not scary to dogs, just like most toothpaste wars are not scary to humans. But sometimes, one of the pair starts to become afraid. Call in a trainer A.S.A.P., and keep whatever they're fighting over locked away until your trainer can work with you to make a plan. The plan might include changing the dog's mind about sharing, or simply updating how the dogs are organised at home.

Exception 3. Bystanders

If you have kids in your home, or others who might get injured inadvertently from a dog fight, it's time to call the trainer in. 

Obviously, if there are simple ways of reducing fights (feeding in separate rooms, switching to consumable-type chewies, buying extra beds), then as pet parents we should do so. And if you like training, you can almost certainly reduce the number of fights with some pro help. But if your dogs are generally friendly and occasionally scrap, you have the glorious option of just not worrying about it. This feels heretical or ghastly because of the human factor: we find dog fights scary. But it's a worthwhile exercise to reel ourselves back in. Just because we find it scary doesn't mean it actually is. Just because we find it scary doesn't mean we have the right to cordon our dogs off and keep them away from each other. Just because we find it scary doesn't mean we should kill our dogs. Imagine if I told my friend she needed to build separate bathrooms because the toothpaste thing. Or get a divorce. Or plot... well, never mind.

One of reasons we bring dogs into our lives is to enjoy their furry high jinks. Dog conflict is just part of that parcel, for better or worse. So while it's true that we might have to deal with some scrapping, let's look on the bright side: it's pretty rare that they leave the cap off the toothpaste tube.  


For information on how to separate dog fights, check back next month. This blog is our contribution to iSpeakDog week.


Little Red Riding Hood image Walter Crane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Dog photo by Friday | © Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images


Kristi Benson14 Comments