Although dogs are supposed to be “man’s best friend”, sadly irresponsible owners coupled with poor training and inadequate socialisation can mean that certain dogs grow up with aggressive tendencies and may attack you if they feel threatened. This can happen anywhere – even when you’re walking, jogging or cycling through your own neighbourhood and even small dogs can inflict a painful bite.
So what do you do if you’re suddenly attacked by a dog?
1) Stay calm!
While this is easier said than done when faced with a ferocious hound charging at you and frothing at the mouth, how you respond to the situation can mean the difference between you escaping unscathed or suffering a bad bite. Animals can sense fear and if you scream and panic, you will either make the dog feel more threatened or make him feel more confident in his attack – neither of which will help you!
2) Don’t run!
Whatever you do, never run away from a dog – it will only trigger his prey drive to chase and catch you, thus making the situation worse. Even if he only had playful intentions to start with, seeing you running and shrieking may turn his thoughts in a predatory direction. Besides, you will not be able to outrun most dogs if you are on foot – even if you are on a bicycle, most dogs will still be able to catch up with you faster than you think.
3) Don’t stare into its eyes! Eye contact is very threatening and challenging in canine language so avoid making eye contact with the dog. Try to turn your body so that you are facing slightly away from it, rather than facing it head on – just by standing sideways and using your peripheral vision to keep the dog in sight will often do a lot to diffuse a potential attack.
4) Don’t make sudden movements! Keep still and try to move very slowly and calmly. Fold your arms across your body or keep them at your side, with clenched fists, to stop them waving about. Stand still, keep your eyes averted and remain calm. In many cases, the dog will lose interest if you do not react – it may bark at you for a while or even come up and sniff you but then will go away if it gets no response. Remember, most dogs have short attention spans.
5) Back away slowly! Once the dog looks like it is losing interest in you, back slowly away from it or out of its territory, keeping your eyes averted. It will be a test of your nerves, for sure, to stay calm while doing this but backing slowly away is the safest thing to do in such a situation, providing the dog isn’t biting you.
6) Protect your face, neck and chest! If the dog actually launches itself on you and tries to bite, use your arms and hands to cover and protect your face, throat and chest. If you can find somewhere enclosed that the dog cannot get easy access to (e.g. a corner or small space behind another object) you can curl up into the foetal position and wait until the dog leaves the area before getting up.
7) Don’t kick at or strike the dog with your hands! If the dog has not actively tried to lunge and bite you yet, don’t try to strike it first. Unless you have had specific training, it is likely that your reflexes will be faster than the dogs and all you will succeed in doing is antagonise it, possibly triggering it to bite when it might not have originally.
8) Use an item of clothing to distract the dog! Unless they have been trained specifically to attack certain parts of the body, most dogs will just as happily grab anything attached to a human and consider it part of the human’s body. So you may consider removing a jacket or even shirt and waving it at the dog so that it will latch onto that and buy you time, while you try to think of a means to escape.
9) Don’t hit the head! Especially if it is a big dog – particularly of the mastiff-type breeds – these dogs can have very thick skulls and all you will do it make it more angry. Hitting a smaller dog might be effective but it is still a risky move, particularly as it would mean you moving your hand near its mouth and counting on your own movements being faster than the dogs (animals usually have much faster reflexes than humans). The only place that will have any effect, especially on a big dog, is to hit it across the back of the neck, near the base of the skull, or across the sensitive area of the nose but in the chaos of a dog attack, it is doubtful that you will aim correctly and apply the necessary pressure.
10) Fight back if it has got hold of you! Once a dog has got hold of you, it will instinctively shake and tug the wound, causing massive tearing and tissue trauma. You will not be able to wrench yourself out of its grasp easily so your best bet is to fight back. You can do this by pinning the dog down using your weight – concentrate force on areas like the throat or ribs or straddling it across the back and applying forward pressure to the back of the neck. You can also go for the eyes or nose – sensitive areas that may cause the dog to let go temporarily and give you time to get away.
Like many things, avoiding and preventing dog attacks is much better than trying to deal with them, not matter how experienced you are. Be aware of canine body language and look for the warning signs. Don’t over-react as that trigger an attack too. Remember, most dogs are NOT aggressive – however, many dogs may be fearful or territorial and therefore their barking and charging is simply a way of warning you off. If you assume a non-threatening pose and move away from them (or out of their territory), more often than not, you will be left alone.