Survive a dog attack

How to first avoid, then fight, and ultimately survive

Learn to spot the warning signs and protect your tribe!

Survive a Dog Attack – published on May 21, 2021

The key factors for understanding dog attacks:

  1. The best defense is to respect their space and not get attacked, however …
  2. Over 4 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year.
  3. Between 1979 and 2005, there was an average of 19 deaths from dog attacks per year.

Unlike dogs, humans are inherently non-lethal. We do not possess built-in cutting tools like teeth and claws. Even simple bludgeoning weapons like a rock or a stick will dramatically increase our lethality.

Physical characteristics of dogs

Dogs have teeth and claws optimized for fighting and hunting. Dogs are shorter in stature and have twice as many legs as humans do. This gives them better leverage at their level. Since they cannot grasp objects, they are not adept at climbing, but they are good swimmers. Most dogs can outrun most humans for short distances. This gives an attacking dog a huge advantage. He can close the distance before it turns into an endurance race. Once he catches you, his instinct will be to take you down. Their jaw muscles have tremendous leverage to clamp down and their interlocking canine teeth will create a strong mechanical lock with whatever is bitten. Your flesh will tear before their jaws let go.

Canine teeth

Mental characteristics of dogs

Canines are pack animals with a hierarchical social system. We covered a lot of ground about pack behavior in our Mindset of a Predator article. Dogs allow humans to both integrate into their pack and they integrate into the human pack (family) as well.

The mindset of a predator

Dogs are extremely territorial. They guard resources like food and attention from the alpha human. Their instinct is to sound an alarm bark when there is a perceived threat at a distance. This alarm bark can quickly transition to warning barks and growls as the threat gets closer to their territory. Most dogs simply will not back down when on their home turf.

The next three sections cover avoiding, fighting, and surviving a dog attack. For this discussion, we are assuming you are unarmed. Projectile weapons like pepper spray or a firearm are game changers – as long as you hit your target in the heat of the battle.

How to avoid a dog attack

Dog are territorial and will defend their home. A good sign that there is a dog on the property is trails just inside fences. This indicates that there is a dog present that has been patrolling his yard. Dogs (and humans) who patrol are protective. When you see a dog, note his demeanor and respond accordingly. Besides growling and barking, the visual signs a dog gives when he feels threatened are:

  1. Head held low. He’s protecting his neck.
  2. Hair on the neck and back is standing upright.
  3. The tail stops moving and he generally freezes.

The absence of these signs does not indicate a friendly dog. Not all dogs will clearly communicate that they believe you are a threat. They will also defend a vehicle that they are inside of. Many owners will leave dogs in a car with the windows open. This is a good thing for the dog, but they can surprise people walking by the vehicle. There’s never a bad time to have situational awareness, but it’s especially important when you are walking through a parking lot.

Dog in a car

How to fight off a dog attack

Stay on your feet. Once you are on the ground with an aggressive dog, he’s just added better leverage to all of his other advantages – extended canine teeth, claws, thicker skin, quicker reflexes, and all of the fight training he’s had with his litter since he was a puppy. They call it playing, but it resembles competitive canine combat. Not many humans grow up in a physically combative environment. A lot of dogs do.

Use your height. Climb up on something like a car or a picnic table so you can further exploit the height difference between canine and human. Establish the no-beachhead rule on your high ground. Attack him with a kick at the moment he jumps up. The throat is the best target, but the stomach is also an option. Quadrupeds have relatively weak stomach muscles because they do not use them for vertical stability.

Use terrain features. Wade into a body of water. Waist deep to most humans is over a dog’s head. You have boots on the ground while the attacking dog is swimming. This gives you the advantage of better leverage. If you thought to grab a rock when you waded into the water, you have a bludgeoning weapon. If not, you can reach over the dogs head, grab the top of its neck and force its head underwater.

Use objects as weapons. Anything you can grab will be better than nothing. A lawn chair, a basketball, or a broom will all give you a temporary advantage. Dogs cannot stop an object coming at their face. They either take the blow or turn away. Having any object between you and the dog gives you the advantage.

Attack dog

How to survive a dog attack

Now we’ll discuss when a dog closes in and attacks. This discussion assumes you have nothing to fight with and cannot escape. Another assumption is that the dog is in full-on beast mode and cannot be deterred, but must be defeated. The best outcome is your survival.

We need to keep things at a brain stem level of conscious thought. There is no time to think things through, you must commit to the fight and violently respond. The fire safety immediate action drill is stop, drop, and roll. Being on fire requires immediate action just like a dog attack.

Here is the dog attack immediate action drill:

  1. Shield your head and throat. Get your arms up between your head and the dog.
  2. Sacrifice your non-dominant forearm. Let him bite down on it.
  3. Strike his the soft tissues of the neck and gut. Hit him in the throat and kick him in the stomach.

Keep striking until the dog releases your arm or stops moving. You will end up bleeding, but this gives you a fighting chance at surviving the encounter. Sacrifice a limb in order to save the body. Dogs that have been trained to fight humans have been given a lot of left arms to bite:

Military dog training

Breaking contact

It is very difficult for humans to kill certain breeds of dogs without a weapon. The odds that you will be injured or killed go up rapidly as the fight progresses. You need to break contact as soon as possible. Once a dog has the adrenaline rush and is fully engaged in the primal instinct of the fight, he will not stop. You need to either use terrain features like climbing up onto the roof of a car) or injure him to buy you time to get away. The throat, belly, and ribs are prime targets. Canines have tremendous pulling strength along the linear axis of their body (pulling straight back), but are weak in lateral (to the side) strength. If you have the opportunity to grab a front leg, pull hard laterally (outward). The front legs of canines are not designed for lateral movement and the socket joint of their shoulder is very shallow. This is one of the few places that you have a chance at injuring it with your bare hands.

The fetal position

If you are overwhelmed by the dog and lose your footing, you need to do whatever you can to protect your neck and head. When the human mind determines that massive trauma is about to happen, it protects the vital organs by directing the body into the fetal position. With an animal that has predatory instincts like a dog, you must protect your throat and neck with your hands. Reach up and place your palms over the jugular veins on each side of your throat. Do not interlace your fingers behind your neck. Your arms are shields for your entire head. You must be able to push the dog away from your head with your hands. Interlocked fingers take time to unlock.

Protecting your dog

Many dog issues come up when you are out with your dog. The first deterrent you have to stop another dog from attacking your dog is your body language and voice commands. Stand tall and yell “STOP” in a loud, authoritative voice.

Dog on a leash

Previously, we borrowed the format for the immediate action drill for being on fire, now we are going to borrow the “saving somebody from drowning” rule. That rule states that you should not swim out and grab someone who is drowning because they can pull you under. Always reach out to them with an object. Here’s our dogfight rule: When two dogs are fighting, do not try and stop them with your body. They will pull you into the fight and you will end up bleeding. Objects like ladders, trash cans, or lawn chairs can be used to separate fighting dogs. But there is not much you can do to stop two dogs who have committed to fighting each other.

Dogs fighting

You need to be able to control your dog. He may turn into the aggressor. You should always have a leash with you, even if your dog is not on it. Here, a dog owner is able to save his dog because he could hold its leash while grabbing the attacking dog’s collar:

There are other items that will help protect your dog. A spiked collar will protect his throat from other dogs and a break stick will lever open a dog’s jaws that have clamped down on another dog.

Full disclosure: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. The convenient links below will take you directly to the items on Amazon and help support this website. Thank you very much!

At Amazon: Spiked Dog Collar. Protect The Dog’s Neck from Bites. Fit Small, Medium, and Large Dogs

Also: K-9 Break Stick

Pepper spray is very effective on dogs.

At Amazon: SABRE RED Maximum Strength Protector Pepper Spray Dog Attack Deterrent

Also: PS Products Safe Leash Retractable Dog Walking Leash with 1/2 oz. Eliminator Pepper Spray

Dog leash with pepper sprayRabies

Anytime you get bit by a dog, you need to have testing done to determine if you have been exposed to rabies. A recent study, led by the University of Glasgow, determined that rabies transmitted by dogs kills 60,000 people a year worldwide.

Testing for rabies

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a definitive test for rabies can be made on a euthanized animal. But in a live human, several different types of tests have to be performed.

Testing the animal

This is from the CDC’s Diagnosis in animals and humans page:

A diagnosis of rabies can be made after detection of rabies virus from any part of the affected brain, but in order to rule out rabies, the test must include tissue from at least two locations in the brain, preferably the brain stem and cerebellum.

The test requires that the animal be euthanized. The test itself takes about 2 hours, but it takes time to remove the brain samples from an animal suspected of having rabies and to ship these samples to a state public health or veterinary diagnostic laboratory for diagnosis.

In the United States, the results of a rabies test are typically available within 24 to 72 hours after an animal is collected and euthanized.

Note that “approximately 120,000 animals or more are tested for rabies each year in the United States, and approximately 6% are found to be rabid. The proportion of positive animals depends largely on the species of animal and ranges from <1% in domestic animals to >10% of wildlife species.”

Testing the human

Also from the same page:

Several tests are necessary to diagnose rabies ante-mortem (before death) in humans; no single test is sufficient. Tests are performed on samples of saliva, serum, spinal fluid, and skin biopsies of hair follicles at the nape of the neck. Saliva can be tested by virus isolation or reverse transcription followed by polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Serum and spinal fluid are tested for antibodies to rabies virus. Skin biopsy specimens are examined for rabies antigen in the cutaneous nerves at the base of hair follicles.

They may also look at MRI and CT scans of your head. Note that the results of these tests have to be evaluated together to determine if you’ve been exposed to rabies. It is much more definitive to test the euthanized animal.

Rabies shots

The only other option is to have a quick regiment of the rabies vaccine. In the past, up to 30 shots in the stomach have been prescribed for someone who has been bitten by a rabid animal. Now, they have it down to five shots in the shoulder:

For those who have been exposed to rabies without previous vaccination, the vaccine is given shortly after exposure to prevent the progressive, invariably fatal disease, rabies. In these situations, a total of four shots are given in the shoulder muscle. The first shot is given immediately after exposure to a rabid animal, then again three days later, seven days later, and 14 days later. The person should also receive another shot called rabies immune globulin (RIG).

The takeaway

Dogs (like humans) have a primal instinct that operates below their level of consciousness. This makes them both valuable allies and dangerous enemies. They can become dangerous when they are territorial and guard resources. Your best defense against a dog attack is to sense it coming and avoid it. If it’s unavoidable, commit to the fight and break contact as soon as possible. Stay safe!.

Next article: The Mindset of a Predator

At Amazon: Best Sellers in Safety and Security