K-9 Self-Defense – A Follow Up – Part 2 of 3

If you haven’t read part one of this topic I strongly urge you to do so. Part two will only deal with mid to moderate level methods of dealing with a violent dog attack.

Maybe it’s unnecessary to say, but I strongly believe that learning to prevent and/or avoid a dog attack is far more beneficial than learning the bulk of what’s in this section. If I didn’t feel that way, there would have been no need for me to write part one on this topic.

Furthermore, no one should practice any of these techniques on their family pet. Severe injury or death of the animal could occur, and depending on the laws in your area you could face charges of animal cruelty. In addition, your family pet may resent your actions, and bite the hell out of you in retaliation. Speaking on the dog’s behalf, you would deserve it.

Lastly, there is absolutely no guarantee that anything described below will work in any particular situation; anyone attempting to use said techniques does so at their own risk. However, if you should find yourself in such an unfortunate situation and something I wrote helped you out, please let me know.

Finally, no dogs, mainly my own, were hurt during any of the photo shoots. Annoyed maybe, confused certainly, but the utmost caution was always used to prevent any distress. And there were always plenty of treats afterwards.

Self-Defense Against A Canine

Before continuing, I suggest watching the below video. Though it’s a bit on the long side, this is what a dog attack looks like. Keep in mind that these are trained dogs, and because of their training they mostly only attack the arm of their victim. An untrained dog won’t be so target specific.

In addition note the following:

  1. The force of the attack.
  2. That none of these dogs have an issue with the size of their victim.
  3. The fact that even though some bad guys are armed and even hitting the dog during the attack, this does not deter or stop the dog’s attack at all.
  4. That being high above ground doesn’t stop the dog from getting to its target.

Now that you’ve watched the video, let me tell you something you most likely figured out, but don’t want to hear. Your chances of successfully defending yourself against a hostile dog, intent on attacking you, without suffering major injuries are almost zero. If the dog has been trained to attack, it is even lower.

First of all dogs move faster than humans.

Secondly, their teeth are designed to rip flesh and crush bone.

Third, your screaming and physical efforts to defend yourself may do nothing more than just incite the dog to become even more aggressive.

Lastly, dogs lack the restraining moral dilemmas, or fear of punishment, that may inhibit humans from attacking another person to such excess.

To illustrate how hard it is to stop an attacking dog: there are numerous cases where people have come to the aid of a person being attacked by a dog, and after hitting the dog several times with baseball bats have been unable to stop the dog’s aggressive actions.

I, for one, know of a police K-9 that was shot in the face with a .38 caliber revolver and who still brought the suspect to the ground before collapsing from its injuries. That’s focus and determination for you (the dog did recover, and was retired.)

With that said, you the reader might wonder why I’m wasting my time writing this. Well, any actions you take are better than nothing, and some techniques definitely work better than others. Just remember that desperate times require desperate actions.

Keep in mind though that nothing I’m about to write below is guaranteed to work, and in order to protect oneself one will most likely have to improvise.

Basic Methods

Chemical Weapons

The major problem with any chemical dog repellent is that one has to had the foresight to arm themselves with such a weapon in advance. Since the majority of people don’t carry around such items, in many respects this isn’t worth my time covering. However, since some people have such predilection for spouting off the merits of such items I would be remiss if I didn’t make some comments.

First and foremost, based on everything I’ve read and my own personal experience, they do not work. To be totally fair though, it would be better to state that no one formula works on every dog, and that in most cases none of them work as well as they are advertised to do so. Certainly, many people–my postman for one–claim to have had success with them.

While I would never rely on chemical weaponry, I will concede that some aggressive dogs will be turned away/distracted if you spray something in their face. Even spraying water works very effectively when I need to deter Taiko (my dog) from some bad behavior. However, I believe these results are based more on the dog’s intent and determination, rather than the repellant chosen.

For example, chemical repellents might work great on Fi Fi who is halfheartedly charging at the postman. They may not work so well on Rex, the territorial Alpha dog who is hell-bent on protecting his front yard.

In my experience, I have never witnessed a trained attack dog that was in the least bit fazed by pepper spray or mace. In two drills at the police academy, my dog and I had to walk through a thick cloud of both agents and perform several tasks. While the dog didn’t like it–for that matter neither did I–I think I was much more debilitated than he was. I’m not even sure he was debilitated at all, he didn’t show any outward signs; I on the other had felt like my face was on fire.

I also used to have a German Shepherd with an inappropriate chewing problem, and every repellent I used she licked it up as if were the greatest dog treat in the world–so much for all those guarantees that these things work.

Now, I’m not saying one should not try to use dog repellents before resorting to another course of action. Anything is worth trying. All I’m suggesting, and suggesting strongly, is to not rely on them.

If they work for you, that is great. If they don’t, you had better have a back up plan.

Mid Level Methods

Since my training with dogs is limited, and some of what I know might be outdated, before I started this section I tried to get some input from the professional dog walkers/trainers in San Francisco, where I live. As you might imagine, my inquiries were met with a lot of animosity.

Even when I tried to explain my reasons for writing such an article, and showed pictures of children with dog bites, most of what I was told was that these incidents were all the fault of the owners. I don’t disagree, but that doesn’t help once a dog attack has begun. Even less helpful were the replies that basically asserted there was nothing one could do.

One professional dog walker–and keep in mind that when I say “professional,” I mean this is their sole employment, although they may or may not have had any formal/serious dog handling training/experience–berated me, claiming there is never any reason to ever hit a dog.

When I asked her what she would do if a dog was attacking her and gnawing her leg, she said she would do “nothing.” Yes, that was her answer. She then added that if a dog ever attacked/bit her it would mean that she must have done something to provoke the dog’s behavior. The worst part is I believe she really feels this way.

Mind you, San Francisco is unique among most major cities when it comes to dogs and the attitudes of many of the people who own them. For example in San Francisco, a human does not “own” their dog. Believe it or not, according to a city ordinance, a dog is considered a “companion,” and the human is its “legal guardian.” Of course if your “companion” bites someone you are still legally responsible. Guardianship also doesn’t get you out of a ticket when you explain to the animal control officer that your “companion” didn’t feel like wearing his leash today. But as his “companion,” do I really have the ability to force him to wear it?

Technique #1 – Defensive Stance

This is relatively easy. Basically, all it entails is adopting a defensive position where your face, neck, and groin area are protected as much as possible. The important factor is trying to keep your body relaxed until the moment of impact. By being relaxed, you will have more mobility to react to the dog’s actions–or as we would say in the Aiki arts , “flow” with the dog’s aggressive actions.

Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to meet a dogs force with force. That’s would be like two cars hitting head on.

A better course of action would be to side step, duck, or twist away from the incoming dog like a matador facing a bull, following up the evasion with some kind of grab, kick, or punch (note that these various evasion methods are all utilized to varying degrees of success in the video showing dog attacks listed above).

Another element of the defensive stance is location. If it is possible, place your back against an object such as a car, tree, wall, etc. While this will reduce your mobility, it will also reduce the directions the dog can attack you from.

Verbal commands such as “stop,” “bad dog,” “sit,” and “down” should be attempted at this time, as well as yelling for assistance.

Technique #2 – The Standoff

This is also relatively easy. Importantly, it puts a weapon in your hand that can be used defensively or offensively if the situation escalates.

Basically, the “standoff” is nothing more than picking up an object and placing it between you and the dog. The bigger the object, the better; but in most cases you will have to make do with whatever is immediately available. Do not pick up something extremely heavy or awkward to maneuver, as this will only slow down your ability to use it effectively.

If you’re lucky, the object you select will not only act as a shield, but it may also startle the dog. Being startled may be enough to get the dog to retreat, or at least back down. When we first picked up the safety cone in the below photos, Taiko was very apprehensive about even approaching it. Having really never encountered one, especially one being waved around in the air, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. It actually took several minutes of encouragement to get Taiko to want to play tug of war with it.

This tree branch does not look very formidable but all the smaller
branches on the end make it hard for the dog to negotiate it. The small branches
also allow the defender to thrust the branches into the face of
the dog striking the dog at numerous points all at the same time.

Both sides of the safety cone proved to be effective.
However the larger end was more of a deterrent.

The standoff is really nothing more than applying one of the first rules of any self-defense system: the use of improvised weaponry. Be creative, and utilize every possible aspect of whatever item you may find.

While taking these photos, we discovered that the safety cone was not only good for fending off Taiko, but that my son’s arm could be placed inside off it like a sleeve. In many respects the safety cone functioned in the same manner as the padded sleeve used to train police/military dogs. My son clearly felt the pressure of Taiko’s bite, but the teeth did not penetrate the skin. (The next day my son’s arm was pretty bruised though.)

Obviously, safety cones can’t be found lying around everywhere. However, a heavy coat could be wrapped around the arm and function just as well.

While using the Standoff technique may not stop dogs from attacking, it could slow them down and provide them with an alternative target to bite at. Your objective at this time is to provide yourself with enough time to determine the best way to escape, to determine what follow up techniques may be necessary, and hopefully buy enough time for help to arrive.

Technique #3 – Throwing Objects

This course of action will most likely not stop dogs from attacking either, but it may slow them down, and give you a few fractions of a second to plan another course of action. You may also get lucky enough to get a dog with a high “fetch” drive–like those ball obsessed dogs you often see at the park. In that case, they may switch course and go after the thrown object–although I wouldn’t bet on it.

How effective throwing an object will be depends on the size and nature of the object and your accuracy. If you happen to be a ninja with a pocket full of shuriken, you may do well. However, chances are the objects you’ll find at hand won’t make this defense worth your time and effort.

If you’re going to try this, I suggest sand/dirt, a handful of small to medium sized rocks (gravel), glass bottle, keys, coins, water (liquids), and any food you may have on you.

Technique #4 – Punching and Kicking

For the most part punching and kicking a dog will be a lesson in futility. Chances are that all you will do is antagonize the dog more, and place your attacking limb closer to the dog making it easier for it to bite you.

However, if this is all you can do, than go for it–and go for it with all the focus and power you can muster. Strike as fast as you can, as many times as you can. Don’t stop until the dog is no longer a threat.

This is an example of utilizing the “Standoff” method and
a kick. Since the dog’s mouth is busy biting the cone it
makes the kick a lot safer to execute.

It should be noted at this point that dogs have a higher threshold of pain than we humans. Any striking technique used must be extremely forceful to have even a minor affect. Fortunately, like humans, dog’s do have week spots that can be injured easier than others. While aiming for these will be difficult they are worth your effort. The below are a few examples.

Note: If you’re an Animal Rights extremist, easily offended dog lover, or cannot bear the thought of ever, under any circumstances, hitting a dog skip the next section.

And do I really need to say this again, “Don’t Try This At Home!!”

Target 1 – The Eyes

This of course would be more of a gouge than a strike. I suggest using the tips of your thumbnails and pushing them in and up. This can be accomplished most easily by using your fingers to grab onto the lose skin on the dog’s head, and curling your fingers into a fist.

The goal of this technique is to create enough generalized pain that the dog will retreat or pull back. It may not stop the dog for more than a few seconds, but one can use the dog’s retreating motion to follow up with another technique.

This is also one target I would suggest biting, if that’s the only defense left for you.

In addition to gouging the dogs eyes I also use my legs to push the dog back.

This technique is very good for those coming to the aid of a person a vicious dog has latched onto, although I hear it does not work on Pit Bulls.

Target 2 – The Ears

One thing every dog I’ve ever owned had in common was the fact they all hated having their ears cleaned. They didn’t mind when I started at the top of the ear, but as I got closer and closer to the skull–where all the dirt and wax always seems to accumulate the most–they would whimper, kick, and squirm, making every attempt to get away form me.

There are two main ways to attack the ears. For dogs with floppy ears, (Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Labs, Bloodhound, etc.), simply grab, twist and pull. Pull the ears behind the dog’s head and use them like reins on a horse.

For dogs with short upright ears, (Shepherd, Chihuahua, Schnauzer, etc.), gouge the ear hole and force your fingers as deep as they will go. If attacking both ears at the same time, squeeze the head to maintain control.

In most cases you will have to do this facing the dog. However, to reduce your chance of injury, the best way to apply these methods is from the rear. This makes this target better suited for those coming to the aid of a dog bite victim, than for those being attacked.

Target 3 – The Nose

I almost hesitate to mention this one, simply because trying to get at the nose places one’s hands way too close to the dog’s teeth. However, a dog’s nose is fairly sensitive and can be attacked in several ways.

Obviously, one of those ways is to kick or punch the nose. Another method is to bite the nose. These methods are pretty self-explanatory.

A less obvious way to is to grab the tip of the nose and twist it. Done properly, one can actually twist the dog’s head. The hard part is maintaining grip as the dog tries to pull away.

The last method is to force your fingers inside the nostrils themselves. If you take this course of action use your other fingers to wrap around the dogs jaw or chin to gain further control. Of course, this places your fingers in harms way, but if you get desperate enough to force your fingers in a dog’s nose you’ve most likely been bitten several times already and are in a fight for your life. Hopefully by this point, your adrenaline would be flowing to the point where you aren’t feeling much of the pain.

Target – 4 The Toes

Just think how many times you’ve accidentally stepped on your dog’s foot. In every instance, the dog has made a yelping sound and made every effort to pull as far away form you as possible.

Now imagine purposefully stomping on a dog’s foot with as much strength as you have. While it may not fully stop the dog, it will cause them pain, and distract them momentarily. Done hard enough, at the right angle, you may even damage the paw to the point where weight can’t be placed on it. This would slow the dog down immensely.

Target – 5 The Testicles

I have absolutely no first hand knowledge of how effective striking a dog in his testicles would be. However, I’ve heard from several breeders of hunting dogs that it will. Unfortunately, these breeders never told me how they came to this conclusion; I never asked for a demonstration either.

Of course, in my quest for the truth I did ask the K-9 training officers at the police academy, as well as Taiko’s veterinarian. All I got were strange looks, a few sarcastic comments, and the normal answer of, “probably not.”

All I can really say on this topic is this; on one occasion while giving a Taiko a bath–which he hates and fights as if I was trying to drown him–I did accidentally hit his testicles. While he “yelped” and give me what I could only interpret as a dirty, look it did not stop him from trying to escape the bathing process. Based on that, I’m going to say that hitting a dog in the testicles, or better yet grabbing and trying to rip them off, may have some effect. Then again, the effect might be that he just gets angrier.

Since statistics show that un-neutered male dogs bite more often than other dogs, it may be worth a try. Of course trying to determine the sex of a charging dog, and whether he is intact or not may not be possible or prudent.

Vital Points

This canine striking point was taught to me by an uncle who happened to raise hunting dogs. These dogs were not house pets, and were aggressive. They would constantly challenge his authority and fight each other. Sometimes during hunts, they got carried away to the point they would no longer respond to verbal commands.

Since the nature of a pack of hunting dogs is such that one dog will incite the others, any hostile challenges to my uncle’s authority had to be handled swiftly and efficiently. In order to maintain control, the effects of his techniques also had to be devastating, or even debilitating (note that I’m not here to judge my uncle or his actions).

As my uncle told me, knowing where to hit is one thing, having the opportunity and ability to actually hit that point is another. That’s the tricky part, and why I debated with myself whether to even share them in the first place.

I’m no expert when it comes to the anatomy of a dog. Since I lack such knowledge, I consulted Taiko’s veterinarian who has over 25 years of experience. While he could not specifically state why this target is so effective, he was able to confirm where specific vital organs were in relation to it. I will mention though, that Taiko’s veterinarian was of the opinion that there is really no specific point on a dog that one could strike that would deter a dog once an attack has begun.

Vital Point #1

Vital point one is located on the side of the chest directly under point where the elbow touches the torso.

This point should be struck inwards and upward towards the dog’s head to obtain the best results. Kicking with the toes, or jabbing with the fingers would be the best way to fit into the space.

Based on my discussion with Taiko’s veterinarian, this point most likely causes damage to the diaphragm, heart, and lungs by compressing the rib cage. Of course, in order to do such major damage the strike would have to be extremely hard and precise.

I once saw my uncle kick one of his hunting dogs in this spot full force, and the dog went flying. After hitting the ground, it took every ounce of effort the dog had left to limp away. The dog died the next day. Now, before I get angry e-mails about my uncle’s actions, I don’t know if he intended to kill the dog or not. But I do know that the dog was in the process of biting his neighbors show horse, and some immediate intervention was necessary. It was either my uncle’s kick, or the farmer’s Remington .30-06.

Clearly the potential of this strike is lethal. However, if lesser force is used, this is a perfect spot to use to force a dog off balance or knock the wind out of the dog.

Vital Point #2

This is also another point my uncle taught me. This one is located where the thigh meets the flank.

It should be struck inwards and upward towards the tail. Once again, kicking with the toes, or jabbing with the fingers would be the best way to fit into the space.

Anatomically, the only organs near this target are the intestines and bladder, so I’m going to have to assume striking here must damage them in some way. However, even Taiko’s veterinarian was at a loss to explain why striking this area would be so effective.

One theory I have,, based on observing a lot of dog interaction in the park, is that this spot is the same spot dogs cling onto when mating or showing their dominance over another dog. It may be an innate reaction for the dog to either drop, or twist around when this spot feels pressure. At least, that’s the behavior dogs exhibit when they are not responsive to being mounted. Like I said, it’s a theory.

Although I can’t explain why this point works, I can attest to the fact that it does. Not only have I seen this point used on unruly dogs on several occasions, I must confess that I’ve also resorted to using it for various disciplinary reasons.

Clearly, none of these situations were defensive in nature, or involved a hostile dog. I should also point out that in none of these situations was the dog kicked or punched either. No, the dog was simply poked. That’s all it took to get the dog to turn around, sit, or knock the dog off balance enough to force it to his side.

While I don’t think this is as good a target as vital point #1, if hit properly it will work.

Technique #5 Forward/Rear Foot Sweep / Leg Lift

This is another technique more suited for someone coming to the aid of an attack victim than people trying to defend themselves. The main reason I say this is that the timing and accuracy needed to hit/grab the target makes it extremely difficult if the dog is attacking you.

Basically the idea is to sweep the legs from under the dog. Done correctly this will destabilize the dog’s balance, allowing for follow up techniques.

A variation of this technique is sweeping and/or pulling the rear legs with your arms and lifting the dog off the ground. In fact, this method has often been taught as the only method to use to control an aggressive Pit Bull or to make it let go of something it has latched onto.

If you’re not the dog’s owner don’t attempt this, unless you have no choice. Even if you are the owner, be prepared for the dog to turn his hostilities towards you. And don’t think you are in a position where the dog can’t get you. You would be extremely surprised to see the flexibility and dexterity a dog can exhibit.

Watch the below video and see how this Pit Bull twists away and eventually attacks the people holding it. It happens twice. Also note that even when the dog is shot at point blank range by the police who respond to the scene, he still manages to run away.

End Part 2


Self-Defense Against a K-9, A Follow Up: Part 1 of 3

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.”

Preventing Attacks

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.

Technique #1

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.

Technique #2

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.

End Part 1

K-9 Self-Defense

In the February 2008 issue of Black Belt Magazine there is an article titled, “Karate Vs Canines,” written by Loren W. Christensen. I’m sure many readers, such as I, initially chuckled at the thought of such an article, but this is a topic rarely discussed and worth reading about.

My initial reaction to this article was based more on the title itself, and the image it evokes of a karate-ka sparring with a dog. Fortunately, this article is a serious presentation on the topic, and offers the reader some actual techniques intended to teach people how to defend against/survive a dog attack. While Mr. Christensen’s article is only six photo-heavy pages of basic information, I believe the article is worth reading, especially for someone without any knowledge on the topic.

It’s is especially worth reading when one considers the following statistics:

  1. There are currently 74.8 million dogs in the USA.
  2. A survey by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta concluded that dogs bite nearly 2% of the U.S. population, which equals more than 4.7 million people annually.
    • 61% of bites occur around the home (reported cases)
    • 77% of bites involve a family member or family friend (reported cases)
  3. Almost 800,000 bites per year — one out of every 6 — are serious enough to require medical attention.
  4. Between 2001 and 2006, 144 deaths were attributed to dog attacks (National Canine Research Foundation).

Mr. Christensen’s article is fairly basic, something unfortunately prevalent with articles throughout the pages of Black Belt Magazine. I am sure that he has a far greater knowledge of the subject since he claims to have been a US Army Dog handler for 14 months, and I would have to believe he learned a lot more about dog attacks and how to protect himself from them. After all, it’s not unusual for a K-9 handler to be bitten by their own dog–something Mr. Christensen readily admits happened to him–other service dogs, or the random civilian canine they are requested to deal with due to their supposed expertise with canines.

In addition, my assertion that Mr. Christensen’s article provides only basic information is based on my limited exposure to police canines and police canine training (about a year). One of the first things I was taught was how to deal with an aggressive dog. Information I know was not covered in Mr. Christensen’s article. Furthermore, I was also given several long safety lectures, with specific self-defense methods, before donning the padded suit one wears when they help train attack dogs. I’ll be the first to state that these methods are almost impossible to execute during a dog attack, though they are effective in theory.

The dog attacks I experienced were extremely brutal and swift. All I ever saw were charging teeth, and the dogs (German Shepherds, Bouvier Des Flanders, and Belgian Malinois) hit with so much force that there was no way to maintain my balance and/or counter their attack with any sufficient force. Add the pain factor of the jaw pressure, and the fact that the dog is constantly moving in ways people don’t, and the whole ordeal is quite dumbfounding.

Fortunately the dogs I worked with were all highly trained, and only attacked specific body parts (normally the forearm), which made protecting one’s other body parts easier. That is, I didn’t have to worry about being bitten in the face, neck, or other more damageable parts of the body, which is a real concern when being attacked by an aggressive canine intent on hurting you.

The canine attacks I experienced were extremely controlled drills, but they clearly illustrated the lethal potential a dog could inflict if a dog had the intent to hurt someone. Unlike many humans, when these dogs attacked, they were rarely distracted by any actions one made to fend them off, and their intent to bite and pull their opponent to the ground never wavered. The attack was straight on, full force, unrelenting, with no remorse.

The truth is, once the dog was done and had been commanded to stop, they pranced off wagging their tail like nothing out of the ordinary ever took place. In fact they looked pretty proud of themselves.

The police force was not my first exposure to K-9 self-defense either. My first
K-9 self-defense came, from my uncle who used to raise hunting dogs (Bluetick Coonhounds). My uncle needed these skills since he was often dealing with the “pack mentality.” He was fully aware that if one dog attacked the others would join in.

Since being attacked by the pack would most likely be deadly, he knew several places to hit a dog that would instantly incapacitate them. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve tried a few of them–light force only–and they work. Just ask any of the three German Shepherds that I’ve owned.

Of course at this point, I most likely find myself in the same situation Mr. Christensen found himself in. That position being that if we share such techniques publicly every dog lover and/or animal rights activist will be up in arms and condemning us for doing so.

For now. I don’t feel the desire or necessity to share such information publicly, so I’ll close this blog entry by referring to an e-book Mr. Christensen offers for sale on the Internet; “Self-Defense Against A Dog Attack,” by Loren W. Christensen at http://www.lwcbooks.com/books/ebookdog.html While I have not read this book so cannot endorse its contents, hopefully the information contained in it will be a little more in depth.

* * *

Loren Christensen, is a 42-year veteran of the martial arts. He has learned the hard way that real fights are far more explosive and violent than karate sparring matches, a lesson proven over and over during his 25-year career as a police officer in Portland, Oregon and a military policeman in Saigon, Vietnam . He has earned a total of 10 black belts – seven in karate, two in jujitsu and one in arnis – and penned 34 books, 6 DVDs and dozens of magazine articles on the topics of the martial arts, street gangs, police-involved shootings, exercise, prostitution and various street subcultures.