My boxer Apollo got into a fight at the dog park a few days ago. This was a first for him. I wasn’t there, but my husband said he was playing with a very dominant husky/malamute type dog and their roughhousing escalated into conflict. Instead of backing down, as he has done in the past, Apollo unfortunately responded to the other dog’s aggression in kind.

The husky/malamute wasn’t injured, but Apollo came home with two impressive lacerations on his tongue (not too surprising since it’s the longest tongue I’ve ever seen on a dog). Thankfully, the mouth has an incredible ability to heal so all I had to do was provide Apollo with some pain relief and have antibiotics on hand in the unlikely event that infection set in (it didn’t).

My family was lucky in more ways than one that day. Turns out that to break up the fight my husband reached in between the two dogs, grabbed the husky/malamute by the harness, and flung him away from Apollo. This stopped the fight, but Richard could have been seriously injured if one of the dogs had bitten him in the heat of the moment.

After talking about what happened, Richard and I both agreed his best course of action would probably have been to grab the bucket of drinking water that was nearby and dump it over the dogs’ heads. A hose would have worked even better. Aiming a strong spray of water directly at the combatants’ faces will usually cause them to come up for air long enough to be separated.

But honestly, how often does a dog fight happen within reach of a hose or bucket of water? Often, the most practical option is to find something you can put in between the two dogs. A chair, a board, a thick winter coat … anything that is on hand and sturdy enough to prevent the dogs from biting one another could work. Once they are separated, you still need to be very careful when handling the dogs. They will be agitated and potentially in pain and scared, all of which increases the risk they will bite anyone nearby.

If a dog has obvious wounds after a fight, of course you should take him to the veterinarian. Most bite wound will heal well when treated quickly and appropriately, but I’ve had to deal with some real nightmares when a puncture or laceration was ignored for a few days and developed a raging infection. Even if your dog seems okay after the fight, keep a close eye on him. Some injuries may not become apparent for a few days.

This experience may end up being a positive one for Apollo. It seems to have made him a bit more cautious when approaching other dogs. In the past, he’s been so sure the world wants to play that he sometimes oversteps the boundaries of canine etiquette. Hopefully, Apollo’s newfound wisdom will help him avoid conflicts in the future, and Richard won’t tempt fate again if it doesn’t.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: bitch fight! By This Year’s Love / via Flickr