A couple of months ago I received a very nice e-mail from Mr. Loren W. Christensen the author of “Karate Vs Canines,” an article that appeared in the February 2008 issue of Black Belt Magazine. His e-mail was in response to my comments regarding his article as well as some of my general comments on self-defense against canines.
He was also kind enough to send me a copy of his e-book, which I referred to in my blog essay, “Self-Defense Against A Dog Attack” (http://www.lwcbooks.com/books/ebookdog.html). As I had speculated, his e-book covers the topic more in depth, and is a great supplement for anyone who read his article in Black Belt magazine. I also recommend it as an addition to what I am writing here.
One aspect of the book I really liked was that he discusses the fact many dog attacks are the result of owners who don’t properly train, discipline, or understand the canine mind.
I, for one, really have a problem with people who treat their dogs like humans. Worse yet are people who treat their dog like it is an accessory–think various starlets such as Paris Hilton.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my dog, and he is definitely considered one of the family; but he is still a dog. He is an animal. No matter how much I anthropomorphize his behavior, he is not human, and never will be.
Being a pack animal, my dog will try and assert himself as leader–the alpha–if he senses weakness, or my family allows him to do what he wants. That is his nature and I have to respect that. Understanding such differences between our species, and using a dog’s innate desire to fit into a pack, is how we humans teach our canine companions to be good doggies.
In addition, no matter how responsible of a dog owner I might be, there is no way I can completely train my dog not to do the things a dog will do. Domesticated though he may be, dogs are still very akin to their wolf brethren and are often driven by primal instincts. All I can really hope to accomplish is to keep behavior as socially acceptable as possible.
No matter how well trained a dog is, how seemingly friendly, dog attacks can and will happen. And when such a situation arises, we humans need to know how to defend ourselves. We also need to know how to stop our dogs when verbal commands fail, and they are in the process of injuring another animal or humans.
As a dog owner I have certainly witnessed aggressive dogs at the park. I’ve also heard countless stories about dogs killing other dogs, or people getting bitten, in various dog parks in the Bay Area.
Normally these stories focus on an inept dog owner, who lacks the ability to control their dog, or an owner who just doesn’t care how their dog behaves. Let’s face it, some people should just not be dog owners, especially of specific breeds that tend to be more aggressive.
Georgia Rice, a 7 year-old, talks about being attacked by a pit-bull.
While witnesses will claim there were no warning signs, the truth of the matter is that most dog attacks occur when people don’t pay attention to warning signs, or just don’t understand what these warning signs are. This is especially true for little kids, who not only fail to comprehend the warning signs, but also may be seen as subordinates by a dominant-minded canine. In the worst cases, a dog might even see them as prey.
The fact is that 61% of all dog attacks happen in the home or a familiar place, and children 15 years old and under more likely to be the victims by 3 to 1. Children seen in emergency departments were more likely than older persons to be bitten on the face, neck, and head, making their injuries a lot more serious. Statically, dog bites result in approximately 44,000 facial injuries in US hospitals each year. This represents between 0.5% and 1.5% of all emergency room visits.
Determining which breed of dog is more likely to bite, or cause a fatality is simple; you just have to look at the published research. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), un-neutered male dogs are the most likely to bite. Breeds that bite most often were Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, German Shepherds, Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes Dobermen Pinschers, Chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas.
As far as fatalities are concerned, according to the Clifton Study, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes were responsible for 65% of the canine homicides between 1982 and 2006. This is a startling percentage when one considers the fact that these three breeds do not make up anywhere near that proportion of dogs owned in the US.
Although there are arguments debating the accuracy of the Clifton Study, one should keep in mind that any breed of dog has the potential to bite and/or kill a human, no matter what the usual tempermant or size.
For example, on October 9th 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported a story about an infant girl who was killed by the family’s Pomeranian (“Baby Girl Killed by Family Dog,” Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 9, 2000, Home Edition, Metro Section, Page B-5).
In this case, the baby’s uncle had left the dog and baby alone on a bed. In the time it took the uncle to heat a bottle, the Pomeranian mauled the infant to the point were she died from her wounds shortly thereafter.
Pomeranians weigh between 3-7 pounds, and range in height from 7 to 12 inches. Normally a Pomeranian is not the type of dog one would worry about being a killer. Of course, that’s my point. Don’t ever assume that just because a dog appears cute and cuddly that it lacks the potential to cause severe injury and/or death.
While pictures of babies with the family dog look cute, babies. Toddlers, and young children should never be left unattended or unsupervised with a dog.
Warning Signs and How To React
The first rule is to never approach an unfamiliar dog. If the dog’s owner is present, ask permission before approaching or touching. Sometimes, even a dog you know, and who has always been friendly, can react differently when on leash. It’s always better to use caution.
My previous German Shepherd, Jenny, became extremely aggressive when on leash because she felt more inclined to protect who ever was walking her, and because she felt her movements were more restricted. This was especially true when other dogs came too close.
The second rule is to never assume that just because a dog is wagging it’s tail it is happy and friendly. A wagging tail can mean many other things, including fear or nervousness. A fearful dog is unpredictable, and can react defensively when approached or confronted by someone or something unfamiliar.
Unless you own the dog, never corner it. And if a dog doesn’t want your attention, don’t force the issue. There are plenty of other dogs out there that will relish your company.
Lastly, don’t think offering a strange dog food will instantly make the two of you friends. Dogs will at times bite the hand that feeds them. In fact, dogs can become quite obnoxious about food matters, and a dog that was begging one moment may become more aggressive in order to get what he wants a moment later.
To determine a dog’s real intentions, one must look at his total posture. Are his ears back? Are the dog’s “hackles” (the areas over the shoulders and just before the tail) erect? Are his eyes narrow or staring challengingly? Is the dog barking/growling or showing his teeth?
This is a picture of Taiko on alert. Startled by a larger dog leaping from the bushes, his hackles and tail are up, as if to say “I’m a big dog too, approach with caution.” One should stop and wait for a dog to change this posture before approaching.
Taiko and his pal Smity appear to display many of the signs of hostility and aggression, but looks are deceiving. They are actually just playing.
While any of the above signs don’t necessarily mean the dog is aggressive or has hostile intent, when in doubt, one should assume they are the dog’s way of warning you. Walk away slowly, and leave the situation.
Note that I said walk away. Don’t ever run. Running can evoke a dog’s prey drive, and cause him to chase you down.
If you start to walk away and the dog follows, then stop and remain still. Some trainers refer to this tactic as “becoming a tree.” This is a time to try using verbal commands, with the hopes that either something you say triggers a trained response or the dog realizes you are really no threat.
I suggest you use the words “sit” or “down,” rather than screaming “bad dog.” Speaking firmly can be productive, but remember dogs don’t understand human speech; so trying to verbally explain you are not a threat is a waste of energy. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen my share of people—especially dog owners—trying to verbally convince their dog to behave better. For that matter, I’ve been guilty of that myself from time to time.
I’ve also heard trainers suggest that when walking away or “becoming a tree” doesn’t work, one should climb a tree or jump over a fence. If there happen to be tall climbable trees close enough to get to, go for it; most dogs don’t climb well. However, you better climb fairly high and pretty quickly—at least high enough where the dog can’t jump and reach you. As for jumping a fence, chances are that if you can jump the fence so can the dog. And he will most probably do it faster and more easily than you.
I’m 6 feet 2 inches tall; the stick in my hand is even higher. Taiko completed this jump from a sitting position without really giving the attempt much effort. Imagine what he could do with some real intention and momentum.
Monkey bars or a slide may offer some protection if there is one near by. I recommend the monkey bars as I’ve know many dogs who have no problem climbing up to the top of the slide. While neither offers great protection, it will make it harder for the dog to get to you.
If you think a car offers protection, think again. Unless you’re inside the car with the doors closed and windows rolled up, a dog can still get to you.
My recommendation is that if you are going to waste your energy trying to physically avoid a dog attack, spend the little time you have finding an object that you can either hit the dog with or place between you and the dog.
Another strategy I’ve heard some dog trainers suggest is that once you realize the dog attack is imminent, you should drop to the ground and adopt a submissive position. In other words, you should roll yourelves up in a ball, face down, with your legs tucked in and your hands wrapped over the back of the neck. This is similar to th position people are told to assume during a bear attack.
Since I have no first hand knowledge if such a tactic would be effective, and several police canine trainers have laughed at me when I brought it up, I have my doubts that this would work. My suspicion is that it would just place a person in a better position for the dog to attack. However, depending on the dog and his reasons for attacking, who knows. This would never be my first choice, but if all else failed I might try it. At least you can protect your face, groin, and neck this way.
The last tactic I’ve heard of, which is also debatable, is that when confronted by an aggressive dog, you should try and appear bigger. The theory is that the dog will be intimidated by such a larger adversary and become submissive.
I question this theory for several reasons. First of all, we humans, for the most part, are already larger than most dogs. Additionally, if size mattered to canines, they wouldn’t be used in law enforcement work. I, for one, have never seen a trained police K-9 give size a second thought when chasing or taking down a suspect.
Secondly, while two dogs meeting will often “fluff” themselves up to appear bigger, this posturing doesn’t always work. Often, two dogs equally trying to inflate their personal stature just leads to further physical forms of dominance/hostility to determine who the real “big” dog is.
Lastly, I’ve obeserved that size doesn’t matter in many situations—like the one that exists between Taiko and his nemesis, Leo. Watching the two of them clearly indicates to me that size among dogs is not as much of an issue as it should be. Leo, a tiny 4lb Yorkie, somehow—through shear moxie—convinced Taiko that he is the dominant male. He must think that he is a great giant of a dog despite all evidence to the contrary.
In reality, Taiko could bite Leo in half without blinking an eye, or crush him with the weight of his paw. Why Taiko seems to accept/tolerate Leo’s dominant behavior when he is so much bigger is a mystery. I would like to believe Taiko just has a sense of humor about the situation, but it’s more likely that when it comes to dogs, Mark Twain was right: “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
The best way to prevent dog attacks is simple. CONTROL YOUR DOG. As easy as that sounds, you would be surprised how many owners don’t have control over their dog. You can see this almost every day at the dog park.
You know the humans I’m talking about. They’re the ones who call a dog’s name twenty times before he responds. And even after the dog does responds, it is still a game of cat and mouse before they catch it.
On the other hand, there are those owners who know their dogs have aggression issues, but they let them off leash to run amuck anyway.
For example, one dog at a local park always charges at me whenever it sees me. The owner, while apologetic, excuses the dog’s actions by stating that her dog doesn’t like men. Fortunately. the dog has never bitten me—so far. But I should never have to face such a confrontation at all, nor would I if the dog were on a leash.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do not believe dogs shouldn’t be let off leash to run and play. I allow Taiko this freedom every chance I can. In fact, I think it’s essential for dogs, and I’m a firm supporter of the local dog groups who want to keep San Francisco from closing the few dog friendly parks that still exist.
However, I also believe people need to be more responsible and that if their dog has a behavioral problem, even a minor one, they should never let them off leash in public. After all, their bad dog’s behavior is what gets reported on the news, and that reflects poorly on every other, responsible dog owner.
A worse problem is people who do not properly secure their dog at home. Where I’m from in Louisiana, folks will often just leave them free to roam the front yard. Given the territorial nature of many dogs, that’s just asking for problems.
Now, I live in an apartment one story off the ground; so Taiko’s chances of escaping and becoming a public nuisance are almost zero. He would basically have to jump off the balcony and survive the fall.
Unfortunately, not every dog faces such obstacles. A majority of dog bite cases that make the news are about dogs that escaped from their homes and raised havoc in their neighborhood.
I’m not advocating that every dog owner who owns a home should have cage like the one pictured above. Nor am I advocating that dogs should be chained to a post.
All I’m suggesting is that every caution should be taken to make sure one’s dog can’t escape from the home. This means diligently checking that back and front yards have fences, and making sure windows and doors are secure at all times.
Of course, accidents do happen. And when they do learning the following information will be needed.
Basic Methods — Controlling Extreme Bad Behavior / Hostility
This section covers basic dog training methods. These methods are based on natural canine behaviors, which are taught in most dog obedience classes.
These are your first line of defense. They are intended to correct bad behavior before it gets out of hand. For the most part, this section is for the dog’s owner, but can be utilized by anyone.
In order to do these techniques properly, one must remember that dogs do not communicate like humans. Besides various vocalizations, dogs use a variety of facial expressions, body language, and even olfactory stimulus to communicate. These are methods humans don’t fully understand, and we humans cannot imitate.
When dogs fight, the fights are normally over very quickly. As ferocious as they may appear, they are normally more ritualistic in nature than violent. I’m not saying dogs don’t inflict injuries on other dogs, or kill each other, but like most animal species, dogs seem to inherently understand that getting injured is not in their best interest for survival. So dogs rarely engage in prolonged life or death struggles.
According to Nobel Prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz, same species aggression in animals is always restrained, involving ritual, bluff, and violence of a non-lethal nature. Additionally, there are often “appeasement gestures” made by the losing animal, so that the winner will not follow through to the kill. Dogs, for instance, will present their bellies to an overwhelming attacker, which is a sign of submission that normally defuses the fury of this aggressor, thus ending the confrontation.
The dog on the ground, belly up, is being submissive. She assumed this posture while playing—most likely indicating things were getting to rough.
Unfortunately we humans don’t instinctually know the necessary appeasement postures or non-verbal communication methods to stop a hostile dog from following through with his attack. This means the attack is prolonged and injuries can more severe.
This also means that one’s actions when being approached by a dog with hostile intentions can be misinterpreted. What might be taken as a submissive movement or gesture between humans could be seen as a challenge to a dog.
The first, and most common, such type of gesture that comes to mind would be raising the arms forward like one is surrendering. For the human, the hands may raise for several reasons, such as to ward off the dog, or protect the face. Unfortunately the dog may interrupt the forward motion of the arms rising as a threat causing the dog to become even more aggressive and leap into action.
Another common mistake is trying to run away, which I’ve already mentioned. Not only will this tactic more than likely cause the dog to chase you, there is simply no way you can outrun the dog. Running just affords the dog a chance to attack from behind and knock you over.
Lastly, a major method of communication that should always be avoided is staring down a dog. Staring is considered bad doggy etiquette among canines, and for dogs it is a sign of aggression or hostile intent. In many cases, when a dog is fearful, nervous, or irritated, they will purposefully look away, basically just showing the whites of their eyes.
From the hostile dog’s point of view, staring might appear as a challenge, and in their combative state might be just enough to push them over the edge.
This first technique is a classic that is taught at almost every dog obedience school. While not intended as a self-defense technique, it is taught in order to teach a dog not to jump up on someone.
The beauty of this technique is its simplicity. It is nothing more than a knee strike to the dog’s chest, delivered at the moment the dog jumps towards you.
The only difference between the version of this technique designed to correct a bad behavior and one used for self-defense is the amount of power used. To make it more effective yet, one could aim for the dog’s head/face instead of the chest.
Actually these are three techniques which are taught at most dog obedience schools. They are designed to address bad dog behavior such as aggressive play biting or for those rare times an owner has to reinforce his status as pack leader.
I only recommend them if the dog in question is acting totally unruly and you need to seriously correct his behavior before things get worse. These techniques are really about teaching a dog what is and what is not acceptable behavior, or about correcting serious insubordinate behavior when your dog no longer listens to verbal commands.
Since these techniques are based on behaviors dogs do to each other, one should not practice them on the family pet. They are considered very strict reprimands in canine society, and if done for no reason may stress out your dog, who will more than likely wonder what the hell he did to deserve such treatment—just like Taiko did when we took the below pictures.
Chin Tap — Minor Correction
Alpha dogs nip subordinates under the chin as corrections. You can use this technique by tapping (not striking) the dog under the chin. It should be like a quick “pop.” Do not tap the muzzle as this can cause sever injury, or cause a dog to become hand shy.
Of course, in a self-defense situation, you should hit as hard as you can, and don’t worry if you hit under the jaw, the muzzle, or the sides. While hitting a dog’s skull will most likely hurt your hand more than the dog, his jaws can be injured moderately easily.
Cheek Grab — Moderate Correction
This method employs two corrections at once. The first is the grab and shake. The second is the stare down. It should also be used in conjunction with verbal commands.
Staring in dog society is an aggressive action, and alpha dogs will stare down subordinates to keep them in line. Alpha dogs will also chomp under a subordinate dogs’ ears and shake. In dog society, if these corrections are not heeded, it will most likely lead to more serious violence.
While the grab may be useful to fend off a half-hearted attack, I would not recommend the staring for an agressive dog. Since it would be almost impossible for you to hold on to the dog’s cheek for any period of time, one would only be placing their face in jeopardy.
In all honesty, this method is much better to use preemptively than once a dog becomes seriously aggressive and intent on biting. However, if the cheek grab is utilized during a self-defense situation, it should be immediately followed-up with a twisting motion designed to force the dog off balance and to the ground.
In a more serious scenario, where a lot of forward momentum is present, the dog should be forcefully pulled downwards towards the ground with the intention of slamming his lower jaw against the ground.
Alpha Roll (Pinning The Dog) — Major Correction
This final method utilizes three corrective measures at once: the stare, the cheek grab, and placing the dog on his back.
It is considered a major correction, since it places a dog in a position that exposes his neck and belly to attack. In dog society this position is considered a sign of submission; you will commonly see puppies and more timid dogs fall into this position when approached by more dominant or self-assured dog.
Lying on the back is also a major appeasement gesture when one dog realizes he has lost an altercation to another dog. He humbles himself so the winner will not go for the kill.
Over the years, I have seen many dominant minded dogs at the police academy and dog obedience school corrected this way. In every case the dog has changed their entire attitude.
Once again, this technique is more useful as a preemptive measure than it is once the dog is fully intent on attacking you or someone else. However, it’s one of the best positions to try and do since it will clearly tell the dog you’re the alpha—the boss dog&hdash;and he have to heed to your commands.
This is not a technique to try and do half-heartedly. In order to be effective, one will have to use a lot of force and be fully committed to using any means necessary to pin the dog.
An aggressive or headstrong dog will resist you every step of the way. If you fail to fully subjugate the dog, or the dog is extremely intent on exerting his dominance over you, you have now done nothing more than escalated the situation. This mean more serious techniques will now be needed.
Unfortunately, chances are that you will get bitten by a hostile dog when trying to do this technique. Grabbing for the dog’s cheeks/head places your hands too close to the dog’s mouth to avoid that risk. However, though being bitten will be painful, it can be used to your advantage.
In this example, the dog has already bitten and latched onto the arm. For the most part, the correction is the same as the above, except the arm is left in the mouth to aid in the pin. While painful, this will avoid further injury to other parts of the body. In addition, the arm is forced as far back into the dog’s mouth as possible making it harder for the dog to bite down.
If the dog keeps kicking or trying to twist away, I would follow this up by straddling or sitting on top of the dog. For optimal results, try to keep the dog’s legs away from your body (opposite of above photo). Dogs do have claws, and while not as sharp as cats’, they can cause injuries. If things got really bad I would use my free hand to strike the dog, or my knees to kick the belly/ribs.
I would also suggest only using the stare if the dog settles down and submits once placed in this position. Otherwise, keep your face as far away from the dog’s teeth as possible.