Warning signs that precede a dog fight


By Robin Bennett and Susan Briggs – The Dog Gurus

Want a great way to prevent dog fights in an off-leash play environment? Do you know the key events that trigger a fight?  Can you tell when a fight is most likely to happen?  Keep reading to find out how you can keep dogs safer when they are playing with other dogs off-leash.

Fights between dogs seldom happen “out of the blue.” To those who are skilled in understanding canine body language, there are some tell-tale signs that things are headed down the inevitable road to a fight.  Learning to identify these signs will dramatically increase your ability to keep dogs safe and raise the bar of safety in off-leash play.

Dramatic increase in arousal – the idea that” letting dogs play without supervision or control is fun and safe for the dogs” is a myth that needs to be debunked.  Taking off the leash and allowing a dog freedom to do whatever he wants is not only unsafe, it’s also irresponsible. Lack of management by those supervising will lead to increase levels of arousal among the dogs.  Arousal and aggression is linked.  One often leads to another (think of sports fans who get revved up and then fight in the stands).  Dogs need help to prevent their arousal levels from getting too high.  Good leaders keeps arousal levels low by intervening to redirect the dogs if they begin to get overly excited during play.

High-energy events – Certain events and activities will trigger higher arousal level in dogs. You may need to limit the number of dogs in the playgroups when these activities are happening:

  • Dogs coming or going to/from the group
  • People coming or going to/from the group
  • High activity games such as group fetch or chase

Too much inappropriate behavior – The following behaviors will generally lead to an increase in aggression between dogs. For this reason, these behaviors should be interrupted and the dogs redirected if they happen frequently:

  • Rolling a dog
  • Pinning a dog
  • Bullying (one dog picking on another dog)
  • Excessive chasing of a dog (especially if the dog being chased begins to hide)

Early warning signs to aggression –  These are explained in detail in Off-Leash Dog Play and include the following:

  • Stiffness
  • Freezing
  • Direct stare
  • Snarling
  • Growling

If you observe any of these signs, intervene immediately to separate the dogs.  It’s surprising how many times I’ve heard people say, “Oh, he growled all the time, but I never thought he would bite.”  Keep in mind that growling is an early warning sign…ignore the warning sign and a dog is likely to escalate from the signal to a bite!

What are some other signs you use to identify a potential problem between dogs?  Get more information about handling and preventing injuries in your pet care facility by joining The Dog Gurus today!


the-dog-gurusAs “The Dog Gurus”, Susan Briggs and Robin Bennett’s mission is to improve safety in the off-leash dog play industry.  In 2008 Robin and Susan published their book Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety & Fun.  This successful book inspired a Dog Body Language poster set and pocket guide tools for pet professionals using the traffic signal safety colors. It was also the resource for Knowing Dogs Staff Training, a two volume “staff training in a box” program on dog body language and group play produced in 2012.  They currently operate a membership site for pet care providers offering off-leash play to help them keep dogs safe in daycare. 

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