According to the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), part of the University of London, around 871,000 canines reside in the UK. This means that whether you own a dog yourself or not and regardless of whether you spend your time in urban or rural environments; you will probably cross paths with other people’s dogs every day (and their dog’s ‘products’, but that’s a whole other debate).
The sight of a dog barking loudly or bounding up to you can be scary but while it can be annoying this behaviour is not always actually aggressive. Equally a truly aggressive dog could completely blindside you and not give any warning at all before attacking. So what can you do to protect and defend yourself when faced with a potentially life-threatening set of sharp teeth arranged within an incredibly strong jaw?
Dog behaviour can be complex and any dog could become aggressive for many reasons. How dogs might show warning signs can be loosely divided into two groups: dominant-aggressive and defensive-aggressive.
Dominant-aggressive dogs are those that really believe they are top dog or have been trained to be aggressive. They are more likely to be very territorial and when faced with a situation that excites them or they don’t like, they are more likely to face down their ‘prey’ by chasing them, blocking their path, staring, emitting excessive deep barks, snarls or growls, holding their head straight in line with their body, pricking their ears upright and forward and holding their tail upright or stiffly. Having said that, these are the dogs also most likely to give no warning and just lunge.
Defensive-aggressive dogs are those that are scared and their defence mechanism is to bite. They can be very unpredictable as they may be confused or unable to read a situation. Look for submissive or scared body language; lowered head/body, ears held back, tail tucked between legs, urinating. These dogs may ‘bite and run’.
- Maybe stating the obvious, but if you are not sure about a particular animal, try and stay well clear.
- Avoid eye contact where possible – dogs perceive this as confrontational. Try and stand more to the side so you’re not directly facing them but still can watch them.
- Stay calm and don’t smile – baring teeth is a provocation to an aggressive dog.
- Avoid waving arms and hands around – this may provoke a dog into actually biting and they will go for parts of the body they can grab and latch onto with their jaws.
- Avoid running away – don’t give them prey to chase down and they will outrun you anyway. Try slowly and calmly backing away, ideally until out of sight, although the best option is if you can climb up somewhere out of their reach.
- Try saying a direct command very loudly such as ‘’Go Home’’, as the dog may respond to this.
Surviving an Attack
- If a dog actually bites you, try not to pull away as it will make the injury worse and make them hold on even more.
- Try and get them to latch onto something that’s not you – such as a bag or a sleeve that you can pull your arm out of and let them maul. This will be enough for some dogs to think they are the victor.
- If you are knocked or pulled to the ground, the key is to protect your face, neck and chest, so try and curl up into a ball with your hands over your neck.
- If there is anything present that you could use to prise into the dog’s mouth to replace your body parts, use it, or force something like a stick down the dog’s throat.
- If possible, try wrapping the dog’s head in a coat or something similar to try and subdue it, or if it is latched on with its mouth, lift its back legs up so it cannot move.
- If the dog is out to kill and has you in a serious hold, then you need to fight back with whatever you can to neutralise it and save your life. Throw your body weight onto it to injure it/crush it or hit it at the back of the head or in the eyes.
If you have been unlucky enough to receive a bite from a dog, regardless of severity, get medical attention at the earliest opportunity. Dog’s mouths are not renowned for being clean and the risk of infection is high if left untreated.