It is estimated that there are around 200,000 dog bites in the UK each year alone.
Although fatalities from dog bites are extremely rare, there is a risk of minor infection with a range of pathogens (New England Journal of Medicine 1999; 340: 85–92). In countries where rabies is endemic, the risks are much greater. As well as the risk of physical scarring, dog bites can also have psychological consequences (BMJ1991; 303: 1512–3).
It is estimated that two per cent of the US population, 4.7 million people, are bitten each year. In the 1980's and 1990's, the US averaged 17 fatalities per year, while in the 2000's this has increased to 26. 77% of dog bites are from the pet of family or friends and 50% of attacks occur on the dog owner's property.
Note: This section contains information for both civilians and military personnel. You may find some of it distasteful and disturbing, no one likes to hurt an animal but a vicious dog attack is life threatening, crippling or can result in permanent disfigurement. Put squeamishness and sentiment aside — you need to know how to defend yourself. The information given on how police dogs attack is meant for protection only in a survival situation. If challenged by a police dog handler you should not resist arrest and follow the dog handler's instructions or you will be bitten. Introduction
Many people are frightened of dogs and a dog attack (or threat of one) can be a fearful thing. It is intimidating because a powerful dog can cause serious injury. If you study the photos on this page you will notice that a dog's canine teeth are set at an angle sloping backward to allow it to grip and hold its prey and tear the flesh away. A dog can give a deep puncture wound or literally rip off chunks of flesh. A confrontation with an aggressive dog is to be avoided at all costs. So what can you do if you are faced with an aggressive, potentially vicious dog, or worse still if you are faced with several aggressive dogs? What can you do to minimize the damage if a dog bites you? How can you know if a dog is going to attack you or is just boisterous?
There is a difference between the dogs you know and those you don't, between the behaviour of aggressive dogs and dogs who are just protecting their owners or guarding their territory with the intent of "warning you off." It is important to be able to spot if a dog is aggressive or being protective because you need to behave differently in each instance. What you need to know
Like all animals, dogs are capable of exhibiting different behaviour at different times. A cuddly, lovable house pet can become fiercely protective of his master's home and children. A normally well behaved dog at home can turn into an instinctive killing machine if it is running loose in the wild, especially with other dogs. However, not all dogs that rush up and bark at you or chase you will bite. If you learn to read a dog's personality, you will notice that some dogs can actually look playful as they approach you and they may be wagging their tails even while barking at you. This is just a bluff. For a playful dog, it's not the kill, it's the thrill of the chase and they want you to run so they can chase you. If a dog approaches you with its head held high or low, it is probably not going to attack. A dog whose head is held level "means business". A loping gait means the dog is playful and checking you out. An even, steady run means business.
If a dog barks at you or snarls baring its teeth do not ignore these warnings; baring of the teeth can be a sign of aggression, fear or even submission. If you do not know the dog this can only be interpreted in conjunction with the dog's overall body language. If a dog approaches and exhibits aggressive behaviour don't walk on regardless, don't turn your back and certainly don't run away. A dog's natural instinct will be to chase and catch you. Instead, remain motionless, relaxed and keep your hands from moving about. Also, try not to show any fear. There is some truth to the adage that dogs can sense fear, just as they can sense a lack of fear, both of which may be read as signs by the dog that you mean it harm.
If approached by a dog that is not showing signs of aggression, let it sniff you. This can have a calming effect. You become less threatening. Talk to the dog in a soothing voice so as not to excite it. Unless you know the dog, do not take matters a stage further and make a move to stroke it, this could make a nervous dog go for you. Keep your hands out of the way because most casual bites are to the hands and arms. Never bend down to the dog or you risk it going for your neck or face.
Sometimes a dog will approach calmly and suddenly turn and perhaps snap or bark. In this situation take immediate control and say, "Stop," or "Sit" in a commanding voice and hold your hand up with the palm upwards. The dog will usually back down and this will buy you time. This sort of behaviour by a dog is characteristic of a dog that is badly trained and is used to bullying its owner. Let the dog know you will not accept its bad behaviour. In this scenario, a dog is not likely to bite unless you provoke it. A dog does not have a high intelligence and it has a short attention span. If you stand still, it will quite soon lose interest and move off.
Your body language is also important. Don't smile, since this is seen as "baring of the teeth" and an invitation to fight. Try to remain relaxed and don't become overly submissive or challenging; don't look too weak and don't look too aggressively strong, as both may seem challenging. Stay calm, detached and try to give the dog the idea that you are neither friend nor foe; the dog will lose interest in you and go away at some point. Don't taunt a dog (even one that is in a garden or on a lead) by making silly noises like mimicking its bark or shouting at it. The dog may break loose and teach you a doggy lesson in manners.
Eye contact is also a bad idea; a dog may interpret eye contact as a challenge, just as humans can. It is best to maintain a steady gaze that looks through the animal. If you look down, the dog may interpret this as submissive behaviour and push its advantage. A basic rule is to use neutral body language (including eye contact). As with human aggressive behaviour, the idea is to diffuse the situation.
Irresponsible and neurotic dog owners
As in all survival situations, reading the signs around you is important. It is a fact that weak, nervous, often neurotic people like to own a large dog or two so they feel safer. Whilst the majority of dog owners are responsible, you frequently meet owners who do not train their dogs and just cannot control them. When things go wrong, it is always the owner's fault, never the dog's fault. A dog can be trained and should obey its owner at all times. Rarely is a dog truly untrainable, unless it has been traumatized, then it should be professionally evaluated and if a hopeless case, destroyed both for its own sake and for safety reasons. Most dogs with incurable behavioural problems are kept by people for sentimental reasons; the owners just cannot stand the thought of having their dog destroyed and hang on to the dog until matters are taken out of their hands. These owners are irresponsible, just plain lazy or have personality disorders themselves.
The photo below illustrates a potentially dangerous situation. A young woman, two Rottweilers, a narrow track and little chance of avoiding them. In such a situation, you should stand to one side, not greet the woman if she is a stranger, maintain that steady gaze and "look through" the dogs and their owner. If the dogs start to display uneasy or aggressive behaviour, ask the owner firmly but politely to get them under control, preferably pull them to one side so you can pass. This is particularly important if children are present, as a dog will attack the weakest first.
One of the worse incidents I witnessed was a young woman walking through our local woods with two German Shepherds. The dogs were on leads but they were dragging her wherever they wanted. There was no way she could control the dogs and they went for a young guy out running. In a flash, the dogs were after him trailing their leads behind them. She screamed at the dogs to stop but they took no notice and attacked the man who ended up needing many stitches to his arms and legs. It was all over very fast and the dogs only stopped their attack because another dog came on the scene and they went after it. Owners like this are ten–a–penny and in my view should be legally banned from owning a dog. Shaken up, the girl told me that the dogs had never done anything like that before. Well, it was only a matter of time. The runner should have stopped, stood still and waited for the owner to get to her dogs and try to control them. Fault on both sides but the runner get the sympathy vote! If you see an obviously weak owner with a dog or dogs, on or off their leads, give them a wide berth.
If you are in someone's garden or near a home (a dog's protective zone), you can also call the owner for assistance, this might work, but bad dogs often have bad owners. Some dog owners are responsible but there are many that are plain stupid and cannot understand why you are frightened of Fido, even bawl you out for upsetting their dear pooch! The best thing to do is to get off Fido's territory ASAP, try backing away and talk firmly to the dog. Remember, a dog doesn't understand you — it only responds to the tone of your voice and it reads your body language to see if you can be dominated.
Dealing with an attack and defending yourself
Dogs have been around people a long time and they know our physical signals and human body language. Use an even, controlled and commanding voice, saying firmly but loudly, "STOP!" Assume a positive stance and body position with your forward hand palm out and rear hand up by your ear. Keep hand and arm movements deliberate. Avoid jerky movements, which can provoke a dog. Your posture should be "definite" and signal intent. With domestic dogs, this will normally work and the dog will stop its attack. This will not work against a military trained dog or a police dog; if attacked by such a dog you need to use tougher measures. Attack by a military, attack–trained or vicious domestic or feral dog
If you carry a handgun and have to shoot a dog, you need to be skilled in hitting a small, fast–moving target. The sound of gunfire alone will not stop a trained attack dog because they are specifically trained to perform under fire. Aim for the side of the dog's body. Military dogs are trained to grab an arm
and bring down the target. If you have the possibility, wrap outer clothing around your weakest arm and let the dog grab hold. To get an instant kill, shoot the dog between the eyes with the angle of the shot pointing down the neck to the chest (don't blow your arm off). If this shot is too difficult place the muzzle of the gun at the back of the dog's jaw and aim the shot up towards its ears. Turn your head away as you fire so you aren't hit by bone fragments.
A dog clamps down on its victim when it bites. If you cannot avoid the dog biting you, hold your arm so the bite clamps down of the sides of the forearm or wrist. This way, if there are puncture wounds they won't sever arteries on the inside of the forearm or wrist. Do not try to pull free, as this will end in other bites or torn flesh. If you offer the dog an arm, it will go for it and deter it from going for your legs and dragging you to the ground or jumping up and going for the throat.
Police dogs are also trained to go for an arm but also the shoulder of a running suspect to bring them down. This photo also clearly illustrates why you should not turn your back on an aggressive dog or run away from it. If a dog manages to drag you to the ground, try to remain calm. Remain as motionless as possible. Don't provoke the dog or take further action unless the attack continues. If the attack continues, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears, your knees lifted up protecting your throat. This passive attitude and submissive position might just end the attack. If it doesn't, again you can give up an arm and then take more drastic counter measures.
Extreme measures against a deadly dog attack
A dogs grabs and holds its victim wherever it can get hold and will resist if you try to pull flesh out of its mouth; it may release its hold temporarily and then bite again, this time, harder and it will hold on with more determination. An aggressive dog will try to bite its prey on the face as it has learned to fight other dogs this way and knows a bite to the face or neck will incapacitate its victim.
Dogs have almost no resistance at all if you are pushing anything into their mouths. To incapacitate a dog, the best thing to do is to ram your hand or a stick down its throat to cut off its air supply or at least make it gag. If you cannot get your fist or another object down the dog's throat, for example, it may have hold of you — in this case, go for its eyes. It sounds distasteful but if a dog is biting you, then do whatever is necessary to stop the attack. A dog's eyes and throat are usually vulnerable. Jab a thumb or thumbs into the eyes and press hard, if needs be, continue the pressure until the dog is blinded. A sharp blow into the throat/larynx is also incapacitating and may buy you time to escape.
In a life or death situation, you can feed your arm to the dog and then by placing the other arm behind the dog's head you can snap its neck by twisting it sharply to one side. Alternatively, use the free hand to sharply force the dog's head back, this will snap its neck, see diagram below.
Striking a dog where the lower jaw hinges into the skull can force a dog to release when biting. Some dogs (Pit Bulls, etc.) have massive muscles in the jaw area and it may be necessary to strike with a hard object to make the dog let go. Use what you have to hand, a stone, a stick, the handle of a gun or knife or improvise (for example, use the sharp end of a house key). This area is the where a bunch of facial nerves meet (including the hypoglossal and accessory nerves) and exit the skull across the face. As with humans, hitting the rear edge of the jawbone will be extremely painful and cause trauma, even unconsciousness. A dog's jaw bone doesn't protrude very far so you have to hit it just right and use a sideways blow, not an uppercut or else you will just smash the dog's teeth upwards and further into your flesh! If you miss the first time, keep trying. A dog doesn't learn this is a vulnerable place like a human does and will not defend against it.
Vulnerable points of a dog.
Click picture to enlarge.
The above diagram illustrates the key vulnerabilities but these are only for use when attacked by an aggressive dog in a life–and–death situation or when facing serious damage. It works against wolves too, of course, but a wolf is less likely to attack a human.
Dogs are anatomically similar to humans, meaning you can use many of the same (but certainly not all) controlling pressure points and reflex points against them, just as you would against a human aggressor.
Dogs have a bundle of nerves leading from the back of their necks across the side of the neck and down into their front legs (brachial plexus). In the same area (side of the neck) is a major artery that splits and in the crevice between the branches is a sack of tissue filled with blood that helps regulate blood pressure (carotid sinus). Thus, a strong blow across the forward side of the neck might have a stunning effect, but the thick muscular necks of some dogs might reduce its effectiveness. Most dogs are pretty quick at intercepting any strike to this area, hit here only if you cannot hit it anywhere else.
If the dog is wearing a collar, get your hand under the top of it, grasp firmly and keep twisting it to choke the dog. Do not release until the dog has passed out. The dog will recover but you have time to get away. The dog's nose is very sensitiveness and a sharp smack on the nose is subduing. If a dog comes at you mouth open to bite, grab a stick or other long object holding it at each end and force it horizontally to the back of the dog's mouth then give a sharp twist to the side. This will dislocates the dog's neck, which prevents further attack. Non–lethal weapons such as C.S. gas, mase and pepper sprays are virtually useless against a fast moving dog. Soft pellet guns will not stop an aggressive dog. Helping someone in a dog attack
The first rule is not to be badly injured yourself. In the horror of the moment it is easy to pitch straight in and forget that a few minutes spent getting help is important. If others are present, send someone for help. If you can phone for help, give the emergency services vital information, tell them you need a dog handler and medical assistance and tell them if you are going to try to stop the dog. Follow the advice of the emergency personnel.
If you see a dog biting a child or another person, rather than trying to pull the victim away, the best thing to do is to force your own hand and arm into the dog's mouth to get the dog to release its victim. If you judge the attack is not too vicious, grab the dog's nose and pull upwards, the dog will then go for you. If the attack is really terrible, go for the dog's eyes and blind it or follow the preceding advice. Do not shout at the dog, kick at it or beat wildly it with a stick or umbrella (all of which have been done frequently in the heat of the moment). This behaviour will often cause the dog to attack its victim even more because the predator's instinct in the dog tells it you are trying to rob it of its prey. If there are others present, do not let them crowd the dog as this could make the attack more frenzied. Tell people to keep calm and keep their distance, no point others being needlessly injured. Multiple Dog Attacks
Dealing with two or more dogs is very different from dealing with a single dog. Dogs revert to primitive wolf–like behaviour when they run in packs and the most difficult dog attacks to deal with involve pack behaviour. A pack defers to the alpha dog and there is a beta dog waiting to take over the pack. It is the alpha dog's behaviour that determines if a pack attacks or not. Problems start with domestic dogs when the owner is not perceived as the alpha dog. In this case, the owner has no say in how the dogs behave as shown in the photo below (a common sight!)
Without the alpha and beta dogs in a pack there will be less chance of an attack, so if you are armed, spot these dogs and take them out. Once deprived of their leaders the pack will lose its pack mentality and each dog will begin to think as an individual and decide that maybe this pack attack thing wasn't such a good idea after all. If you do not have a firearm and two or more dogs attack — you are in trouble! Pack mentality also applies with two dogs but there is a chance the second dog will still attack if the alpha is disabled, which makes two attacking dogs as dangerous as a pack of several dogs.
First, try taking control of the pack by saying, "Stop," or "Sit" in a commanding voice directed at the alpha dog and hold your hand up with the palm upwards. This may work if the pack comprises renegade domestic dogs. If they are feral dogs, long out of human influence and control, this will not work. If taking control does work, it is necessary to dominate the dog. This means sending the dog on its way by ordering it to "GO!" If this fails or provokes an unstable dog you will have to kill it. (
See: Extreme Measures
) Dispatching the alpha dog may deter the beta dog, if not; there is nothing for it but to kill this dog too. What to avoid at all costs, is to let any of the dogs seize hold of you and drag you down. If the pack is very aggressive and the alpha dog and beta dog attack, once they have you on the ground the pack will move in for the kill. When the pack approaches you (can happen unexpectedly, so you need to think fast), try to place your back against any object to prevent the dogs from encircling you or attacking you from both front and back. Climbing a tree is a good defensive strategy because dogs cannot climb trees. You may be in for a long wait but they will eventually lose interest in you and move on. Grab hold of anything you can find as a weapon. If you grab a stone, do not throw it at the dogs as this will just provoke them, use it to hit with, striking a vulnerable area as outlined previously. If there are two of you, stand back–to–back, this will present a more difficult and unusual scenario for the dogs to cope with. If you are in a group, use the same strategy, the aggressive dogs no longer have one clear target for their aggression. Back to back or in a group, slowly move away from the dogs. Do not split and run, dog packs are instinctively equipped to hunt down prey that scatters.