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How to stop a dog attack or break up a dog fight without getting bitten


This post first ran in 2009, but it keeps getting comments and we thought we should run it again so you’ll know what to do if you ever find yourself in this situation.

Would you know what to do if you were alone and your dog’s leg was being ripped apart by another dog? After a friend’s dog was attacked in Central Park, we decided to find out and share what we learned with Pawfun Blog readers, hoping you never need to test the advice. This post is long, but it’s important reading that could save your dog’s life and keep you from being seriously hurt.

Pit Bull attack in Central Park

Texas has two drains in his leg, which is healing.

Texas has two drains in his leg, which is healing.

Last Thursday morning, Elizabeth Campbell and her 12 year-old Golden Retreiver, Texas, were walking in Central Park.

Although dogs are allowed off-leash in the park from 9 pm to 9 am, Texas was leashed.

Suddenly, an off-leash white and tan Pit Bull came “from out of nowhere” and attacked Texas. It locked its massive jaws on Texas’ leg and wouldn’t let go. The result is pictured.

Trying to save her dog, Elizabeth kicked and screamed at the Pit Bull, but it wouldn’t let go. She knew not to put her hands in the middle of the attack, but didn’t know what else to do besides scream and kick the Pit Bull – neither of which had any effect, and which only intensified the Pit’s frenzy. The owner of the Pit, a man we’re told is in his 80s, and a friend who was with him pulled the dog’s hind legs up, trying to get him off Texas, and that had no effect.

(Please note that we are not categorically anti-Pit Bull. But the attack that is the subject of this story was by a Pit.)

Thankfully, two park workers (“I wish I had gotten their names!” she says) pried the Pit’s mouth open with a steel rod from their truck and it let go of Texas.

Elizabeth managed to get her badly hurt dog to the vet, where he underwent immediate and extensive surgery on his mangled leg. That has so far cost $1500, and she has no pet health insurance. Texas has drains in the wounds; the dressing has to be changed daily, but he’s recovering.

She and Texas usually run a couple of miles every day, and up to five miles a day on weekends, so Texas is in great shape, which the vets says is helping him rebound.

Update: Nov. 28 – The owner and the Pit Bull were encountered in the Park this morning, on the path around the Great Lawn, near the East Side basketball courts – the scene of the attack on the 19th – and the dog still is not muzzled. This clearly is a dangerous situation, with another attack a very real possibility.

The massive white and tan Pit’s owner, who told Elizabeth he is 84 years old, is approximately 5’7″ tall, sandy hair, slight build, looks rather frail, with “sort of rheumy eyes” according to one person who met him. He had on a bright blue rain/wind jacket today with a hood.

Update Nov. 26: Elizabeth commented on this post:
“…Texas, … did not ask for the hell he’s gone through. Ultimately dog owners must assume responsibility for their dogs…and until the law changes where dog on dog attacks are a crime, we’ll all suffer from the few irresponsible dog owners with dogs who prey on the innocent.” Her comment continues here.

What to do if your dog is attacked or in a fight when you’re alone:
I always carry bottled water when I’m out with Benny. Sometimes he and his buds play in an overly rambunctious way, and it escalates to a fight. A quick squirt will startle them enough to break it up. It has also worked when a strange dog has come into Benny’s friends’ pack and they’ve chased the outsider. But Texas was not in a fight: he was attacked. Stronger measures were needed!

Water would likely be no match for a Pit Bull attack such as the one last week. So we asked Pawfun’s Holistic Dog Trainer, Anna Bettina Johnson, of Calling All Dogs what to do.

annaAnna says: Dog fights and even attacks happen. Whether we feel prepared to handle them or not, any time you take your dog somewhere other dogs are present you risk the chance that a dog fight or attack can occur. One important thing to keep in mind – dogs who are fighting and are interrupted will often re-direct. This is when people get hurt. That being said, these are the things that have worked for me in the past:

I understand that many people recommend carrying mace or pepper spray. I usually recommend a small squirt gun or spray bottle filled with straight white vinegar. Vinegar will sting when it hits the mucus membranes (eyes & nose), but will not cause any permanent or long-term damage to the animals. Usually it is enough of a distraction that you can separate the animals. [Pls note: If you elect to carry pepper spray, make sure you try it out in a safe location so you know how it works in the event of an emergency!]

If you are by yourself, I do not generally recommend trying to break up a dog fight. It is simply too easy to get seriously hurt. Scream for help or pull out your cell phone & dial 911. But don’t try to get in between two dogs that are intent on doing damage.

Elizabeth had no choice. She was in the middle of Central Park and her dog would have been killed by time police could have found her location. She was lucky park workers reacted quickly and knew what to do.

Other things you can try without getting yourself in the middle of the fight: If there’s a hose available, spray the attacking dog in the nose and eyes and hope it’ll let go long enough for you to get your dog away.

If there’s a fire extinguisher nearby, aim it at the nostrils and eyes and get your dog out of there while it’s startled..

How two people can break up a dog attack or fight:
Anna says “If there are two of you present (preferably the owners of both dogs), you can grab the back legs of the fighting dogs and pull them apart. (Like I mentioned before, be careful, the dog could easily turn around & come after you).

Ed Frawley of Leerburg Kennel (which is certainly NOT a holistic training facility) has a free ebook about dog fights on his site. Frawley advises:
• Never put your hands in the middle of a dog fight by trying to pull the dogs apart by the collar. You WILL get bitten, quite possibly by your own dog.
• Don’t scream. It just adds to the frenzy, as does kicking and hitting them.
• Each person grabs the back feet of one of the dogs and lifts it like a wheelbarrow. With the legs up, both dogs are pulled apart.
• It is then critical for the two people to keep holding the dog’s legs up, and turn slowly in a circle or even swing each dog slowly to prevent the dogs from curling back and biting them.
• To insure that the fight won’t start over, or the dogs come after you, one dog needs to be dragged to an enclosed place like a kennel or garage, or tied to a fence or tree.

Addendum: Incredibly, when Elizabeth reported the attack – by a dog who is still free to attack again – to the Police Precinct, she was told that dog on dog aggression is not a crime and they refused to write a report of the incident. This brings up the issue of how to change the law. We’re going to get involved in that battle, and we will keep you posted on progress in that area.

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Dog lover uk

In the UK pittbull terriers are illegal to own.
Now I understand why.


Any dog is just a product of how it is raised. I am glad you mentioned not being “categorically anti-pit”. While it is clear that this Pit Bull dog was not socialized correctly, it should not come back to reflect on the breed. I am a vet tech and vet student, and I know from experience that most Pits are as trustworthy as most Labs and most Goldens, etc. It is unfortunate that Pits have become the breed of choice for people with bad intentions for their dog (fighting, etc). The same stigma could surround any breed, but Pits were the unlucky chosen ones.


Brianna– do you really believe what you wrote when you wrote “most Pits are as trustworthy as most Labs and most Goldens” ??? If so, I really think you need to read MORE studies– as there are many studies that show quite the opposite. As someone who is a vet student I think you have a huge responsibility to be informed.


Dog-on-dog attacks are impossible to class as a crime because it is FAR too subjective! After all, who started it? The owners aren’t going to tell the truth. What’s to stop me insisting that your nutty terrier attacked my German shepherd, which simply ripped it apart in response?

Far too many arguments and impossible to prove one way or the other. Short of carrying around a handy cam and filming dogs before they start attacking your dog there’s nothing you can do.

BL Ochman

perhaps, but this post is about how to stop an attack, which any dog owner needs to know


I have two female dogs, both Yorkie mix, a type that’s well known for trying to kill their own kind for territorial reasons.

As they came of age, the two came to hate each other and literally wanted to rip each other to pieces and we were forced to separate the two in different rooms.
We knew that we cannot allow this to continue and my brother even came to the conclusion that we should give one of them away. This decision will break my heart and I just don’t have it in me to give either of them away, thus I’ve researched intensively to ‘cure’ the situation.

This is when I came across Dog Whisperer. The main reasons for fights between dogs owned by the same person is due to the owner’s incompetency of maintaining leadership of the pack, thus the dogs will just run all over you and do whatever they like. I’ve also came to learn a life-saving trick which got rid of the problem all together and 1 year into the present, my dogs have not been fighting and are on good terms.

The Trick:
When your dogs become involved in a fight with any other dogs, firstly separate the two dogs, then afterwards (requires how many people as dogs) each owner will have to pin their dogs down and then stare into their eyes as if you’re staring into their soul. This shows dominance and you’re telling your dogs that you won’t have it and they are being a very, very, VERY bad dog. Continue staring into their eyes until they try to avoid the eye contact which shows that they submitting.

Afterward when you are sure things are fine on both sides, slowly let your dogs go and see how they interact. (Do not let both dogs go until both have submitted).

Give this trick a try, cause it literally kept my family together. Both my dogs are sleeping on my bed as I type!


Kath, you are dumb. I have had 5 pit bulls and they all are loyal mushes. And pit bulls actually have lockjaw. This forum is terrible, all the things about pit bulls stated on here but Brianna comment is wrong. SMH


I suggest you do some more reading and educate yourself a bit more. Cesar milans ideas are hugely wrong and outdated.

BL Ochman

what are your ideas about how to break up a dog fight without getting bitten?
We’d love to know


Wow the ignorance towards pits here is astounding your probably the same people that will blame the gun instead of the person pulling the trigger.

BL Ochman

Priscilla – you surely must do some more reading. Dog training has advanced far beyond intimidation and domination!


Everybody says pitbulls r not violent its the way they r raised then how come evertime a pitbull attacks another dog or human for that matter all u ever hear is they have never attacked before no matter who the owner is if that werent inherently violent and it was the way they were raised that pbrase would never be used also research says pitbulls do not have warning signs before they attack.


My heart goes out to the golden that was attacked. It is sinfull that the laws do not protect the dog and the owner.
As far as the pit bull. I am not sure. The only reason I was reading this article was because myself along with my pitbull were attacked by a husky.
The Fear of that day will never leave me. We need more responsible owners!!!


Its amazing that people still claim that Pitbulls are a dangerous breed. There is no reliable statistical data to defend that concept and scientifically they are no more or less aggressive than GSDs, Cheassies, or most any other dog in that breed size.

If you want a breed that is inherently aggressive go to any small dog park and watch a Shitzu play for awhile. The problem is the owners, far too many people assume the responsibility of being a pet owner without actually thinking over what that entails. Pit Bulls are common, so common that almost any rescue you go to will have at least one or two mixes waiting to go to a home.

It’s a beautiful breed, and hard to pass by when you look into those deep soulful eyes. So good intentioned would be parents decide to bring them home. That’s where the trouble begins, they might do well for a few months but, soon enough life gets in the way; those obedience classes they meant to sign up for get pushed farther back on the burner, work goes too long. Suddenly being a pet owner seems even more simple because all you have to do is feed and water them and make sure they get outside for a quick walk and they seem content enough.

Truth be told that cute little pup is going nuts trying to figure out what his purpose is. He likely gets yelled at for chewing up things around the house, hit for peeing inside, or screamed at for barking. With no training or established running social hierarchy that dog is going to act out and that could be in any number of ways. Unfortunately it often is in aggression.

So before you go harping about how “This is why Pit Bulls should be illegal” or telling someone to go “Do some research” maybe do your some of your own. If you think Pit Bulls are a bad breed you can eat a bag of my dogs breakfast, it shouldn’t bother you, he’s not a Pit.


We need to be more like the U.K…. outlaw this horrible breed. I’m sick of hearing it’s all about the owners. The people that are attracked to this breed is because of the dangerous stigma attached to them and can not or will not train these dogs. How many times when you heard about a dog attack, it almost always envolves a pit bull.


BTW Ian… yea let’s blame the 5 year old that shoots his friend to death playing with Daddy or Mommys gun. Get real dude…too many guns


What could Elizabeth have done to release the attacker’s grip? From experience, “wheel barreling” the attacker does not end with them releasing a dog’s leg or neck. They merely just pull the dog along with them causing more damage.


Pitbulls are more aggressive than other dogs, and are usually bought by people who want to seem tough to their mates rather than to have a good companion. They should be banned everywhere, nasty things.

Mark Samson

I’m not going to go into all the aspects of dog training, there are plenty of sites for that. I owned 3 pits and they were well trained and socialized, aND very tolerant of other dogs. But my advice for everybody but mostly for owners with dogs with enourmous jaw strength. Work with your dog on getting it to release whatever is in its mouth. A bite is bad enough, but most of the damage is done when the dog won’t let go. So take your dogs toy, steak bone, use something that it really likes and that it generally doesn’t want to give up. When it has the item in its mouth, grasp the item in your hand from the part that is protruding from the dogs mouth and COMMAND your dog to release, give, whatever works for you. The goal is to get your dog to release whatever is in its mouth. Practice this until it becomes 2nd nature for your dog to give you whatever it has. When your dog has this down to a science, practice this more and repeat it every few days. Do not let the skill get rusty. God forbid your dog should bite, but it’s really important to get your dog to let go. This is REALLY important, the bite is serious enough, but again, the most damage is caused the dog won’t let go.


I have a pit mix and let me tell you he’s afraid of lil dogs. He’s already 2 and a wonderful service dog but I have a problem he’s not agressive, if anything he’s a little sissy lol. Who ever thought that grabbing the dogs back legs is crazy. What you do is grab your dog by the coller and lift up and hold the dogs until they let go. If you grab the back legs they are still able to shake and that is not what you want to happen lifting up on the coller will give the dog less power to shake.