Dog attacks are terrifying, there’s no denying it.
Some professions can put you more at risk for a dog attack. If you’re a mailperson, a dogwalker, a shelter worker, a dog trainer, or really just someone who is often around unfamiliar dogs, it’s important to know how to prevent a dog attack, and what to do if a dog attacks you.
As someone who specializes in working with dogs with behavior issues and used to work in a shelter evaluating potentially dangerous dogs, I’ve spent a long time studying dog attacks.
This knowledge has probably saved my skin a few times, and it’s certainly made a few scary situations end without serious repercussions.
In this guide, we’re going to take you through a few different scenarios when dog attacks may occur and give specific tips on how to handle each situation.
But first, let’s talk prevention, as it goes a long way towards safely avoiding dog attacks!
How to Prevent a Dog Attack From Happening
Of course, it’s far better to prevent a dog attack than it is to try to pry a dog off of your arm. Luckily, there’s quite a bit that you can do to prevent dog attacks.
9 Tips For Avoiding Dog Attacks
Prevention is always the best course of action – here’s how you can avoid dog attacks from starting in the first place!
1. Know the Facts
According to Stopthe77.com, 77% of dog bites are from a known dog – either your own or an acquaintance’s dog.
This means that you’re probably far more likely to be attacked by your friend’s dog that always gives you the creeps than by a strange dog on the street!
2. Know the Dogs Around You
It’s smart to be familiar with the neighborhood dogs you see regularly.
Of course, this isn’t always possible for mail people or animal shelter workers, but getting to know the dogs around your home is a smart course when possible.
For example, you’ll interact differently with the dog down the street that always charges at the fence than with your neighbor’s happy-go-lucky pup.
This can apply to understanding a dog’s triggers as well. For example, I know that my dog Barley really doesn’t like having strangers in his face. He’s friendly, but don’t try to go nose-to-nose with him.
I’ve probably saved a few people’s noses from a warning nip by proactively managing introductions between overly forward drunk people and my somewhat sensitive Collie.
3. Understand Canine Body Language
Watch for canine calming signals. If the dog is stiff and has its weight far forward or far back, give it plenty of space.
Dogs with low, quick movements or efficient that resemble stalking may be in “predatory mode” and can be very dangerous to other dogs or your kids. In general, give unknown dogs a wide berth if they’re acting in any way other than wiggly.
4. Learn Defensive Handling Skills
Several different leash tricks can go a long way to keeping yourself safe if the dog on the other end of the leash is the dog that’s trying to hurt you. This is particularly important for people who work professionally with dogs — like groomers, doggie daycare workers, and trainers.
We’ll talk about the defensive handling skills below in the “What to Do if a Dog Attacks You On Leash” section.
5. Use Dog Attack Prevention Devices as Defensive Tools
Citronella spray, air horns, and even sticks can all act as dog attack prevention devices and help keep you safe from aggressive dogs.
I always carry Spray Shield citronella spray while running with Barley — it’s just permanently attached to my waist leash. We’ve used it several times this year when aggressive dogs hop fences, get loose from people, or are just wandering the streets. It’s stopped every dog (so far) in their tracks.
I’ve also used air horns to break up dog fights, but they’re a bit more obnoxious and less precise for public use. Still, a compact personal air horn is a good tool to have on hand just in case.
If you’re concerned about agressive neighborhood dogs and think there’s potential for an attack, try to keep one or several of these dog attack prevention devices on hand.
6. Remember That All Dogs Can Bite
Ok, I know I now sound like one of those wackos trying to sell their self-defense class. But telling yourself that your dog doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body isn’t helpful, and convincing yourself that “all animals love you” is flat-out dangerous.
Instead, focus on studying body language and being overly cautious. Remember that all dogs have a breaking point and will bite if the situation is just wrong enough.
A dog’s “boiling point” can vary from day to day and minute to minute. My dog Barley will generally tolerate a bit of cuddling from me in the morning, but will move away or even growl if he’s not in the mood.
Rather than assuming that my dog is an angel who won’t bite, I respect his preferences.
7. Use the Tricks of the Training Trade: “Pat-Pet-Pause” and “Treat and Retreat”
When in doubt, I fall back on “treat and retreat” training method and pat-pet-pause handling for new dogs if I interact with them at all.
Treat and retreat involves tossing treats behind a dog, then taking a step back. This gives the dog plenty of space and teaches him that you’re nice without making him feel trapped or pressured.
Pat-pet-pause is one of the most important skills for all dog owners, young and old, to learn. Pat your knees and invite the dog over. If she doesn’t approach, then don’t approach her.
If she comes over, pet her gently on the chest for 3 seconds. Then pause and remove your hands. If she moves closer, pet more (pausing again in 3-5 seconds). If she moves away, then you’re done with petting for now!
8. Move Like a Dog Trainer
Dog trainers are the real experts at avoiding dog bites – so learn to move like they do!
When moving around unfamiliar dogs, be sure to:
- Keep your body posture straight (not bent at the waist)
- Avoid eye contact
- Move slowly and smoothly – avoid quick physical movements
- Keep your side to the dog and don’t approach head on
- Speak softly
All of this body language helps tell the dog that you’re not a threat. Baby-talk and approaching head on (a common tactic) can actually terrify some dogs!
If you must get lower, crouch with your side to the dog. This keeps you from hovering over the dog (which is threatening and is really a rude way to greet a dog) and allows you to pop back up if needed to avoid a nip.
You can see me demonstrating this in the video below:
Original Article: What To Do If a Dog Attacks You: Surviving a Dog Attack
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