Tips on Surviving a Dog Attack

14 | Posted:

By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

With all the stories of dog bites in the news plus any personal experience you may have had of being lunged at or chased when walking or jogging by a house, have you ever wondered what you should do in case you ARE ever attacked by a dog? As a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, I deal with aggressive dogs on a daily basis and have rarely been bitten. Here are some tips that can help you:

  1. First, if a dog charges you, stay calm and stand still! That can be easier said than done, but here's why it's important: Most dogs that charge are doing so either because they are fearful and have learned that offense is their best defense, or they have just been rewarded for excited charging by the reaction of the people. Owners may shout “No! No!” which the dog, in his highly aroused state, hears as “go! go!” or the people the dog is barking at go away, which teaches the dog that barking works. The dogs generally aren't thinking about biting; they're just highly aroused and reacting to the situation. They are in a self-reinforcing loop. When they get close to you, if you scream and flail your arms this may cause them to be more highly aroused and to react more aggressively. I have had dogs, who have severely bitten others, charge at me snapping wildly and then stop after several seconds because they fail to get the reaction they expected. The reason others had been bitten severely is that they were frightened such that they yelled and tried to hit the dog or run away.
  2. Face sideways and avoid staring at the dog. Staring can scare the dog into becoming more protective of himself or his property or can be seen as a direct threat. Also keep your arms folded and against you so you won't accidentally wave them around.
  3. Avoid running away because you will trigger a chase response. Even the most playful friendly dog will tend to chase someone they run up to. And if it's exciting enough, the dog may even grab you as if you were a toy or prey.
  4. If you're worried the dog will bite, try to put something between you and the dog, such as the backpack you're carrying or your bulky purse. Use this as a shield to just block him from getting closer to you. This diffuses his attack and confuses him. Do not try to hit the dog with item.
  5. Once the dog has calmed down you can back away. Do not turn your back on these dogs; fearful dogs will bite you when you're not looking.

For a more detailed explanation go to

Share your story. What have you done or seen people do that works or doesn't work?


Tags: , , , , , , ,

14 responses to “Tips on Surviving a Dog Attack

  1. My butt got snapped twice…The first time by a lovely black Labrador when I was running in the street passing by his house’s front door, and the second time by a German Sephard when I was (again) passing by the place (car cemetery!) that he was guarding.

    In both cases is very likely that it was territorial aggression (which I reinforced by leaving… If I knew what I know now, I might have come back with a behaviour modification programme but, it wasn’t the case!).

    How did I react? With the black Labrador, and don’t ask me why,! along with slowing down and having him/her located with my side sight but never staring at her/him. “Funny” thing, he backed off and started to move his/her tail in a playful way! Obviously, I didn’t stop by and started a play session…not at that particular moment in

    Second occasion GSD. I was going to my internship in a dog training facility (ironic uh?) when out of the blue this GSD charged at me snapping at my butt!. (Bear in mind this was in the middle of nowhere with just motorways at both sides and cars speeding madly!). Territorial..fearful..? again, I decided that probably that was not the time to assess the type of aggression so..what did I do this time? No.., I didn’t sing! I “calmly” moved away from the car cemetery and GSD (yes, into the motorway) at the same time that I talked to him in a calm voice (as calm as my heart who moved his position up to my throat would let me). I gave him my back, since I needed my eyes to mind the cars! and didn’t look at him. I could see/feel that every time I tried to look into his direction he would start running towards me so I decided to sing and move away calmly (Glusp). Finally my adrenaline levels went down, my legs turned into jelly and relaxed when only I could spot a dot in the horizon.. and stopped singing (and almost breathing!).

    Bottom line…? Stay as calm as possible (easier said than done!) and..singing :o)

    Trainer & Behaviourist

  2. I have some tips for people who ride horses and encounter dogs. Train your horse to make quick turns and always face the dog, especially when the dog is trying to circle you. Never turn your horse away from the dog or try to walk (or worse run) away from this danger. In all my years of horseback riding I have found most dogs back off which gives the owner time to get them on the leash. I also carry a dressage stick which could also be helpful, although I have never had to do more than point it at a dog. The key here is to make sure your horse knows you are in control and that as a team you are facing the dog. Hope this helps!

  3. I’ve been reading through your pages of how to tell if a dog is afraid, how to approach a dog, runners & bikers, and now this page. Your pages are extremely helpful and probably helped keep me from being bitten yesterday. My question is about dealing with dogs that consistently chase me when I’m on my bike. Some dogs have chased me as long as 100 m. Usually the owner is absent. I have talked to some owners, but getting them to keep the dog leashed is not likely to happen (but I have once threatened to report the dogs). If I change my route, there will be different dogs. Some of these dogs are strays or feral. So, is there anything I can do to get this behavior to stop? Because so many dogs do chase me and my bike, I carry an ultrasonic dog trainer. The best this usually does is keep the dog at a distance. Finally, if I do stop, it is hard to back away on a bike. If I back away and get on my bike, the chase is sometimes resumed.

    1. Have some dog kibble you can scatter, they’ll stop to eat that. I had the great honour of working with Dr Yin when she visited a remote community near Alice Springs, Australia in 2012. She helped with developing our video in how to stay safe around free roaming community dogs

      1. Dog kibble? Really? Having an aggressive dog and trying to counter condition her, nothing less than chicken or hot dogs will get her attention and that’s at a distance. Once she has targeted in on someone, even with very high-value treats, it is very difficult to distract her.

        1. It is entirely dependant on the dog. I work with “problem” Giant Rare Breed dogs and have one that can be “baited” with pretty much any food. Most of mine have been trained out of bad habits, including extreme reactivity with simple commercial dog biscuits. The trick is finding their “currency”.

  4. Good article. Really the title should be survive a dog rushing you, like a territorial dog, as it does not really describe how to survive a real attack. #4 is a good one. Only thing I disagree with is crossing your arms. For one, if a dog has any protection training, they will often go for the arm, and if your arms are still at your sides the dog may not know what exactly to bite, they have no “presented target”. For two, you may need your arms to protect your neck and face. I would keep my arms right against my sides. I give the dog no reaction, it IS hard to stand still, but do it. And if you get bit, hold still too! A bite holding still is so much better than a bite where you don’t know any better and you pull, causing tearing and re-biting.

    I am looking forward to reading your book on handling procedures and learning from it.

  5. My name is Matthew and I live in Staten Island, NY. I recently took the responsibility of watching my friends dog for a week while the family went on vacation. The dog has never been without any of the family members so I knew that there was a possibility the dog would be a little more angry than usual. The dog is very protective of the house and especially his food. He constantly growls and shows his teeth at the slightest things. My brother and I are familiar with the dog and he knows our faces. We went over the first day to feed and walk him and things went off without a hitch more or less. We then came over later at night to walk the dog before going to sleep and again things seemed to be fine. After I walked the dog I went to take the leash and collar off and the dog turned around and bit my hand. My brother and I left slowly left the house. We tried again this morning to walk him (this time wearing thick clothing and gloves so if he bit us it would hurt less), but again he is snarling and showing his teeth like he is going to attack. I took the responsibility of watching the dog and I am not the type of person to abandon him for a week. The only idea I’ve had thus far is just to open the door and throw in a plate of food everyday and unfortunately let the dog make in the house (because they have no yard). At your earliest convenience if you could get back to me with any tips, suggestions or ideas on how to handle this situation it would be much appreciated.

  6. I have 2 questions regarding this article:

    1- what do you do if the charging dog starts biting and chewing on the object you use between you and the dog (such as your backpack, or your purse)?

    2- what do you do when a dog charges you while you are walk your own dog on a leash and is clearly targeting your dog?


    1. I carry Citranella spray with me. It doesn’t hurt the dog– just makes their eyes & nose run– but is enough to startle most dogs. I used to carry Pepper spray but was too hesitant to use it since it causes a lot of pain. Also, it could make a truly aggressive dog angrier as well as resulting in an angry owner. The Citronella spray shoots a 5-7′ stream but you must remember to shake it up well before you leave the house. I’ve used it 3 times and didn’t even need to hit the dog for it to work.

      1. Thank you. This is the first thing I’ve read that doesn’t injure the dog or let it injure me. After two attacks by the same dog I am not about to stand quietly still for a third go at me. I don’t see how any reasonable person could

  7. Dear Dr Yin

    The tips you posted on how to prevent a dog attack are great! However I would love you to provide some tips on what to do when an attack actually takes place and – for example in a life and death case when someone is taken down by one or more dogs.

    Kind regards
    L Thompson

  8. This may not be appropriate but here goes. When i was younger [in my 20’s] I was visiting a friend and away from my car, a dog charged me me. I didn’t know that she had gotten a new dog and hadn’t told me – her other dog had been run over and died. My back turned away – no sound – I saw him rushing me out of the corner of my eye. I turned – he was about 30 yards and coming fast [King German Shepard]. I enraged myself, made fists and yelled at him that if he came near me I would rip out his tongue, poke his eyes out and a few other choice bits. I had my fists ready to shove down his throat. He was frothing at mouth. I made myself so mad that there was no room to even think of fear. I faced him ready to punch all the while yelling. He slid to a halt and started to bark wildly. So we faced off and I didn’t move and neither did he. I knew my friend was home and waited. She ran out, got the dog, tied him up and we went into house. [Her children forgot to tie him up after playing with him]. At the time she was fostering [later adopted him]. After she settled down, at my request we went outside and got introduced to him. We’ve been friends since until he passed at 12 yrs of age. I made sure I was as loud as I could be because I knew she would hear me and get the dog or if not hers, beat him off with her broom. She lived on a farm and had to do that a number of times with strange dogs. I would have shoved my fist down his throat if I had to. I have martial arts background and while out on a run with friends and their kids in the country we were attacked by 2 dogs [I was 16]. I went after dog, punched him on nose [downward closed fist chop] he let go and turned on me so I shoved my fist down his throat. I figured he couldn’t do any more damage to any one cause his mouth would be full. I got my friend to use strap from water bottle to wrap around his jaw and sent someone to nearby farm. In the meantime I got the kids to sit on him to hold him down until until help arrived. Farmer came and got his dog, apologized; we went to house to bind up wounds; finished our run and carried on with our day. I’ve never had to punch a dog since. I have used that memory of incident on other occasions. Animals feel or smell fear and may continue attack so I always made sure there was no room in me [at the moment] for anything except rage. The shaking came later when me and any one else was safe. 😎 By the way I am a female.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *