I opened the door, my pup shot through my legs, and before I knew it, there was a dog fight. I broke it up as quickly as I could, but it wasn’t easy, or pretty. My pup suffered some bad bruising and hair loss on his chest and front shoulder, but fortunately, no stitches were needed. The door I’d opened led into our garage, where I was temporarily housing a buddy’s stud dog, which had just finished eating. The bonehead mistake was one I’ll never forget, and goes to show that most dog fights are the result of their owners not paying attention; guilty as charged. Fortunately my male pup, a strong-headed 8-month-old at the time, bounced back. “Regardless if you have a male or a female dog, a fight can happen,” states noted professional trainer Jess Spradley of Cabin Creek Gun Dogs (cabincreekgundogs.com) and who is a familiar name to these pages. Spradley trains year-round and is around a lot of dogs, not just his own, but those of fellow trainers and clients, too. One time I joined him on a two-day training session where he had nearly a dozen dogs, and brought along two handlers to help change out dogs, feed, water and kennel them.“Own a dog long enough and there will be a fight, and you should always assume there’ll be a fight, even if your dog has never been aggressive,” is what Spradley tells folks. “Your dog might be easygoing and never edgy, but if your buddy has an aggressive dog, it can cause a fight. Be very watchful in these situations because it could change your dog’s demeanor for the rest of its life.”
RULE NUMBER ONE: DON’T ever let a dog run out the door ahead of you. They’re jacked up to get outside, and if they meet another dog face to face, it could turn ugly real fast.Rule number two: When letting your dog out of the truck, make sure it exits slowly, not bursting out the kennel or truck door. This is a common mistake at hunting locations where people gather, as well as campgrounds, parking lots and public parks.“If you have a type-A-personality dog, always keep a close eye on it,” continues Spradley. “You’ll recognize the personality type as soon as they come home, and you’re not going to change a strong-headed dog, but you can easily manage it. There will be times you need to get physical with type-A dogs because if you don’t, they’ll continually push to gain that alpha position. If you don’t think you’re in command of your dog, you’re probably not, and that’s not a good thing.”Something you’ll notice early on, and Spradley agrees, is that when you’re in charge of a well-trained dog, it’ll submit to not only your verbal commands, but your body language and even your facial expressions. But you must establish this leadership role early, as it’s the best way to control a dog and prevent future fights.
WHEN HUNTING YOUR DOG with other dogs, keep a close watch. “If I’m hunting with someone and I don’t like how their dog acts, I’ll either go hunt on my own or put my dog away for a while,” offers Spradley. “After so many kills, we trade out. This takes time, but is easy because the last thing you want is a fight on a hunt.”After a hunt is when Spradley sees the highest number of dog fights. “These fights are the result of dog owners letting their guard down, letting the dogs run around the trucks, mingling freely like the hunters do, and that’s a big mistake. After a hunt dogs are tired, hungry, thirsty, often sore, and sometimes irritable, and those are ingredients for a fight. Keep your dog at heel all the way to the truck and immediately put it in the kennel.”With the pandemic, a growing number of people have gotten dogs and are taking them on walks in public areas. I no longer go to some of my favorite public training areas because so many people have dogs off-leash. It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen, but they don’t know it. “A strange dog should never loosely interact with your gun dog,” advises Spradley. “Socializing is important, but advocating that dogs should run up to one another and start playing is a recipe for disaster. I never let strange dogs approach my gun dogs, not even if they are on a leash because those aren’t relationships I want my dogs to develop.”It’s worth noting that some dogs can be even more possessive while leashed.
DON’T TAKE SPRADLEY wrong; he’ll be the first to tell you dogs need socialization, but be smart about it.“Get your dog with a buddy’s dog, never a strange dog,” he offers. “Start socializing when the pup is young because they need to know and be able to trust other dogs. Be smart; keep them around same-size and age-class dogs, and make the introductions slowly while both dogs are on leash.”Spradley devotes serious time to training his dogs with other dogs they’ll be hunting with, so they get to know one another.“I’ve never seen a gun dog puppy that was born to fight,” Spradley concludes. “If they do pick a fight, it’s likely because they had something bad happen to them at some point and simply don’t want to be around another dog. And when there is a fight, break it up right away because the last thing you want is a dog getting away with this type of aggression.” As I learned the hard way when my pup ran out the door, make absolutely certain there’s no opportunity for a chance encounter with another dog. This applies when letting your dog out at home, walking it on the beach or running in a park. Watch those blind corners, be mindful of other owners letting dogs out of their vehicles and always have your dog on a leash whenever there’s the slightest chance for an encounter.By paying close attention and anticipating situations you find you and your dog in, you can avoid the majority of potential fights. Then again, be ready to quickly break up a fight, because the more you train and hunt around other dogs, the more likely it is to happen. That’s just part of being a dog owner.