How to Stop a Dog Fight: 5 Steps for Handling Conflict

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How to Stop a Dog Fight: 5 Steps for Handling Conflict

I remember that dog fight—exactly a year ago, on another hot August day. Litter-mates Mamba and Rosebud were camped out in the shade on the north side of our house. Rose lay beside a bowl of kibble, and Mamba lazed about six feet away.

“Aw, Rosie,” I said. “You guarding your food? Your sister wants some, too, you know.” I  toed the bowl toward Mamba.

Big mistake.

Almost as if a ventriloquist had thrown a fake growl, a quiet rumble came from our perennially-happy Rosebud.

Instantly, Mamba flew at her sister, seized her cheek, and shook.

Instantly and violently.

Rose, the side of her face clamped in Mamba’s jaws, managed to curl toward Mamba’s foreleg and sink her teeth.

The fight was on.

It was horrible. They slashed each other across the lawn, fangs bared like wolves, their snarls as vicious as any I’ve ever heard.

Of course I intervened. I sprayed them with the hose and screamed. When that didn’t work, I foolishly jumped into the fray and yanked collars.

They fought on.

When I threw a blanket over them, Rose saw her sister compromised and launched at her with renewed fury.

For ten minutes they battled. Then twenty. Twenty-five. They tumbled through the fence and into the pasture toward the woods, their wounds gaping, blood flowing. I phoned my husband, then raced for help from a neighbor.

We returned to an eerie quiet. A search of yard, field and woods turned up nothing. Only when we circled the house did we find the dogs lying on opposite sides of the garage, bloodied and panting.

My husband arrived a half hour later. Assessing the wounds, he retrieved a needle, suture and scissors from his veterinary truck—but no lidocaine. He knelt beside Rose.

“Aren’t you going to numb her first?” I asked.

“Nope. With all that adrenaline pumping through her right now, she won’t feel a thing.” Sure enough. He quilted both girls’ injuries and neither one so much as flinched.

After a few grim weeks, they recovered, but the friendly camaraderie they had enjoyed since their birth five years earlier had vanished. They wanted nothing to do with each other. Though their estrangement gradually subsided, it took months before they stopped eyeing each other suspiciously.

Today, all’s well. But that fight taught me a few things about conflict that apply to more than dogs. Whether I’m encountering a minor disagreement or a potentially relationship-shattering blowout, I’ll handle it differently next time.

Here’s what I’ll try to do:

1. GET ALL THE FACTS

I’ll search for facts beyond the ones already influencing me. I’ll suspend blame and judgment and listen to objective details from those involved.

Facts: Rose growled because Mamba was eating her food. Dogs growl about things like that.

Facts: Mamba attacked. Alpha dogs don’t take kindly to usurpers.

Facts: Before the snarling and biting began, I upset the order of things. I forgot dog rules and fed them both from one bowl: Rosie’s.

2. QUESTION THE STORY I’M TELLING MYSELF

Things aren’t always what they seem to be. The story I tell myself about the facts may not be accurate. In other words, my perception may not be reality.

I heard Rose growl and saw Mamba attack. Then I told myself that Rose shouldn’t have growled and Mamba shouldn’t have attacked her. If I had considered facts about dogs and questioned that assumption, I may have responded differently. Instead, I probably made things worse by overreacting.

3. OWN MY ROLE IN THE CONFLICT

When I admit what I contributed to the problem, I’ll be less likely I’ll be to repeat whatever fed the conflict.

Once the furor died down, I asked myself who was more to blame, Rose or Mamba— certain one of them was the instigator. When my husband quietly said “Neither,” the light went on. Whether my role was 5 percent or 90 percent, I needed to own it if I wanted to avoid the same problem in the future.

4. PAUSE AND PRAY FOR WISDOM

Yes, even in the middle of a dog fight.

When I feel threatened or afraid, my rational thinking suffers and I go into flight or fight mode. In that state of mind, I won’t make the wisest or most loving decisions, and I may say or do something that only amplifies the problem. Instead of reacting, I can trust God to help and quiet me.

5. FOCUS ON THE RELATIONSHIP, NOT ON BEING RIGHT

True relationship reconciliation (which usually involves dying to self-interest) mirrors what Christ did for all of us—and opens the door to even more of Love’s great work.

On the other hand, when I care more about being right than about creating safety and trust in my relationships, I risk alienation and mistrust.

I heard once that conflict handled badly is always about winning. Much like a dog fight, yes?

How do you handle dog fights? I’d love to hear.

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“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

“A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” Proverbs 15:18

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . .” James 1: 19

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#watchingnatureseeinglife #howtostopafight #wiseliving

15 thoughts on “How to Stop a Dog Fight: 5 Steps for Handling Conflict

  1. Oh, my! That was quite the brawl. Something had been simmering between those two for a long, long time and the fuse finally burned its way to the dynamite. I’m just glad you didn’t get bitten. Ruff and his brother hate one another. Two otherwise good-natured Gordons that turn into snarling maniacs when they see the other. Two years ago, Micah left the bird course at a hunt test to run back one hundred yards to the start point and attack Ruff. There is something about sibling rivalries that bring out the worst. Good thing that never happens in human relationships, right? Right……

      1. We have the ability to accept God’s grace and to respond to others who have wronged us by showing His grace to them.

        I am thankful that Ruff and Blue can eat and drink from the same dish if the occasion demands. They truly do seem to get along although Ruff can still intimidate Blue pretty easily.

  2. WOW!! Did not realize a dogfight could last that long. Great analogies to us humans. Your 5 steps to resolving conflicts great. Best of all the biblical passages at the end. Wonderful advice for us all. Can Mamba and Rosebud come to the beach next week? Camper parking available at re beach house. Cheers!!

    1. Thanks, John! The girls would love to come, but we’ll be staying in a house with kiddos. Looking forward to seeing you!

    2. Hi John . . .and thanks! (Did I not respond to this earlier?) Loved seeing you and Sharon last weekend.

  3. In awe of your wisdom, the Lord has truly blessed you, making you such a blessing to others.
    Thinking of the “dog fights” throughout my life have shown me how the Lord has changed me. At first I was a right fighter but quickly I learned how to look at things as not being “right” as being that important. Love and by the Lord’s grace I must live allowing others to see Christ in me not a stubborn, strong willed right fighter.

    Your words made me think of my recent “dog fight” …it took its toll and believe your hubby could stitch my wounds without lidocaine even today as my wound was deeper than I knew. By the grace of our Lord my wounds may be deep but just showed me to seek Him first before doing what I think the Lord wanted me to do…seek Him first, seek His “right” thing to do, not what me, myself and I think I should do!

    1. Thanks, Wynn. I agree. Making the decision to live by grace rather than by defending “rightness,” changes the game.

    2. Thanks, Wynn. Sorry for the delay! I thought I had replied to you, but looks like my thoughts stayed unwritten. Praying that all of our dog fights end up prompting holy changes in us! Love you!

  4. Your parallels are so right. I saw two people growling over administrative territory recently. It was a case of “guarding the bowl”! Excellent advice on conflict navigation!

  5. That had to be terrifying! And your points are spot on! I keep reminding myself of the importance of listening to understand. Too often, even our word wounds leave nasty scars! Great post!

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