What does it look like when a dog is about to start a fight? Other than really knowing your dog and understanding their body language there a couple of signs that everyone can look for, in your own dogs and others as well.
Stiff body/neck; watch your dog play with a friend and then watch when they see a new dog that they’re not so sure about, what do you see? Stiff, slightly raised neck, stiff legs, raised shoulders and hackles, if they get close enough, you could see bared teeth as well, or just wrinkled lips. These are the most obvious signs and can roll over into the next one;
Change in play behavior; let’s say the dogs are already playing, pay attention to their body language to see if attitudes are altered along the way.
Dogs actually have pretty strict rules about play behavior. The play bow is an invitation to play, as well as an apology if one dog was too rough as in “sorry, didn’t mean to nip so hard”. Dogs, coyotes and wolves all ostracize others who don’t play by the rules. Biting too hard, nipping too close to the eyes and excessive roughness in any form are all a part of the canine “moral code”.
So now you know what to look for, what do you do when you see it?
The quickest, easiest and safest way to diffuse a potential fight is to remove the threat of proximity; that means, if you’ve trained your dog well, a sharp “this way” or “come” or “here” in addition to you moving rapidly away as well, is all it would take to change your dogs direction, moving him away and almost guaranteeing that there won’t be a fight. If you don’t have that ability to get your dogs attention, maybe throwing a ball or toy could do the job for you.
Picking up the smaller dog. This is a fast way to move a dog you trust not to bite you and again remove the threat and cool down aggressive behavior. But. You could get a nip form the little dog, or worse, make yourself a target for the other dog. That said, I would always err on the side of the little dogs safety and pick them up. Unless they’ve already engaged in a major way, you will most likely be just fine, especially if you turn your back on the other dog.
Lastly, I have been able to grab the attacking dogs’ collar while straddling it from the back. This has a lot of risk to all parties, including becoming the focus of the attack, losing control of the dog and lastly, not finding a way to let go. Yeah, I said it, because at some point you’re going to have to let go and I’m hoping you’ve been able to come to some sort of an understanding by then.
Whatever the situation, I can only hope that you and your dog can better navigate the complex social world of dogs after reading this, and please write in with questions or comments.