Here's a recent Miami Herald article I wrote in response to the outcry over a dog's shooting death during a dog fight. It received lots of mail (not all supportive) from those who thought I should've mentioned neutering as a preventative measure. Here's the piece. Chime in (and remember when considering my cursory treatment that in the newspaper I'm strictly limited to 400 words).
Q: There was a story last week in the Miami Herald regarding neighboring dogs who got into a fight. The owners of the two dogs did everything wrong in trying to end the fight. Finally, the attacking dog was shot by the owner of the other dog. Perhaps you could inform readers of the proper way to break up a dog fight.
A: Great question. I, too, have lost big while trying to separate quarrelling dogs. It’s never a good scene, what with two or more sets of teeth prepared to indiscriminately slice anything in their path to shreds. Yet our first instinct seems to be to jump in and rescue our dog(s) from harm, despite the obvious risk to our person.
Prevention is the obvious first-line solution. Keep a leash on your dog when he or she is around unknown animals. The leash should always attach to a snug collar or harness. Aggressive interaction should be met with a firm pulling of your dog away from the other animal. If you can’t restrain your dog in this situation (whether he’s the aggressor or the agressee) you shouldn’t be taking him out in public.
In a dog park or other public setting you should always let the animals meet and greet on leash to help ensure safe interaction will take place. If your pet shows any tendency to challenge other dogs, or towards aggression in general, the park is not for you.
In your own home, two or more dogs may fight for a variety of reasons. If fighting takes place within your household you should always seek professional help. Your veterinarian, a trainer, or best of all, a veterinary behaviorist, can help you determine the triggers for these fights, thus helping you eliminate the behavior, if possible.
Now for the answer to your question: Stay away from fighting dogs unless you have the end of an attached leash in your hands and the other dog is similarly restrained.
Water from a nearby hose is often helpful. Spray from a distance, towards the eyes and faces of the fighters. Pepper spray can be used—but can be harmful to you as well. A long-handled object (such as a broom or umbrella) is also reportedly effective, as is making a loud noise (slam a door or beep your car horn).
The problem with the above approaches is that one or more of the dogs may redirect his or her aggression towards you.
Dogs will act like wild animals in these situations. That’s why it’s always safest to prevent human injury through strict leash control, avoidance of triggers and keeping your distance during a fight. Period.