Dog Fights & Bites – Part 1

Dog Fights & Bites – Part 1

By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP

No matter who started it, no one wants to see his dog in a fight. Dog fights can result in dog bites with severe injuries to the dogs and people involved. In rare cases, they can also result in death.

The journey to stopping a dog fight and possibly a dog bite starts before you choose a dog and bring the dog home. Or, as Benjamin Franklin once said, " An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
To start your journey, commit to learning about:
Canine Behavior

What we know about dogs has changed dramatically in the past three decades. If we want to do what is best for our dogs and ourselves, we must commit to learning about them. They are far more complex than your cell phone, and you cannot learn what you need to know in a 30-second TikTok or 5-minute YouTube video.
Unfortunately, there are still many mistaken beliefs about dog behavior.

 •    I must be dominant over my dog and be the Alpha-FALSE! Dogs are not wolves, and even among wolves, dominance only plays a role in breeding. *

•    Aversives such as shock, prong, and choke collars are necessary to train dogs and prove you are the Alpha-FALSE! Leading pet care professional organizations recommend aversives NEVER be used with any dog as they are unnecessary and can harm the dog's welfare. They can increase aggression. *

•    Dogs do not experience emotions-FALSE! Dogs smile in joy, run in fear, fight in anger, and can become very attached to one another and people. *

•    Dogs must accept everything we do to them, even if it causes pain or fear-   FALSE! I’m unsure if this belief is due to human ignorance or arrogance, but it is unacceptable and unethical. We need to be ready to stand up for our dogs and teach others that dogs get to offer consent to interactions just as we do.

Canine Emotions, Communication, & Consent
As primates, we tend to vocalize our feelings, often quite loudly. However, dogs use many body parts to communicate with one another and us, typically before barking or growling. This is how they show us what they are feeling and whether they consent to our coming closer or are asking us to stay away. When they vocalize, they are stressed to the max and on autopilot. *

Take the time to learn how a dog communicates visually. If you do, you can often get your dog out of a difficult situation before it erupts into a fight. You will also know when the dog consents to interaction with you and others.
The best place to learn about canine behavior, emotions, and body language is in a class taught by a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant accredited by an independent testing organization. *

Other places to start your education on canine communication are these books: On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, A Kids' Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog! by Niki Tudge, and Doggie Language: A Dog Lover's Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend by Lili Chin.

How to Choose a Dog Wisely
Equally important to learning about your dog is choosing the best dog for you. Remember, adding a dog to your home is a lifetime commitment. *

Different dogs were bred for various physical and temperamental characteristics. For example, some breeds were specifically bred to be very gregarious around other dogs and people; others were bred to guard and be naturally suspicious of those outside their family unit. Dogs bred to be friendly will be less likely to get into an altercation. If you need assistance finding the right dog for you and your family, talk to a pet care professional who does not sell or rehome dogs. *

Fear, an emotion often associated with reactivity in a dog, can come from many places, including your dog's genes. For this reason, I encourage you to meet the parents of any dog you think about bringing home. If either parent displays fearful or timid behavior, their offspring will likely be on the fear spectrum. *

If you choose to get a rescue dog, you may not know much about their lineage and probably will not get to meet the parents. Rescues typically have a rough start in life. They may have been orphaned, seldom get the socialization needed as a puppy, and may have experienced physical and emotional trauma. Shelters usually do a great job, but we can all agree that ending up in a homeless shelter would be traumatic for any person or pet. Therefore, we need to be very patient with a rescue as it may be several weeks or months before the dog feels comfortable in a new home. While a rescue dog will unlikely start a training class immediately, seeking immediate help from a credentialed professional could shorten the adjustment time. *

I recommend completing all the steps above at least one month before bringing your new dog home. Next month I will discuss what you can do if you have a dog that is reactive to people or other animals.
*Supplemental materials on this topic can be found on my blog at

Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) and the founder of, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at, the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.©11-Mar-23, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

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