A break stick is a tool used to break up a fight between dogs of any breed where one dog has a firm grip and hold on the other dog. A break stick should ONLY be used to remove a dog that has a firm grip on another dog; it should never be placed in the mouth of a dog that is snapping or lunging. Break sticks are also known as parting sticks.
Break sticks may be considered to be dogfighting paraphernalia in some areas so please bear that in mind when carrying one on your person.
The tool is something that you hope to never have to use, but you will be very thankful to have should you ever need it. We highly recommend that anyone with a multiple dog household, regardless of breed, have at least one break stick handy. It often helps to have a few in different locations. I carry mine when walking my dog as well. Even if you only have one dog, a break stick can be used to break up a dog fight with loose dogs that you may encounter on your daily walks as well.
Q. But isn’t this a tool that dog fighters use?
A. Yes, criminal dogfighters do use break sticks. Criminal dog fighters also use food and water bowls, leashes, collars, and everything else that non-criminals use in the day-to-day care of their dogs. If we refused to use anything that a dog fighter would use, we wouldn’t be able to take care of our dogs at all.
Q: I heard that choking a dog is the best way to break up a dog fight, is that not true?
A. We believe in advocating for the safest possible methods of handling dogs. We would never suggest that anyone choke a dog (or any other living being) to break up a dog fight. While choking may get you the desired result, it may not. You also run the risk of damaging the dog’s trachea or killing the dog if you use more force than intended.
Q: Spraying water on my dog’s face has always worked for me, why would I need a parting stick?
A. Spraying water on two fighting dogs may work if the fight is not serious enough. However, if that doesn’t work, you now have two wet, slippery dogs that you need to separate. Also, consider that carrying around a hose while walking or bringing one inside is not very practical. Break sticks are small, very easily portable, and drought-friendly for us California folks!
Q: I’ve always heard that the “wheelbarrow” trick works wonders. You simply grab one dog by the hind legs and he has to let go. Should I try that first?
A. You can try a number of methods first, but why not try something that is pretty much guaranteed to work? It’s simply not true that if you pick a very determined dog up by his hindquarters that he “has” to let go. Another consideration is that if he does let go, he can readjust and bite again before you’ll be able to stop him. It’s also not safe – it would be very easy for the dog to whip around and bite you so he can get back to business on the other dog.
Q: My dogs have never fought, they even eat out of the same bowl! This is silly and I think you are promoting dog fighting. Why would Pit Bulls Against Misinformation even share this kind of information?
A. If I had a dollar for every time I took a call from a panicked owner who was crying and hysterical because her dogs that had “always been best friends” got in a grisly fight, I’d be a millionaire. Unless you are with your dogs (regardless of breed) literally 24/7, then you really do not know for sure if they have ever been in a scuffle. Yes, sometimes the very first fight between two dogs in the same household is severe and even deadly but more often than not, there have been several much less significant spats over a period of time that finally culminates into a major altercation. Some owners are completely unaware that the tension building is even going on. Pit Bulls Against Misinformation believes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You may never in your life have a use for a break stick and we sincerely hope you never have to use it. However, we never want to hear the often tragic stories from people who wish they had this tool when they needed it most.
Q: This looks like something I’ll need to practice with to be able to use effectively in what will likely be a stressful situation. How can I know I’m using it correctly?
A: A simple and fun way to get good with a parting stick is to try it out during a good game of tug with your dog. This is also a great opportunity to work on your “leave it” and “drop it” commands.
Q: Why do I need to use this stick when I can just grab the collar and pull the dogs apart?
A: As we stated above, “a break stick should ONLY be used to remove a dog that has a firm grip on another dog“. A dog that has a grip on another dog has now created a puncture in the other dog’s skin. If you simply tear her off the other dog, you will then force those teeth that are sunk in the skin to pull back which will create a far worse injury.
Think of it this way: you get stabbed with a pitchfork into the top of your thigh. Do you want someone to stand directly over you and pull it straight out, or yank it through the side of your thigh? Which would cause more damage?
Q: Well, how DO I use this darn thing?
A: Here’s a breakdown of one scenario where you are alone with two dogs:
- DO NOT SCREAM AND YELL! First things first. Try to remain calm. I know it sounds impossible, but that is your best chance to get the dogs apart. Remember, a break stick is to be used ONLY when one dog has a firm grip on the other dog. You should have the stick in your hand by now.
- Wait until the dogs have tired out a bit. You don’t want to get in the middle of the fight when they are thrashing wildly about. They will slow down a bit and it will seem like hours, but it will only take a few minutes. The key is to be focused and confident that you can do this, because you can. Hopefully, you’ve been practicing during a game of tug so you know how to insert the stick beforehand. During these few moments, plan your “escape” route – this is where you are going to back away with one of the dogs.
- Straddle the dog that has a grip between your legs – remember, his grip needs to be firm. The other dog may be hollering up a storm but you need to focus. Your knees should be behind his front legs or in front of his back legs. The next steps will be a fluid motion with fractions of a second between them.
- If the gripped dog has a collar, grab it. If he doesn’t, scuff him. Do not let go.
- With one motion, place the wedge part of the stick at the back of the jaw to separate the gripping dog’s back top and back molars from each other. Do not twist the stick and do not jam it in; the tool is a wedge designed to give you leverage to part the jaw. You may need to shimmy it a bit.
- Once the stick is in, pull it back into the dog’s mouth horizontally while at the same time, walking backwards with the dog between your legs. At this point, you have the stick across the dog’s mouth, kind of like a bit in a horse’s mouth, with you straddling the dog. If you cannot get the stick straight across the mouth, do not worry. The important thing is to not remove the stick and not to push it down the dog’s throat. You simply want to separate the dogs, and prevent the gripping dog from being able to bite down again.
- Continue to move both yourself and the dog with the stick in its mouth into an area where there is a notable separation from the other dog. Think the other side of the fence where you can close the gate, inside the house leaving the other dog outside, into your garage or shed, into your car, into a bedroom or bathroom, onto the front porch with the other dog inside – you get the picture. The point is to not only separate the dogs but to make sure once you release the dog, he cannot simply run back and continue the fight.
- Now if you don’t already have a collar on, this is the time to get everything in order. You will probably need to go the vet. Check both dogs over thoroughly and get them to the vet as soon as possible.
Q: What do I do with my dogs after they’ve fought and have been to the vet?
A: It is highly likely that they will fight again. You may need to always keep them separated from each other. Many people do this with a “crate and rotate”; using dog crates to keep their dogs separated and giving each time out of the crate individually. You may choose to rehome one of the dogs as well. While we believe that dogs can be kept perfectly happy in a crate and rotate home, we do acknowledge that this set up isn’t appropriate for everyone. If you need tips on rehoming, please check out our post on rehoming by clicking here
A trainer or behaviorist may be able to re-integrate your dogs to peaceful living conditions again but bear in mind you may also spend a lot of money only to have another fight down the line. Common fight triggers are food, toys, treats, same-sex pairings, sibling pairings, parent/puppy pairings, dogs with a great size difference between the two of them, and outside stimulus such as both wanting to chase a squirrel in a tree at the same time.
Q: Isn’t it true that if I raise my dog right and socialize early and often that I really don’t need to worry about breaking up a dog fight?
A: That is false and here are a few of our blog posts explaining why:
So You Have a Reactive Pit Bull – What Did You Do Wrong?
Please also note that break sticks can be used to break up a fight while you are walking – they are not only useful with your own dogs in your own home.
Q: Isn’t it true that a parting stick should only be used on a Pit Bull or bulldog-type dog because they grip and hold?
A: It’s false that Pit Bulls and other bulldog-type dogs are the only dogs that grip and hold. A “grip and hold” is what is used when a dog plays tug-of-war. Any dog that can play tug can grip and hold. If they want to badly enough, they can choose to not release that grip and this is when a break stick comes into play. While bulldog romanticists may extol the virtues of the Pit Bull being the holy grail in the world of gripping technique, this does not mean that another dog cannot be just as stubborn with her grip.
Q: Isn’t it true though that Pit Bulls, because the breed was originally developed for fighting, are also the only breed that you should use a break stick on because they are hard-wired to never turn on their handlers?
A: Any human that intervenes in a dog fight with any breed of dog should fully expect that they may get bitten. While true that the Pit Bull was developed for dog-on-dog combat originally, it is not true that only perfectly stable dogs were used in breeding and fighting (although the vast majority were stable and very people-safe).
Q: Are break sticks only useful to break up a dog fight?
A: Break sticks are also quite popular with people who hunt with dogs, especially hog hunters. They are useful for any time that your dog has grabbed on to something and does not want to let go, whether it’s another dog or a toy.
Q: But…Pit Bulls are the only breed with locking jaws which is why we need this tool to use with them in the first place, right?
A: Sorry, couldn’t be more wrong. Pit Bulls don’t have to lock jaws and a break stick is not a key to that non-existent lock. There is nothing particularly special or different about a Pit Bull’s jaws that warrants the use of a break stick – it is simply a tool to physically get a dog to release a grip on another dog.
We hope this blog has explained the many benefits of investing in a break stick. Just to reiterate, you may never need to have one, just like you may never need your car’s seat belt to save your life. Carrying a break stick is just one more way to be prepared.