In the US alone, nearly 5 million people are attacked by dogs every year, and 1,000 people go to emergency rooms every day as a result of a dog attack. Most dog’s live up to the term “man’s best friend.” Others on the other hand, are dogs which belong to irresponsible owners who have neglected their dogs or who intentionally encourage aggressiveness can be truly dangerous. Even properly trained domestic pets can attack under certain conditions. Old dogs can be grouchy, females may be defensive about their litter, and others just do not fancy strangers and children. Some dogs might snap if subject to rough handling or play.
Dogs through millenniums of evolution are cunning, swift, agile, strong, territorial, and voracious predators despite domestication; even small ones have large, sharp teeth and claws and powerful muscles in their jaws and legs, and can inflict serious injuries. Large dogs can knock people down with the usual effects of falls from other causes.
If a dog does not have a connection to you as far as liking or respect or if the dog has been conditioned to be aggressive, or should you invade what the dog considers their territory, then the dog’s natural predatory instincts will come out.
Warning Signs of Attack
Here is description of canine body postures.
- Fear Aggression – a fear aggressive dog will have a tucked tail between it’s legs, move stiffly, freeze still and have widely opened eyes.
- Threat Aggression – this dog will growl, bark very much, raise their hackles (hair on back) to appear bigger, carry their tail low toward the ground diagonally or pointing it down vertically between it’s lags. These are all signs of a very unsure and unconfident dog. Leave this dog alone as it will likely bite you if you go closer.
- Extreme Fear & Threat Aggression – this dog will attempt to appear smaller by crouching down, tucking it’s tail between it’s legs while growling, snarling* and barking. These dogs are extremely unsure and unconfident of the situation. They very likely to bite, if confronted further. *Snarling is a dog scared stiff with their mouth closed while it growls and the dog may pull up it’s lips, which makes a nose (snorting like) sound to the growling.
- Moderate Fear & Threat Aggression – These dogs will also crouch down with barks and growling without any snarling. They aren’t as unsure and unconfident as the one above, but they are still very dangerous to approach.
- Low Fear and Low Aggression – A dog which is trying to appear bigger by raising their hackle (hair on back) to appear bigger, and carry their tail high (level with their body or higher) with a slow wag. These dogs will not likely be a threat toward people. They will only appear to be threatening toward people. They are confident and very educated about human behavior. They will usually bark continuously with a monotone bark, stand their ground and will attack only when they are provoked by a stranger who shows threatening behavior with anger and/or hitting the dog. The high tail is a sign that this dog has confidence. If your dog doesn’t have a tail, you can only go by their constant bark with no growling.
How to Avoid an Attack
From Duhaime.org, here are some excellent suggestions to deter or defend a dog attack.
- Avoid eye contact with an aggressive dog.
- If you are jogging, stop jogging and walk by the dog, avoiding eye contact and sudden movement. Avoid the temptation to rebuke the owner of an aggressive dog for allowing their menacing and unleashed dog to remain in your direct path. Aggressive dogs are often a reflection of their owner’s character. If you notice the aggressive dog unleashed again, contact the police with a good description of the dog, the owner and time of day. Try to remember the dog’s name if it was called during your presence.
- If the dog runs towards you exhibiting aggressive behaviour (growling or barking), stand your ground without sudden movement. Brace yourself and command the dog as if you were its owner: “No!” “Down!” “Sit!” “Stay!” Do this repeatedly. Do not raise your hands in a fight stance prematurely as this may antagonize the dog and you might lose your one chance at stopping the attacking dog through commands.
- If the dog is small and presents no danger for your neck area you may want to try to kick it. A good blow to the nose or to the body will stop most small dogs.
- If a large dog attacks, take a fight stance with one leg in front of the other to maximize balance and protect your inner body. If you are athletic, you may want to use your foot as a primary weapon. This response could mean jeopardizing your balance. Should you fall, you lose your height advantage to a dog.
- A large dog may lunge for your throat. Protect this area of your body first and foremost with your arm tucked into your throat as far as you can without pulling back.
- Punch the dog on the nose as hard as you can. Twist or pull the dog’s ears. The dog’s eyes are another soft spot which you should attack if required to defend yourself. Another strategy is to kick the dog in the rib cage. This will wind it and could stun it enough to ward off any more attacks. Yell for help. Yell “Call 911, I am being attacked by a dog.”
Children and Dog Attacks
Normally children a child’s first best friend is often the family pet. Yet we often forget that dogs are natural pack animals that obey certain rules and expect others around them to follow the same rules. We have to teach children to follow certain rules around dogs.
First rule for adults to remember is to properly supervise children around dogs. Unsupervised children are far more vulnerable to a fatal dog attack. From Safety Around Dogs the reasons for attacks against unsupervised children:
- Dogs are much less likely to attack a child in the presence of an adult, particularly in the presence of the owner.
- In the event that a dog does attack a child in the presence of an adult, the intervention of the adult often prevents the attack from becoming a fatality.
- Children, because of their small size, are usually not able to sustain an attack until help arrives. Many adults survived severe dog attacks simply by virtue of the fact that they were able to sustain and fend the dogs off to some degree until assistance arrived.
- Children often engage in dangerous behavior (approaching too close to a chained dog or trying to hug/kiss an unfamiliar animal) that a supervising adult would have prevented.
Go over these rules from doggone safe with your children.
- Do not hug a dog, put your face close to his face or lie on him. Do sit beside your dog, rub his chest or scratch him on the side of the neck.
- Do not play chase-me games with a dog. Do play hide and seek – where the dog has to find you or an object that you hide.
- Do not play tug-of-war games with a dog. Do play fetch with the dog – teach the dog to trade the object for a treat so he won’t try to tug.
- Do not lean over or step over a dog. Do respect a dog’s resting place – go around him or ask an adult to move the dog.
- Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, has a toy or bone, is hurt or has puppies. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.
- Do not dress a dog up in play clothes. Do dress up your stuffed animals.
- Do not hit a dog or poke him with a stick. Do be gentle with dogs.
- Do not pull a dog’s ears, tail or fur. Do scratch the dog’s chest or the side of her neck – most dogs enjoy this.
- Do not stick fingers or hands into the dog’s crate. Do ask an adult to let the dog out of the crate if you want to pet her.
- Do not play in the dog’s crate. Do play “in and out of the crate” with the dog – toss a treat in – dog goes in to get it – dog comes back out – toss another treat in etc (with adult supervision).
Download the AKC Handbook about Safety Around Dogs. It offers games and discussion topics that you can go over together with your children.
Man’s Best Friend
Dogs are truly man’s best friend. By some estimates there are over 52 million dogs in the United States and the majority are loyal, loving pets owned by responsible, caring owners. However we still have to remember that dogs are animals that operate with a different set of rules than we do.