I was in Roswell last week working with a new Home Dog Training client and his two year old Vizsla named Johnnie.  Johnnie was a good dog except for the fact that he never listened to my clients, loved to jump on people, and always stole food from the table.  These were all standard behavior issues that we quickly corrected. We moved on to some proper walking techniques that allowed Johnnie to have the freedom to be a dog while still allowing my clients to be in complete control. They were very happy with the results and were excited to put into practice what they had learned that day.

Learn how to tell a dog that you mean no harm

As I was walking back to my car to leave, the neighbor from across the street approached me. She had seen us walking Johnnie and was amazed at how well behaved he appeared.  She mentioned that she had been a little afraid of Johnnie and most dogs because she had been bitten by a neighbor dog when she was very small.  Even though she couldn’t do anything about the past, she wondered how to avoid being bitten or attacked by dogs.

First of all, I told her that almost all dog bites and dog attacks can be easily avoided.

Regrettably, most media stories of dog attacks on people — especially children — focus on the injuries caused rather than what could and should be done to avoid such incidents in the future.  Over the years, Robin and I have come to realize that most dog bites were completely avoidable and often, unknowingly, encouraged by the human.

Most people are bitten by dogs because they misread the dog’s intentions or react the wrong way when the dog approaches. Dogs have poor eyesight and, therefore, have to come very close to assess something. A dog seeing something moving past his yard will most likely bark and growl, which is his way of showing dominance; then he will run at the person. The dog needs to get very close to smell what it is, and this is when people usually get bitten. Instead of stopping and allowing the dog to sniff them, most people think the dog is trying to get close to bite them, and they kick out at the dog or run. All this does, however, is make the dog react and attack.

The best way to avoid an attack by a dog you see running at you is to stand totally still. Do not move a muscle. If you try to run away from the dog, it only encourages them to chase you and possibly increase the dog’s level of adrenaline and anxiety.  If you make sudden moves towards the dog, the dog will assume that you are becoming aggressive and combative. 

Do not try to “to make friends with the dog”.  Doing things like going down low or trying to pat the dog send inappropriate signals to a dog that has just rushed towards you and is challenging you. Standing tall maintains your sense of benevolent dominance. Some dogs do not like to be touched, so trying to pat the dog could send a signal of aggression. In this case, doing nothing is the best answer.

Even though you may be standing perfectly still, you may still be giving off a sense of nervousness or fear.  Dogs can sense and will translate this into weakness.  This gives them the upper hand and, even though they may not have been thinking of becoming aggressive to that point, may react in an inappropriate, physical manner. I know this sounds crazy, but you must constantly be thinking “I am in charge, I am in control, I will be fine.” This will innately calm you down and create the proper body language to send to the dog.

Also, always face the dog.  If the dog is “thinking about becoming more aggressive”, he will look for the best opportunity to engage.  Your rear side is your weak side and the side the dog most wants to be focused on to engage.  If he starts to move around you, slowly turn to always face him.  If you are very close to a wall or fence, back up to that so that there is no possibility of the dog getting behind you.

Some dogs love food above all else. By carrying some doggy treats around with you, you could avoid being bitten by dropping the food on the ground and remaining still. Do not hand feed the dog. Keep your eye on the dog but do not stare. Dogs do not like to be stared at as they view it as threatening.

If you are knocked to the ground by a dog DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GET BACK UP. LIE TOTALLY STILL, ROLL YOURSELF UP INTO A FETAL POSITION AND STAY THERE. The dog is looking for a victory, and if you keep trying to get back up, it will only result in the dog trying to pull you back down, resulting in a vicious attack.

If you can only remember one thing when being approached by a possibly aggressive dog, stay calm.  This will send the appropriate body language to the dog so that the situation will not escalate. It also allows you to “have your wits about you” so you can make the “best next decision”.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.