Once while pet-sitting five intact Border terriers, I had the "life-experience" of learning how to break up a dog fight (imagine a string of terriers being shaken apart by yours truly, only to have them hold on with all ferocity — in other words, I couldn’t break them up!).

Granted these were small, 10-15 pound breeding bitches (who apparently didn’t like each other), but I couldn’t break them apart despite frantic shaking, kicking, pulling, screaming, and broom sweeping. The solution: dumping a couple of gallons of water on them; it was the only way I could break them apart. Despite these feisty terriers’ small size, it was one of the hardest fights I’ve ever had to break up. Seeing a full-on dog scuffle can be scary; having to break one up is even scarier.

Having witnessed a Great Dane kill a small Chihuahua while walking around one of Minneapolis’ lakes (both were leashed), I have a lot of empathy for the BDLD: big-dog, little-dog attack. I’ve also treated a lot of these BDLD injuries in the ER — along with cats that had been mauled by dogs or coyotes — so I know just how devastating, damaging, and even fatal these attacks can be. The best way to avoid dog fights is to avoid these situations. When in doubt, prevention is key.

What is the best way of preventing dog fights? Appropriately socializing your dog as a puppy. Work with your animal trainer, veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist on the best way to minimize behavior problems - after all, the #1 reason why pets are surrendered to shelters is due to behavioral problems that could have been prevented. My MUST-DO for any new dog owner: taking an official puppy obedience course (as it helps you learn how to train your dog), and appropriate crate and leash training of your dog.

If your dog is dog-, kid-, toy-, or fear-aggressive, please don’t bring him to a dog park where random dogs or children will run up to him. If you have an aggressive dog, walk him during off-peak times at a park (leashed, of course). If you see a dog (or kid) running off leash towards your dog, scream for the owner (or parent) to gain control of their dog (or kid) and tell them your dog is not dog-friendly. Likewise, all you parents out there: Teach your kids to never run up to strange dogs and to always ask for permission before petting a dog.

What about you friendly-dog-owning people out there? Heads up — you have some responsibility, too. Don’t let your friendly dog run around uncontrolled, as he may run up to a law-abiding, aggressive dog on a controlled leash. Should a fight occur in this instance, you could be at fault, since your dog was off leash.

If you happen to be involved in a dog fight and can’t avoid it, here are a few tips:

First, if your dog is on a leash, pull the leash hard to get her away from the attacker. If the owner of the aggressor is present, have them regain control of their dog immediately. If the aggressive dog is attacking you, your pet, or your child, get someone else’s attention to help you. That may include a loud cry of "HELP!" Stay calm and in control, as whimpering, crying, and wailing will only trigger a stronger predatorial response in some dogs. Above all, be careful not to get hurt. Biggest word of advice? Don’t win the Darwinian Award. Please don’t stick your hand in the middle of a dog fight, as you will get bitten — I’ve seen this too many times, and it will not help you break up the dog fight at all.

The best way to break up a dog fight is to throw water on them; it startles the dogs and gives you a window of a few seconds in which to draw attention away from the fight and separate the dogs quickly. If necessary, use an inanimate object such as a stick or broom to pry and separate the dogs.

Finally, try this tip that I learned from the ghetto streets of Philadelphia, where pit bull fighting is still common: Grab the attacking dog’s back legs swiftly and flip them up in the air. The attacker will be thrown off balance for a few seconds, and it’s in those few seconds that you have a chance to separate yourself and your dog from the attacker.

Lastly, avoid the situation. If you see an aggressive dog running toward you and your pet, find something elevated (like a garbage can or car roof) to throw your dog up onto if necessary. Don’t worry about the shame of it; after all, it can save your pet’s life. The last thing you want to do is hold your dog over your head so the aggressor can attack your face. The height advantage of putting your dog on an elevated surface may prevent the aggressor from being able to attack or reach your dog. While it sounds horrible, your 3 lb. Chihuahua is safer in the garbage or on top of the garbage can than getting mauled in a dog park, right?

If you really want to know, the worst BDLD attacks are not instigated by pit bulls (for all the pit bull boo-hoo’ers out there); it’s Siberian Huskies attacking small dogs.

Have any words of wisdom or horror stories of your own? Share some tips!

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: Art_man / via Shutterstock