Dog Fights and Aggressive Dogs

Dogs fight over food, mating rights, pack status, to defend their offspring and territory. The inclination to fight can be increased by breeding, lack of socialisation, experience and training.

  • Breeding: Dogs of any breed can be involved in fights, particularly if they haven’t been properly socialised with other dogs. Some breeds or individual dogs may be more likely to fight, as they have been selected for their fighting or guarding abilities. When buying a puppy, choose the breed carefully. Ask to see the parents of the pup to see what their temperaments are like.
  • Socialisation: Dogs that have been well socialised with other dogs from an early age are less likely to fight.
  • Training: Obedience training alone will not prevent a dog from fighting, but will make it easier for the owner to control the dog to prevent a fight, or stop a fight once it has started.
  • Protectiveness: Fights between dogs can happen when a dogs is protecting its territory, its owner or itself. A dog that is allowed to wander onto the road will usually claim its owner’s front verge and the road as its own, and may attack other dogs passing by.
  • Leashes: Preventing contact between unfamiliar dogs is one of the main reasons why dogs need to be on a leash in public. A normally friendly dog can feel threatened by or dislike another dog and start a fight.
  • Prey catching: A smaller dog may be attacked and killed by a larger dog when its movements or sounds are mistaken for prey.
  • Pecking order: It is normal for dogs to form a pecking order. Fighting can happen if people interfere with this pecking order by trying to treat the dogs as equal. When two dogs live together, particularly if they are the same sex, it is important to reinforce the ‘top’ dog’s position.
  • Sterilisation: Castration can reduce fighting in male dogs. Female dogs may also be aggressive towards each other, but male/female fights are less common. If purchasing two dogs, you should obtain one of each sex and have them sterilised if they are not for breeding.

When a dog displays aggressive behaviour because it is frightened, protective, or trained to fight, sterilisation will have no effect.

Preventing a dog fight

Many dog fights occur in public places. Having your dog on a leash will help you separate it from others if it becomes aggressive. However, if it is approached by another dog off its leash, leave by backing away slowly. If the threatening dog follows, try telling it to ‘stay’ or ‘sit’. Small dogs may be picked up and carried as you back away.

Do not:

  • Scream and shout
  • Turn around and run away
  • Move forward or allow your dog to rush forward
  • Strike out or kick at the other dog.

These actions could make other dog more aggressive.

Aggressive dogs

Some dogs or breeds may be more likely to bite than others if not socialised, trained and controlled properly but in reality, any age, breed, sex and size of dog may bite. 

Not all dogs that attack other animals are dangerous to people. Dog attacks can be provoked accidentally and the victim is not always to blame. Growling and snapping are early warning signs of aggression and must be taken seriously. Professional advice should be sought immediately.

Recognising the early signs of aggression

Does your dog ever tense up, stare, raise its hackles, growl, lift its lips or snap when:

  • Eating or when food is around?
  • Its ears, paws, tail or belly are touched?
  • Someone goes near its bed or toys?
  • Someone tries to move the dog from a comfortable spot?
  • It is told off?
  • Someone pulls on its collar?
  • Someone grabs the dog, or tries to pick it up?
  • It is approached by people, children or other dogs?

Does your dog:

  • Lunge out at people or dogs when out walking?
  • Rush out barking and growling at passers-by?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then your dog may be aggressive. These are the early warning signs. You need to seek professional advice, as your dog’s behaviour could get worse over time. The sooner you seek help, the more easily the problem can be solved.

If your dog gets very nervous, cowers away or tries to run away from children, adults or other dogs, it could be dangerous if it ever feels threatened and may attack out of fear. You need to seek professional advice to help your dog overcome its fear.

Understanding a dog’s body language can help you to realise when your dog or another dog is aggressive before a fight starts. Signs of aggression include:

  • Slow and deliberate movements when approaching people or dogs
  • A stiff legged walk and upright posture
  • Tail horizontal or upright (can be wagging!)
  • A direct stare
  • Lifting of the leg and urination
  • Growling, snarling or curling of the upper lip.

Remember that nervous dogs may become aggressive if they feel threatened or cornered. Obedience training will help you control your dog’s behaviour, whether it is on or off the leash, and help to prevent a fight from starting.

If you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour, please consult your veterinarian, who may be able to help or refer you to an animal behaviourist. Your dog may also require further socialisation and obedience training.