There is Always Hope in a Dog’s Eyes – Learning from Foster Dogs

Rescue is not easy. We have had our ups and downs around here. Crazy ups and downs. Some days are fluffy puppies and some days are everything but. If you love dogs like I do, you will understand the stress in pulling apart a fight between two that you love, dogs that are family.

Hope, (our long term foster dog, above right) and Pen (our 3 year old Lab, above left) lived together peacefully for 7 months, and suddenly they couldn’t be near one another. Two visits to the vet with lacerations, Hope had to be sedated and have a few stitches. It was awful.

What happened?? We had 5 fights. First over a toy, then over a piece of hotdog (with Hope’s meds stuffed inside), then over nothing at all, just aggression. I felt desperate, desperate to keep everyone safe. I was reaching out, as others have reached out to me, begging for help. I had to separate these dogs, before someone got hurt again. You feel very alone. You try to be the person that helps whenever you can, but other people have their own issues. They can’t help. You want to scream. You just need a safe place for one dog that has done nothing wrong and loves everyone, but no one steps forward. Then you get a call from a woman in Canada, 2,300 miles away, who wants to help and you cry with relief, but its soooo far away! (Thank you Pamela!) And then suddenly we had a happy ending, a very happy ending. A local foster volunteered to take Hope. They fell in love with her. Our longest resident foster was adopted and everything is calm and happy again. We are so grateful that Hope has found her forever home very close by and we will be able to visit with her.

As with all of the others, this foster dog has taught me so much. Here is Hope’s story and what I’ve learned from her. 

In December 2017, I saw a Facebook post about a dog that needed a home, born partially blind and deaf, living in an outdoor pen. It was cold, very cold, it snowed in New Orleans cold. So, with Take Paws Rescue,  we rescued our beautiful Hope.

Hope has a milky, glass eye. She can see some movement and although she has some hearing loss, she will come when called.  As a puppy, she was being attacked by other dogs. You can clearly see the scars from those attacks. It was not a good life for her.

Hope arrived with a big hug for our family members, grateful, but also terrified.  She had untreated heartworms and had to have several fractured teeth extracted. We got her physically healthy, but Hope was still not emotionally healthy. She was afraid to come in the house. She didn’t know how to climb the steps. She was afraid to be bathed. She would not let us cut her nails or brush her. It was scary. It took time, waiting, coaxing, touching her even when she snapped at you in fear. You could see that just being inside of the house felt strange to her. We let her hang out outside and would carry her in over and over again until she became gradually more comfortable indoors.

What I learned: Patience. Love can fix a lot of things. Trust takes time. 

Over weeks and then months, Hope learned to be an inside dog, learned to climb the stairs, to run to her crate for a treat, to snuggle up on a soft chair and nap. She learned to love being inside, on a soft spot, safe and dry with heat and air conditioning. She loved curling up on a soft chair and napping the day away. Hope would approach us for affection, and then we could carefully touch her, otherwise we kept our hands to ourselves. We learned to always say her name when approaching her, because she was easily startled. More and more, she wanted attention, and touch. Hope had always been nervous about being touched on her head and collar because she couldn’t see well. I made a point of touching her head and face more and more each day. I gave her massages. I could feel her starting to trust me more and more. Hope learned how to be a pet, not an animal in an outdoor cage,  a part of our family. Over time she would really only go outside for short periods, because being an indoor dog is awesome compared to living in an outdoor cage in rain and snow and the intense Louisiana summer heat.

Most of our foster dogs are with us for a few weeks and then they are adopted. Hope is different. She is special. For her we learned to slow down, to be patient. She needed time. Hope was with us through the arrival and departure of 25 other foster guests. She waited patiently as they were each adopted and she wasn’t. She greeted each adoptive family with affection. She was patient too.

A lot of time that Hope was with us, she kept to herself. The other dogs played and she stood aside. We didn’t push her. She watched from a distance, she joined when she wanted to. Every dog is different, and finds their own place within the group.

We have a lot of dog beds in the house. We bought a big round red dog bed with a pocket on top that our dog Ollie (above center) likes to snuggle inside. We call it the dog taco. Every morning, Ollie will tuck himself completely into the taco and at some point Hope would walk over and nose in to find him. They would play a sort of hide and seek. It became their morning routine. We loved to watch Hope finally play! 

Over time, Hope came out of her shell and became more active and outgoing. For the last months that she was with us, Hope would come to me each morning while I was working at my desk and put her paws on my chair. She demanded a short work stoppage. She wanted to be loved on.

It was all going so well – what caused the fights? Usually we see aggression quickly after a new dog arrives here. They are shelter stressed, and or sick, and they don’t know where they fit into our pack.  *I’ve written about dog aggression and how to deal with it in a previous post: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Pen, my writing partner/Labrador Retriever, has been a foster mom/sister figure to 64 different dogs now. She has been amazing. We can see though, that she gets stressed when the foster dogs come and go. It is a lot of change. She is our first dog, and she is very protective of me, of my two children, of my husband, and of the other dogs here. She is the dominant dog.

Pen and Hope got along just fine for a very long time, but the dynamic was changing. Hope was coming out of her shell more and more. She was coming to me for attention more than ever. I think that Pen was a little jealous.

When our neighbors were setting off loud fireworks on 4th of July, Hope was scared. She was in my lap.

In the following days there were more sporadic fireworks, and Hope stayed close to me at all times. She was usually napping in her favorite chair during the day, not following me around for attention. So the routine changed a bit, and I was giving Hope lots of love and attention.

And then there were the toys…Hope had never had toys before. We discovered that she really likes rope toys, and they all ended up in her crate. No matter how many we had, she basically hoarded them all. It didn’t seem to be a problem, because during the day, Hope would nap in her chair and all of the other dogs would play with the toys, nap in her crate, drag the ropes all over the house. Then Hope would wake up, collect them all back to her cage and be happy with them.

The first fight happened over a rope toy.

We saw Pen at one end and Hope at the other, each tugging. We see this behavior all of the time around here. The thing is, Pen is the one that always walks away with the toy. They defer to her. This time, Hope didn’t defer. She wouldn’t give up the toy and they fought. My solution was to take up all of the rope toys. I thought that would solve that problem. Well, it’s not that easy. In the following days, my husband walked into a room where he thought Hope was alone and he gave her her medicine tucked into a little piece of hotdog. Pen was behind him. She was really jealous about the hotdog, and she attacked again. Two large dogs fighting is bad enough, add 4 smaller dogs and its a lot to separate and keep safe. At this point, I knew that we had a big problem.  At first we were keeping Pen and Hope apart generally, but not crated. Hope growled at Pen a few times a day and I distracted and diverted. It sounds easy, just keep them separate, but neither of them wanted to be crated all day, who would? And they were used to doing everything together. When you have multiple dogs, they all go outside together, come in together, nap together, play together, eat at the same time. My house has an open floor plan. It was not easy to keep them apart. 

The third fight happened for no reason at all that we could see, and that is when we completely physically separated them.

What I learned: a pack of dogs has a hierarchy, and the dogs, not the owner, choose who fits where. 

Some dogs are more dominant and others are more submissive. You can observe it in their behavior and in their body language. (Its not an A or B situation. Most dogs fall somewhere in the middle.)

A more dominant dog takes charge. They will take the high ground or just try to look as big as possible. Their body is stiff, ears are up and forward, tail held high and may be curved over the back or wagging in a stiff arc, like a flag.

A more submissive dog is saying, I am not a threat. They want to appear small, and will lower themselves to the ground, ears back, eyes averted, tail tucked. You will often see a submissive dog lie on their back, exposing their belly. A dominant dog will stand over them. 

Socialization is important for dogs, they teach and learn through play, using dominant or submissive body language and trading  off roles. We supervise play fighting all of the time. Shows of dominance include play mounting other dogs, stealing toys, and staring contests. In the photo above, Pen and Hope are playing, Pen is dominant and Hope is submissive. 

If a dominant dog like Pen begins to feel insecure in her position, she may exaggerate her dominance, which can lead to aggression. 

You can clearly let your dogs know that you are in charge, and you can train them, but you can’t change a dog’s position in the pack other than by adding or removing more or less dominant or submissive dogs. Each dog is different, each situation is different. Since we foster so many dogs, the pack dynamic is ever shifting around here, but Pen has seniority. We want harmony and safety, so we have decided to only foster dogs that are smaller than Pen. Does size matter? Sort of. When we get a new foster dog, we never know what we are going to get, but A) smaller dogs tend to defer to larger ones and B) they are easier to pick up and remove from a tense situation or a fight. I know that a Chihuahua or a Dachshund can be just as aggressive as a German Shepherd, but I can’t just grab a big Shepherd and walk away from a problem. I can see that Pen gets insecure around larger dogs, so I won’t try to make her share her home with them. We have had some great fosters who were big dogs, but I don’t want to take unnecessary risks.

What I learned: There is a reason for aggression. Figure out the cause. Ask for help.

If you have problems with aggression with your dogs, I highly suggest two things. First, see your vet. A dog in pain may become aggressive. (One of my former fosters was being attached by another dog in the adoptive home and we found out that the aggressive dog had severe back pain that needed to be treated.) Spaying and neutering also helps everyone to chill out. Those hormones really affect dog behavior. Second, consult a reputable animal behavioralist. Ask for help. An occasional fight is a nuisance, but frequent fights that end in blood make life miserable for everyone involved. Life is too short to be miserable, and dog’s lives are even shorter than ours. We want to provide a calm, happy, safe home. 

It was killing us to have to keep Hope in a crate, or alone in a small room, knowing that if someone opened the door she could be attacked. Every doggie bathroom break was stressful. Hope didn’t understand why everything had changed. At first, I didn’t understand why everything had changed. Hope was scared. I was scared. I reached out to two different trainers, both very busy, too busy to provide real immediate help. I believe that with time we could have worked with a trainer to resolve the issue, but unable to get immediate training help, I begged for rescue help.

Here is the really sad thing about animal rescue. We are drowning. There are so many animals in need that we are drowning. Although we are a team, there for each other when help is needed, everyone is drowning. Some people go above and beyond, trying to help others. Most people don’t. It is really hard to deal with somedays. Think how many more we could save if we had each other’s back? If we knew there was someone there to help if we needed it. 

I was pulling my hair out. We love Hope and we wanted her to have a safe, loving, forever home. We had to get her moved. 

What I learned: You have to differentiate each dog, to tell their story, because people do want to help, but there are just so many in need. 

People do care. But when you are in the middle of a crisis, help can’t come fast enough. 

Put in a larger context, every single day animals are abandoned and dropped off at shelters, and often its because the situation for one person or family was overwhelming, and help didn’t come fast enough. A new baby is born into the family, dogs are fighting each other, a job is lost— whatever the reason, the owners need help. Ultimately, we are responsible for these animals, and we can’t give up on them when it gets hard, but we have to protect our children, we have to live somewhere that allows our animals, we have to pay our bills.  We have to ask for help. 

Now here I was, begging for help. 

I told Hope’s story on social media. I knew that someone would respond, and we were able to find her both an interested adopter (although in Canada) and a local foster (who became her adopter.)

Resources for help:

There are a number of resources for help, you just have to look for them and reach out. Some people may not feel equipped to take on a special needs dog, but there are others out there who have been through exactly the same situation and they are happy to help. Here are the groups that I have reached out to for help:

Deaf Dogs Rock This is an organization created to connect deaf dog owners and people who are thinking about adopting a deaf dog with resources and information.  DeafDogsRock.com features deaf dogs who are in need forever homes. The Deaf Dogs Rock Blog offers Deaf Dog Training Tips and ASL sign video to help people communicate with their deaf dogs.

Blind and Deaf Dog Owners This is a Facebook group is for owners, fosterers and supporters of dogs that are blind and deaf. The aim is to provide support and a place to talk about your dogs and any issues you may face.

Blind/Deaf Shelter Dogs/Kita Angel Network This Facebook group is for any special needs dogs in shelters throughout the US, including but not limited to those with vision and/or hearing issues. Most are in desperate need of quickly finding a forever home or rescue.

Special Needs – Blind,Deaf,Disabled – Rescue Network for Precious Lives This is a Facebook Rescue Network for all special needs animals needing help – Blind, Deaf, Disabled, Injured.

I was determined that Hope would get her happy ending. I am determined that each of my fosters get to happily ever after. 

In the meantime, there is a dog named Bandit whose family moved away in the middle of the night and abandoned him. His kind neighbor took him in, but her landlord wants him gone. The new homeowners don’t want him coming back into what was his yard, so they have put down poison, which is illegal. Bandit was supposed to come here, to be safe, but now I couldn’t take him, because I had my hands so full trying to help Hope, because I’m afraid of not being able to keep everyone safe. **

Bandit

Multiply Bandit times a thousand. You can’t save them all, you know that, and it’s horrifying. Once you know that people abandon dogs, dump them, and they end up being put to sleep in shelters just because there is no space—it’s horrifying. Thousands and thousands of pets, put to sleep. You know that you can only save one a time and that has to be good enough. Weeks like this, you wonder if you can even save one at a time. 

Weeks like this you feel very alone. You are not alone. Ask for help. 

 

What I learned: There are bad days. It gets better.

Hope got her happily ever after. A local foster home welcomed her, fell in love with her, and adopted her. I am so incredibly grateful for them! Hope is happy. She is home. Everything worked out and now Hope’s crate at The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs is open so that we can rescue another dog. Pen is happily helping me with our latest foster guests.

What I learned: Be grateful, everyday.

I am grateful fo the rescuers, who do their best against impossible odds.

I am grateful to the adopters, who give my fosters their happily ever after.

I am grateful for my family who have put up with the early mornings, the barking, the chewed up shoes and furniture, the accidents on the floor, the dogs that won’t let you play soccer or basketball outside without trying to eat the ball, the vacations that haven’t happened, the dogs that need constant petting and reassurance. I could not do this without their support.

I am grateful for the dogs who have taught me patience, compassion, and unconditional love so deep that it is profoundly healing. There is no feeling in the world like restoring these lost, abandoned, sick, abused, terrified animals to the status of beloved family pet. They deserve that. They give so much love in return.

So, there are bad days along the way. I hope there aren’t too many. There are so many smiles in between. Save one a ta time. Be grateful.

**We will be welcoming Bandit to The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs this weekend. I can’t wait to learn from him.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Out of 46 dogs that have come to live at The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs thus far, we have had 4 with aggression issues and 2 that came and left within 24 hours because of aggression towards other dogs here. It happens. Sometimes a fostered or adopted rescue dog is overly aggressive towards other dogs in the home, or just towards unfamiliar dogs in public. I am by no means an expert in dog aggression, but I am determined to learn as much as I can so that I can help these dogs and keep them from hurting other dogs so that they do not end up being put down. Part of fostering dogs is rehabilitating them and training them so that they are ready for their forever homes, and I am learning more with each dog that we welcome into our home.

Every dog is different, and it isn’t only foster dogs that have issues. My first dog, Pen, a nearly 3-year-old Labrador Retriever, is a wonderful pack leader at home, but she becomes insecure and very protective of me around unknown dogs outside of our home. Two attempted fosters that were unfixed males came and left quickly because they picked a fight within my pack when I was a much less experienced foster. Four of our fosters have had fights while here and had to be separated from our other dogs until we could find a better placement for them. The human adults in the home have had minor scratches occur while breaking up fights, but we have never had a dog simply bite one of us. Incidentally, though dogs labeled pit bulls have a bed reputation for being aggressive, we have seen the aggression in a Chihuahua and a Beagle mix, a Labrador Retriever, a Catahoula, a Border Collie, and an Australian Shepherd. It’s not the breed or the size that matters. Most dogs are nice, and ANY dog can bite. Every year about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in America. We humans bear some of the responsibility for not knowing how to approach or interact with a dog in a safe and appropriate manner. By learning to read a dog’s body language, educating ourselves, and especially our children, and understanding how to respect a dog’s space, we can prevent most bite incidences.

There are many reasons why a dog may act aggressively: fear, stress, feeling that its space has been violated, protection of a person or other dog(s), or simple over-excitement. There could be a fight over resources (food, treats, toys) or for your attention. It could be a hierarchical dispute where one of your dogs wants to reinforce or challenge for their position in the pack.

The most common dog-to-dog aggressive behaviors are: 

Growling
Snarling/lifting the upper lip
Snapping
Aggressive barking
Lunging towards another dog
Biting 

These types of aggression occur more frequently in non-neutered male dogs once they reach sexual maturity, at 6 to 9 months, or social maturity, at 18 to 36 months. 
Inter-dog aggression also tends to be more of a problem between dogs of the same gender. Note that a female dog in heat or a nursing mother can become very defensive and aggressive around her pups.

Aggression between dogs or towards humans may be a learned behavior. A dog may become aggressive after experiencing abuse or neglect, a traumatic encounter with another dog, or simply because it was not properly socialized with other dogs as a puppy. Other reasons for aggression include fear, a stressful environment, or a painful underlying medical condition. You should always pay a visit to your veterinarian to rule out any underlying diseases or medical conditions that could be a contributing factor. If nothing is found to explain the behavior, you should consider turning to a trusted local animal behaviorist/trainer.

The dogs that I have seen aggression in have largely unknown pasts, but 2 of them had just been spayed after coming out of the shelter, so stress, hormonal changes, and medications may have played a role.

So, what can we do to prevent and or deal with aggressive dog behaviors?

Take responsibility for your dog or dogs

That means training and socializing them so that they get along with other dogs and other people. A dog that is at home and never exposed to strangers or other dogs cannot learn how to behave properly around strangers and other dogs. Organize supervised play dates for your dogs and teach them how to behave correctly.

Have your dogs spayed or neutered

This will keep male dogs from becoming aggressive in general, and trying to escape/ roaming around getting into trouble. It will prevent your female dog from becoming a defensive/aggressive nursing mother.

Be the pack leader

Dogs in the same pack fight when they do not have a strong pack leader, so it is very important that YOU establish rules, boundaries, and limitations for the entire pack. Your dogs should see any human, not just you, as having a higher position in the pack. A well-trained, well-socialized dog is trained to be submissive so that a human is able to take food or toys away from them without issue. This is easiest to do with puppies, but can also be done with adult dogs with proper training.

Train your dog to come when called

You can remove your dog from tense situations before they escalate too far. Start training your dog to come and to stay, and then practice often, especially around other dogs. Reward them with treats and or praise for coming to you.

Always leash your dog when you’re outside of your home and fenced yard

Even trained dogs sometimes can’t resist temptation.

Educate your children

Most children love dogs, and most dogs love children. Please teach your children how to stay safe and remain calm around dogs. High-energy children who are yelling and running around can make dogs anxious and over-excited. Teach children how to interact calmly and safely with dogs, both known and unknown. Children and inexperienced adults alike should never approach a strange dog. If a dog is alone, stay away from it. If the dog is accompanied, teach children to ask permission (from a distance) to pet a dog, and then  wait for the dog to come to them. If the dog sniffs them and stays, then they can pet it on front of the chest (not on the back or head). Teach children that dogs do not like having their ears or tails pulled, they do not like to be grabbed or picked up. Let your children know that if the dog walks away, it’s just not interested in interacting. Let it go. Redirect your child. Respect the dog’s wishes.

Always supervise small children with dogs

You should NEVER leave small children and dogs together unsupervised. Children should be told not to touch dogs while they are eating, not to mess with their food, and not to grab their toys unless the dog is fully trained and an adult is supervising at all times. Teach your dog and your children which toys are dog toys. Teach your children that if they lay on the floor with the family dog, they will be treated like puppies, and that might mean getting nipped. Children should stay up above the dog, and be in charge. They should not be in dog beds, on dogs, or inside of dog crates. That is the dog’s space, and they should respect that. Avoid playing aggressive games with your dogs, like tug-of-war, which isn’t good for their teeth anyway. Play fetch instead, rewarding your dog for dropping the toy in front of you. Teach your children to be in charge in a calm and self-assured manner.

Teach your children and your dogs good manners and don’t encourage resource competition

Just as we teach our children to share and play nice, we have to teach our dogs to share and play nice. Dogs should be trained to sit and relax on verbal cues, with small food treats and praise as reward. We have to condition our dogs not to fear other dogs, by gradually exposing them to other dogs in public. Use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior. When your dog exhibits aggressive behavior, separate them from the other dog(s) and take a time out until calm is restored. You can carefully allow them to make up after a fight or near fight, but observe and supervise. Young dogs are like toddlers that can bite. Supervise.

Some dogs are dangerous to other dogs or humans while they are eating or because they are guarding certain possessions (such as food, treats, bowls, random found objects, toys, a dog bed or crate they are in…) Remove the possessions that are causing a problem when dogs are socializing together. Feed multiple dogs in separate crates or in separate rooms to avoid food aggression.

Observe your dog(s) and prevent aggression


This is a fearful dog, you can see what is called whale eyes

Observe how your dog normally interacts with other dogs. When dogs play, it often looks and sounds like they’re fighting. They will growl, snap their jaws, and bite one another roughly on the ears, and neck, on collars and on legs all while play fighting and having a great time. Carefully watch their bodies. If the body looks relaxed and they are wagging their tails, they’re generally just playing. If the bodies appear rigid and their tails are down, they may be getting ready to fight. If there is a high-pitched squeal, they may be playing so rough that they are accidentally hurting one another. Sometimes rough play becomes a fight, and the dogs need to be separated until they calm down a bit.

Dogs communicate to one another through their body language. You can spot aggression and stop a fight before it starts by observing body language and intervening at the instant that you see it about to escalate. Some dogs normally play rough with one another, others do not. Know your dog’s normal behaviors and then you can see out of the ordinary behaviors and warning signs. Know what to look for. A dog may come charging towards you, and if its body is relaxed, its tail is level and wagging, and there’s no tension in the body, relax, it is showing excitement, not aggression. It’s your job to learn the difference.

You can see the signs that aggressive behavior may be imminent by reading a dog’s 
body language.

Aggression:
Ears pinned back
Fur along their back may stand up 
Yawning - in this case, they are not tired - the dog is showing off its teeth as a 
warning. (On the other hand, a sneeze during playtime can be a sign that everything is cool.) 
Intense and direct eye contact is a clear sign to back off immediately. 

Watch the head, ears, tail, and back. The higher these are, the more dominant a dog is feeling, and the lower they are,the more submissive or uncertain. 

Look for tension in the dog's back and legs; the more tense a dog is, the higher its energy level. Watch out for staring and or blocking another dog’s entrance into a room. 

Fearful or submissive body postures:

Crouching
Tucking the tail under
Licking the lips
Backing away
Teeth together, with the ears pulled back along the head, eyes squinting
Body lowered and leaning away

Introduce new dogs to each other slowly

One big mistake people make when introducing new dogs is just tossing them all together and hoping for the best. All of the dogs should meet in neutral territory and, if possible, take a long walk together before coming into the yard and home. I have too many dogs to do this, so we meet in the yard. A new foster dog meets my dogs one by one, starting with the calmer and smaller dogs, and I observe each of them carefully. As soon as a dog starts to get stressed, I step in and interrupt before the situation escalates. My lab has to be last, and has to be harnessed and leashed, because I know that she gets overexcited, and I need to be able to control her to feel confident with a new dog (or person) in the yard. After everyone meets and plays outside, my husband and I enter the house, call in the dogs that live there, and then call in the new dog. We are allowing the dogs to first bond and play outside, then allowing our dogs and existing fosters to bring the new dog in and sort of show them around.

So, we do all of that, and at some point, one of the dogs becomes stressed and aggressive. What do we do?

 

Try to understand the underlying cause of aggression

A specific condition sometimes triggers aggression, even when the dogs involved normally get along well.  If you can figure it out, you can possibly avoid situations that may trigger aggressive behavior. My lab sometimes feels threatened by other dogs who are her size or larger than her and of a similar age. She is fine with older dogs, smaller dogs, and puppies. My beagle Henry is partially deaf and will howl if he gets startled. Two fosters, who had incidents of aggression, acted up only with certain dogs and not others. One became aggressive if growled at. We had one small unfixed male foster who came into the house and tried to pick a fight with a 90 lbs. Labrador we were fostering. Observe to try to understand triggers. We have learned that some fosters are afraid of men, some don’t trust children, some get overexcited by large vehicles. Each dog is different, but each is trying to tell us what they don’t like.

Be Calm

Dogs are very sensitive to what their human is feeling and will react to our emotions with dog intensity. They know when you are nervous or stressed, and will react in turn. If we tense up, and get fearful of what our dog may do, that itself may  trigger an aggressive, protective reaction. Be calm and do not pull back on the leash. If you pull straight back, it may cause a lunge forward in response. Just hold on to the leash with a firm grip, and calmly, quickly walk past or away from the other dog; just ignore it and move along. And always, always walk your dog on a harness, not on a collar, which can increase their stress and is often easy to escape from.

Learn how to break up fights quickly and safely if they occur

Sometimes, roughhousing gets out of control or a dog gets triggered and starts a fight. If it is too late to redirect the dog’s attention, it’s important to step in before one of the dogs gets seriously hurt.

Do not get between fighting dogs, you will get bitten. If the dogs involved are very small, then you may be able to safely put yourself between them to block their view from each other and end the fight. If you’re wearing pants and adequate shoes, you may be able to push some dogs apart with your legs and feet. Place your foot on the ribcage and push away, without kicking. Use your judgement, small dogs bite hard too. If the dogs are already biting, don’t try this. 

If a dog is holding a bite on another dog, do not just try to pull them apart. You will cause an even greater injury to the dog by tearing his flesh. Act on the aggressor dog to get it to release its bite.

A dog fight is best broken up by two people using a method called the wheelbarrow, where each person approaches a dog from behind, grabs the dog’s rear feet and lifts them off the ground into a wheelbarrow position. Given a moment, the dogs should disengage and each person must pull their dog by his rear legs away from the other. Begin walking backwards. Keep your hands and arms away from their mouths. They may redirect their aggression at you. Do not release the dogs or the dog fight will begin again. Both people need to start turning in a circle, while they back away from the other dog. By circling the dog has to sidestep with its front feet or it will fall on its face. As long as you slowly continue to back away and circle, the dog cannot hurt you. One of the dogs must be dragged into an enclosure before the other dog is released.

It is not necessary to kick or hit the dogs; the goal is to separate them, not to hurt them.

Only one person? Call for help. Observe which of the dogs is at a higher level of intensity. If only one dog is the aggressor, do not act on the dog being attacked. Grab a leash. (Allow the fight to continue while doing this. Safety is more important than being 1st on the scene). No leash? You can use a belt or a tie as a leash stand in. ) Slide one end of the leash into the looped end and slip it under the aggressive dog’s belly, loop it around the rear legs and pull the dog out of the flight. Like the wheelbarrow, lift the dog and give a moment to allow the dogs to disengage – then quickly and calmly, move that dog away to safety. Tie one dog to an immovable object and remove the other dog to another location. The victim dog may take advantage of the fact that the aggressor is immobilized and try to bite again. The dog being restrained should be released so that it can protect itself. Step around to the rear of the attacking dog and use the wheelbarrow method to steer that dog in the opposite direction.

If your dog is on leash and he gets into a fight with a dog who isn’t leashed, drop the leash before you or the dog become tangled. If both dogs get into a fight on leash, both leashes should be dropped and use the wheelbarrow method rather than injuring the dogs by yanking them dogs apart by the leash, particularly if they are attached to the collar around the neck rather than a harness.

If one or more of the dogs becomes aggressive towards you, don’t turn and run, face the dog, stand still, and avoid eye contact. Remain calm. The dogs feed off of your energy. It is difficult, but panicking does not help. Stay calm.

Once separated, keep the dogs out of one another’s sight until everyone is calm and check them for injuries. See a vet. Some injuries may be internal.

You have learned something about your dogs after a fight, and it is your responsibility to prevent another fight. Seek help, separate the dogs as necessary, and be willing to work with a trainer. An aggressive dog taken to an animal shelter has a death sentence, and aggressive behaviors may be completely avoidable.