Wisdom for Dealing With Aggressive Dogs

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

I feel a good deal smarter about dogs this week than I did the last thanks to dozens of co-workers who shared their experience and expertise. In short:
  1. If I were to design an anti-dog bite tool belt, I would include slots for my pepper spray, a stun gun, a high value dog treat, a good stick, a whistle, a blow horn, bear spray, a super soaker and a squirt water bottle.
  2. If I were approached by an aggressive dog tomorrow, I hope I would have the presence of mind to avoid direct eye contact; face the dog standing slightly sideways; order it to stay, sit or go home in an authoritative and commanding but not threatening or aggressive voice then slowly inch my way backwards and away from whatever the dog is protecting.

I gained something from every piece of advice sent in and expect you will, too, in one way or another. I’ve gathered them all up in the attached PDF which I present to you for your reading pleasure. (Not being in the business of animal management, please understand that these are shared not as endorsed advice but purely as information to do with as you will and at your own risk.) One stood out to me as being overall sound and encompassing, capturing a good many of the details shared in the other responses, so I am pulling out major hunks of that wisdom to share here should you have limited time for diving into the complete collection. The person who provided this perspective has worked in a local shelter for 10 years with hundreds if not thousands of dogs:

Only a dog without an aggressive nature will respond to Jani's method. They are protecting the environment or their person. I would not count on this method. Facing a dog is best. DO NOT RUN. Facing an aggressive dog with a stance that is not fully frontal but slightly sideways helps. Most dogs are not aggressive by nature. Dogs that attack are triggered by something - fear, protective nature, etc. By standing your ground without being aggressive or threatening, most will stop. Move slowly backwards in the direction you were going. Hopefully, you move away from what they are protecting. Dogs express body language just like people. There are handy charts online with dog body positions and expressions that let a person know their intent. If a dog's tail is wagging even though they appear to be aggressive, you will probably be OK. If their ears are peeled back, tail is still and up, that is a good time to get the pepper spray ready. If you are attacked, fight, fight, fight. Dogs are not bears. Playing dead will not work. Try to poke your fingers in their eyes. Pepper spray is good but even that is not 100% if a dog has harmful intent. A large strong dog could run right through it and you will be the one who can't see or breathe. A stun gun is probably the best protection without carrying a real weapon although they really have to be attacking you for that work.

Never approach an unknown dog. If they do not come to you, let them be. A lost dog is fearful and may react out of fear. A person should never assume ANY dog is friendly or will not bite. Even dogs who never bite can still bite if threatened. If a dog approaches you, offer them the back of your hand while in the sideways stance. This is not threatening and is a way of greeting.

Reliable or unreliable
As for whether Jani’s technique of stamping, pointing and shouting, “GO HOME NOW,” is reliable enough for a person to feel reasonably safe if encountering an aggressive dog, the opinions came back pretty even: 18 no’s and 15 yes’s. Make of that what you will. It did seem to me the pepper spray I keep in my back pocket enjoyed an overwhelming majority endorsement. One possible problem: after a decade of faithfully carrying it around who knows if it actually still works.

A big thank you to all who took the time to offer their thoughts or share their own experience. It always helps to know there are others out there who know the road you have walked (or run, as the case may be) and it’s empowering to feel more broadly informed. Walking just got a little safer and a little less scary for me and probably a whole lot of others.  
End Note:

  1. My Advice for Aggressive Dogs – Keep your mouth shut