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Playgroups

Methods for Breaking Up Fights: 

Pros and Cons

PROS & CONS OF FIGHT BREAK-UP METHODS & TOOLS

Methods and tools used to break up fights will be affected by your shelter’s policies, and the pros and cons of each option. Staff and volunteer training and skill levels should also be considered. The tools and methods listed below are in order of most to least preferred, based on how frightening each method is presumed to be. Please note: We recommend that the deliberate use of tools that startle or cause discomfort be limited to breaking up a fight in progress.

Two examples of fight protocols are provided here: Breaking Up Fights SOP 1 & Breaking Up Fights SOP 2.

DRAGGING LEASHES

Some methods of introducing and managing play involve keeping leashes clipped to dogs while they interact with each other. The dogs are free to move around with the leashes still clipped to them but dragging, and handlers monitor the lines to prevent them from tangling (see Dragging Leash SOP). 

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs and reduces the risk of injury to human handlers; does not scare dogs not involved in the fight the way an air horn or liquid spray might. 

  • Cons: Tangling, tight leashes can create barrier frustration and worsen a fight. Pulling on leash could cause skin tearing if dogs are holding on to each other.

WATER

Water can be used to break up fights using a few different types of tools.

Hoses:

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs, possible only the dogs involved in the fight will be affected. Water supply isn’t limited by volume of container (unlike buckets and spray bottles). 

  • Cons: Doesn’t always work to stop fights. Hose must be readily available, inside the play yard.

Buckets:

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs, possible only the dogs involved in the fight will be affected. This is the best water option for facilities without an available hose. 

  • Cons: Doesn’t always work to stop fights. Buckets need to be kept filled and stationed around the play area, and can be knocked over during play, although they can double as available drinking water for dogs during play groups.

Spray Bottles:

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs, possible for only the dogs involved in the fight to be affected, small and easy to keep on on hand. 

  • Cons: Least effective of the water options for breaking up a fight. Might worsen a fight rather than stop it if dogs become fearful or irritated by the spray.

CITRONELLA SPRAY

Citronella spray is available in small cans. Brand names include Spray Shield, Spray Control. 

  • Pros: Small and easy to keep on hand, possible for only the dogs involved in the fight to be affected.. 

  • Cons: Requires getting within about 2’ of fighting dogs’ faces, which increases risk of injury to handlers. May cause more discomfort than water to the dogs in the fight. Doesn’t always work to stop fights.

HANDSTAND

The handstand method involves two handlers pulling two fighting dogs apart by shifting the dogs' weight to the front feet as they are separated. Handlers grasp the dogs at the hips in front of their hind legs, then quickly and firmly lift up and back.  

  • Pros: Keeps hands out of reach of dogs’ mouths if done correctly. Only the dogs involved in the fight are affected. 

  • Cons: Requires prior training and practice. There is a risk of a bite if done incorrectly.  For best results requires having as many trained handlers present as dogs involved the fight. Should not be used if dogs are holding on to each other.

BREAK STICK

A break stick is wooden or hard plastic stick with one end tapered to a thin wedge, made specifically for releasing bite and holds (also referred to as “latch-ons”) in dog fights. 

  • Pros: Highly effective if one dog is holding on to another.  Allows handlers to separate the dogs without tearing of tissue. Small and easy to keep on hand. Only the dogs involved in the fight are affected. 

  • Cons: Requires prior training and practice. Not useful for fights without dogs holding on to each other. Requires being very close to the fighting dogs’ mouths, which increases risk of injury to the handlers.

NOISES

Noises can be used to break up fights using a few different types of tools or methods.

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs. Small and easy to keep on hand. 

  • Cons: Potentially scares all dogs (and other animals) within hearing range, even if they are not actively involved in the fight. Often does not work to end fights.

Air Horn: 

Shake Can:

A shake can is a metal or plastic can or jug filled with rocks or coins.

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs. Small and easy to keep on hand. Easy to make. 

  • Cons: Potentially scares all dogs (and other animals) within hearing range, even if they are not actively involved in the fight. Often does not work to end fights.

Yelling/Other Noises:

  • Pros: Keeps hands away from dogs. Requires no equipment. 

  • Cons: Potentially scares all dogs (and other animals) within hearing range, even if they are not actively involved in the fight. Often doesn’t work to end fights. Potentially worsens fights if dogs react negatively to being yelled at.

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