Identify the signs of illegal dog fighting

An awareness of the inner workings of animal "blood sports," including dog fighting and cock fighting can help veterinarians identify the victims of these operations. This information can potentially be used to create a body of evidence to be used against the criminals that run them.

At the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in Orlando this past weekend, a series of presentations focused on some of the things that veterinarians can look for to help combat dog fighting.

Kathryn Destreza, Southeast regional director for field investigations and response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) spoke about some of the signs of illegal dog fighting and how to spot them.

Destreza said there are three types of dog fighters: the street fighter, the hobbyist, and the professional. People involved in dog fighting do not belong to any particular race or social class, Destreza said, so it important to look at the state of the dog and any equipment the owner might have.

Dog fighting terminology

Game/gameness: A dogs willingness to continue fighting even when fatigued or injured.

Champion (Ch): A dog that has won three consecutive fights.

Grand Champion (GrCh): A dog that has won five consecutive fights.

The Keep: A period of 6-8 weeks before a scheduled fight, in which the dog undergoes strength, cardio and "gameness" training.

Register of Merit (ROM): Indicates that the sire or dam has produced a puppy that has gone on to be a Champion.

Producer of Record (POR): Indicates that a dog has produced many offspring that have reached at least Champion status, and their offspring has also reached Champion status.
Source: ASPCA
Dog fighting injuries tend to be in the front of the animal, Destreza said, since the dogs attack each other head on. The dogs will have a variety of scars and injuries in different stages of healing around the face, neck and forelimbs. The wounds will generally be small puncture wounds and lacerations, resulting from biting and tearing from the canine teeth. Injuries to the inside of the mouth from "break sticks," sticks used to pry open a dog’s mouth, are also common.

The use of "bait dogs" is another staple of the dog fighter. These victims are untrained dogs that are used as a training tool for the fighting dog. These dogs are given a minimum of care, basically just enough to keep them alive, Destreza said.

"They are going to look like a neglect case," she said. "They will have a lot of scarring, distributed all over the body."

In terms of behavior, fighting dogs will ignore normal dog communication, especially signs of submissive behavior. Their "gameness" training teaches the dogs to attack, even if another dog assumes a submissive posture. In another presentation from the ASPCA, Pam Reid, PhD, showed a series of videos of dogs seized in a massive dog fighting raid in Missouri.

The dogs were restrained on a leash and tested for aggressiveness with a toy dog and a "stimulus" dog, which was either kept behind a barrier or on a leash. Reid and her colleagues found that the fighting dogs were much more aggressive toward other dogs, compared with shelter dogs. Fighting dogs were also less likely to be aggressive toward opposite sex dogs, since fights are always between dogs of the same sex.

Most of the fighting dogs were also very social and friendly with people, and they did not respond negatively to a person taking away food, body handling or scolding.