How to deal with conflict between dogs

Pets, especially dogs, are extremely popular in Marin. In fact, when I think of my own neighborhood, every house has at least one dog. (Yay for dogs!) Unfortunately, this preponderance of dogs also means that they sometimes argue with each other.

Seeing your dog involved in a fight, whether attacked or abusive, is traumatic for dogs and humans alike. In the face of this scary and stressful situation, it is difficult to keep a cool head. Here are a few things to remember.

Avoid situations that could lead to altercations:

• Keep your dog on a leash as much as possible (and certainly in places that are only leashed).

• If your dog is responsive to other dogs, avoid areas where there are a lot of dogs. Dog parks, in particular, are not suitable for some dogs. And forcing your dog to go to one of them sets him up for failure.

• If your dog has a history of aggression towards other dogs, use a muzzle.

If a dog approaches your dog aggressively:

• Don’t be embarrassed to yell at the dog or yell for help.

• Throw treats at the attacking dog to distract him.

• Pick up small dogs and, if possible, place them on the roof of a car or something else high up. Big dogs can kill little ones all at once. If you hold the dog in your arms, the attacking dog may bite you in an attempt to reach your dog.

If your dog is fighting another dog:

• Use the leash or harness to keep the dog away. However, if the attacking dog has the other in what is called a “bite catch”, this can cause more injury. Instead, lift the attacking dog’s hind legs. Keep your hands away from their mouths to avoid getting bitten.

• If possible, wedge something between the two dogs such as a backpack or a board. If near a pipe, spray the attacking dog.

Once the fight is over:

• If people are injured, call 911.

• If your dog is seriously injured, take him to the nearest veterinarian or emergency pet hospital immediately.

• If your dog is not seriously injured and your car is nearby, secure your dog and come back to exchange information with the other person. Even if you think your dog is not injured, share information. Take pictures of the other person, their dog, their car, and the street or trail you are on.

• To file a complaint, contact Marin Humane at 415-883-4621. An animal services officer will investigate.

And don’t forget to help your dog after the altercation. “Hormones increase during conflict and dogs can take a long time to calm down,” says Virginia Grainger, Shelter Behavior Manager at Marin Humane. “It’s like having a car accident; your heart rate increases, you feel shaky and afraid, and you probably avoid driving for several days.

“After a dog fight, organize“ re-education ”sessions for your dog. Have them take a short walk with a calm, stable dog they know and love, or just a dog you know who is calm. It’s even better if you can find a dog that looks like the fighting dog, ”Grainger adds.

Need behavioral help? Contact our behavior and training department at And to learn more about this subject, consider attending our seminar with Michael Shikashio, a world-renowned expert in canine aggression, at Marin Humane on January 15 and 16. Details and registration at events / seminars-events / details / 908-Michael-Shikashio-8757.

Lisa Bloch is the Director of Marketing and Communications for Marin Humane, which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal related questions and stories about people and animals in our community. Visit, or email [email protected]

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Jennifer R. Strohm

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