Surviving A Dog Attack

Whether you like dogs or not, whether you fear dogs or feel confident around them, now that you have found your way to this page I urge you to read this article and pass it on to your friends – it could save your life.

Dogs almost never attack without warning. I will cover Attack Prevention in another article but some key points should be mentioned here.

A dog that is about to attack is likely to be:

  • Staring directly at you.
  • Moving deliberately towards you.
  • Baring teeth, growling, raising hair on back.

When faced with a threatening dog – stop, look away and wait for the dog to exit the scene. If that’s not possible, walk slowly backwards until the dog is no longer in sight.

Never try running away from a dog

You can not out-run a dog. Running away will only escalate the situation and make the attack more likely.

If the attack is inevitable, get into a defensive posture:

  • Stand firmly on the ground.
  • If there is a structure near you (such as a tree or a fence) turn towards it and use it for support.
  • Use any object in your hand to shield yourself (your face) from the dog.

If you have a child with you, turn with your back to the dog and place your hands firmly around the child’s body. This is not just to prevent the dog from biting the child but also to prevent the child from running or moving, which would make the injuries more serious.

There is a common image in the media – that of an attacking dog jumping up and grabbing the arm of the victim. This is usually preceded by the protagonist wrapping something around his arm and then wrestling with the dog. This image is false and misleading. The dogs used in filming of such scenes are law enforcement dogs trained to restrain and immobilise the target. You will not be confronted by this kind of dog unless you are a drug dealer or an ‘Occupy’ protester. An aggressive dog you are likely to face will not aim for your arm (although he may well bite your arm if that’s the first thing that gets in the way). An aggressive dog you are likely to face will aim for your head and neck. Therefore you must protect your head and neck at all costs – with your arms or any objects you have with you. If you have a child with you, you must protect their head and neck.

If the dog bites your limbs, do not try to struggle to get free. The more you struggle, the more severe will be your injuries. Stay perfectly still and wait for the dog to let go. Once the dog lets go, continue to stay still and wait for the dog to leave. This is very difficult to do but you must try. The natural tendency is to struggle and fight back but you must resist that urge and not move because struggling with the dog will make your injuries worse.

An attacking dog will try to push you over onto the ground. A person is much more likely to sustain severe life threatening injuries if lying on the ground so do everything you can to stay upright. If you do end up on the ground – roll onto your stomach, pull you legs up to your abdomen, tuck your elbows in to protect your chest use your closed fists to guard your face and neck. Once again do not move until the dog leaves. A child should be taught to fall on the ground, roll into a ball cover the head and not move.

A final word – I have been asked what is the best weapon to carry with you to fend off an aggressive dog. In my opinion that object is an umbrella. It’s easy (and legal) to carry, fast to open, makes a threatening noise and creates a visible barrier between you and the dog. Better still, it’s a ‘defensive’ weapon and will not create the heightened state of aggression induced by injuring the dog.


  1. Zeno Vice

    Better than an umbrella, and even smaller/easier to carry are 1) a palm-sized can of pepper spray, 2) a stun pen or gun, or a TASER.

    • Hi Zeno,
      Yes, pepper spray is a useful tool to contain an aggressive dog. When I worked at the SPCA I used to take it with me on the on-call jobs.
      The problem is, not all of us are qualified and comfortable enough with a pepper spray to carry it with us everywhere we go. In some jurisdictions it’s not even legal. By the way, I have seen a dog still go for a bite even after getting a face-full of pepper spray.

      As for your other suggestion – a stun gun: don’t bother with it! It will not help againts an aggressive dog and may get you injured in the process.

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