November, 2008. I was walking with my miniature schnauzer through a field near my house at dusk. Suddenly I heard a woman yelling. I began cautiously walking across the empty lot where she was until I saw many legs. I knew it was a dog fight. Instincts took over and I ran toward her. She was panicking and yelling “Help me! Help me!” When my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw that a brindle pit bull had her Scottish terrier by the neck in a death hold. I told her to calm down. I picked the pit bull up by the scruff of its neck. When the dog did not budge from its hold on the whimpering Scottie, I put my fingers into his mouth and pried his jaws open. I held the dog down on its side as the owner came running over. The Scottie had to have emergency trachea surgery and the frightened owner still has scars on her hands where the pit made contact as it tried to kill her terrier. The pit bull had been taken in two weeks previously by someone who had found him roaming the streets; obviously a fighting dog that had either run away or been abandoned.  The pit bull was taken to the anti-cruelty society, the Scottie made a complete recovery, but the owner still avoids all pit bulls.

Dog attacks are serious things. You don’t have to look further than the daily news to hear about the latest pack attack or mailman bite. But what do you do in reference to a dog fight at a dog park? First and foremost don’t panic and don’t yell! Remember that dogs are keenly sensitive to your energy and you can make a dog fight worse by being tense or yelling. Separate the dogs, but do not walk away yet. Lay your dog (and if possible the other dog as well) on its side as the ultimate form of dog discipline. Wait for them both to relax and surrender to the situation (make sure you are relaxed as well). Only allow your dog to get up when he has calmed down. It is then important to make sure that all dogs involved have had a rabies vaccination. It may be necessary to swap contact information in the event that one dog was clearly to blame and the owner would like help paying any vet bills as a result of the fight.

Consider: your dog needs to be in tough situations so that they learn what is expected. Look at every dog encounter as an opportunity for training. Don’t give up after a few mishaps. Like I said last week, if it will help you be a calm and assertive leader, put a muzzle on your dog when you go to the park and deal with a fight in the same way as above: discipline and move on. Remember—dogs live in the moment! They do not harbor the past like we as humans so often do.

Lead your dog!