This week we’re covering a subject that is actually more about us than animals… dog bites and dog attacks, and how to avoid them. Being bitten can be traumatic, and anyone who’s been chased or lunged at by an aggressive dog will tell you how terrifying it can be. To know how to best handle these situations, trying to understand the dog’s perspective can help, however that can be difficult when you’re scared and feeling threatened. The ultimate objective when dealing with an aggressive dog is of course not to get bitten, and following are some tips on how to achieve this.


What influences dog attacks?

Firstly, let’s look at the circumstances surrounding dog attacks. There is ongoing debate about the extent to which dog breed influences the likelihood of attack on humans, but it is a complex issue. There is no definitive study of dog bites by breed, because the number of attacks by a breed increases in proportion to the popularity of that breed. In reducing the incidence of attacks there are many preventable factors much more significant than breed. These include:


  • The age of the victim
  • Familiarity with the dog
  • Whether the dog is desexed
  • The agility and ability of the victim to ward off an attack
  • The presence of a more abled person to intervene
  • Whether dogs have been socialised with lots of different humans
  • Whether the socialisation has been appropriate and the interactions with humans have been positive


These indicate that most factors are preventable and unrelated to breed, however few can be influenced by the victim / potential victim. Two that are particularly important are unfamiliarity with the dog and being alone (versus being supervised or with someone else), as these are things over which we can often have greater control.


The dogs aren’t always to blame

Tragically, the circumstances surrounding dog attacks often point to human behaviour, because the dogs have been mismanaged or mistreated. Fatal dog attacks, as shocking as they are, are usually sensationalised by the media and fortunately few attacks cause death. The sad truth however is that of those that do occur, many could be avoided with better supervision – of the dogs and/or the victims.


So, why do dogs attack? Humans and dogs have been successfully cohabitating for centuries, and this relationship has earned dogs the moniker of “man’s best friend”. Why then, would our best friend attack us? It often occurs because dogs feel threatened, feel as though they cannot escape, or are provoked.


Aggression is not usually predetermined by breed, age or gender, but when young dogs show aggressive traits it may be of genetic origins, which can lead to it becoming a long-term issue. Personality traits can’t be changed altogether, but they can be managed with proper training to prevent behaviour from becoming exaggerated and entrenched. This responsibility lies with the dog owner, but what can we do to protect ourselves?


How to protect yourself against attack

The first rule of managing a prospective dog attack is to try to remain calm and stand still. That may seem counter-intuitive because our fight-or-flight instinct would usually tell us to run, but the dog is already in a highly aroused state and fast movement such as running or flailing arms around is more likely to contribute to their arousal. Taking flight might get you out of harm’s way, but what if you can’t outrun the dog or there’s nowhere to escape?


Dogs usually charge because they’re feeling threatened and fearful themselves, therefore to defend themselves they take an offensive approach. People inadvertently reinforce some of the dog’s aggressive behaviours by shouting at the dog to stop, which signals to the dog that its tactic is working. The dog consequently learns that barking and aggressive behaviour will get the outcome it wants.  


Do dogs instinctively want to bite?

Biting usually isn’t top-of-mind for the dog, they’re simply reacting to highly aroused state. When you react fearfully with screaming and quick jerky movements, you’re fuelling the flames of their arousal and they’ll consequently act more aggressively. Failing to react the way they expect – and hope you’ll react – can be an effective method in disarming them. It may take a few moments, but it can diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.


Dog bites often occur because people respond with yelling, they try to strike the dog, or they run away. These are red flags for aroused and aggressive dogs.


Don’t look into my eyes…

Another approach you can use is to avoid the face-off! Two annoyed humans staring each other down often leads to an escalation of a dispute, and it’s no different with dogs. Try facing sideways to avoid staring at the dog. Not only can staring be interpreted as a direct threat but it can contribute to the dog’s fear and encourage the dog to become more protective of himself and his property.


The safest way to suppress your urge to wave your arms around is to keep your arms firmly against your side or folded.  Also avoid running, as it will trigger a response by the dog of chasing you. Have you ever ridden a bike down a street and been chased by a dog? The harder you peddle, the faster the dog runs. Dogs will chase you, even in friendly play. It causes them to become excited and it can lead to them grabbing you, just as they would if they were hunting prey.


The next thing to remember is don’t try to hit a dog that you think is going to bite. This is likely to exacerbate the situation. If trying to pacify the dog hasn’t worked and you’re worried they’ll bite, create a barrier if you can. Use something bulky such as a bag or backpack. The objective here is twofold; firstly, you want to stop the dog from getting to you, and secondly, it helps to confuse the dog and diffuse the situation.  


When the dog has calmed down you can edge away, but don’t turn your back. Even though you should avoid staring at the dog you need to keep it in your sight, as they can bite you when you're not looking.


What to do if you’re bitten

Whether sustained from a friendly playful dog or an aggressive one, a dog bite is a dog bite and it needs attention. You can provide first aid at home but usually it will be necessary to see a doctor, especially if the bite is deep, won’t stop bleeding, or there are signs of infection (warmth, swelling, redness, pus).


First aid involves:

  • Firstly, placing a clean towel over the injury to stop any bleeding if necessary, and keeping the injury elevated
  • Cleaning the wound carefully under running water then applying a sterile bandage
  • Seek medical treatment from a human doctor.


Your doctor will examine the injury to assess whether damage to muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones have been sustained.  Thorough cleaning of the wound to remove any dirt, bacteria, or dead tissue may also be necessary. Your doctor will also ensure that you are up to date with your tetanus shot.


Preventing dog bites

In addition to the tips above on how to avoid an attack, the following may help in reducing the overall risk of getting bitten by a dog:

  • If you’re getting a dog as a pet choose one with a good temperament, also view parents temperament.
  • Keep away from of dogs you don't know
  • Don’t leave children alone with dogs,
  • Leave dogs alone who are eating or feeding their puppies
  • Approach dogs slowly and give them the chance to approach you, don’t corner dogs.


We run Pre-School Classes to help you in raising an appropriately socialised and well-adjusted dog.  If you’re bitten or attacked by an unfamiliar dog, it should be reported to the council area where it happened. Finally, if you have any questions about the care and management of dogs, please get in touch with any of the Vets4Pets hospitals.