How to really protect yourself from a dog attack


I was watching the AM Show on TV3 this morning which had veterinarian Dr Alex Melrose giving advice on how to protect yourself from a dog attack. It is great this conversation is happening, but having been an Animal Control Officer that routinely dealt with dangerous dogs outside of a vet clinic, I have more practical advice than “be a tree” which is a bite prevention programme mainly aimed at children (but still good advice).

First of all, most attacks are not reported and are from dogs of friends or family. Dogs that are habitually chained up in the back yard are highly likely to be un-socialised and territorial. Simply keep away from these! In many countries such tethering practices are illegal and New Zealand needs to follow suit to improve both animal control and animal welfare of dogs. Even if the dog is well socialised, introduce new people to them, and show people especially younger people how to behave around them (for example some dogs are food protective, so don’t got near their food bowl). Maintain supervision and keep excitement levels down.

Many other dog attacks are from the dog being territorial. Most dog attacks occur within a 100m of the property, and the more often a dog is allowed to roam, the more it extends its territorial boundary. This is why wandering dogs should be reported to local animal control and why it should be an issue dog owners take seriously. I have seen teeth gnashing dogs spitting at the mouth turn into placid puppies (not quite but by comparison they were), by simply removing them from their territorial area, let it be a property or vehicle.

Prevention is the best cure for dog attacks. If you are going onto a property look for signs of dog occupancy such as bones, chew toys, grass damage, scratching marks, kennels, dog signage and the obvious dog poop. Upon approaching the property, if it has a gate rattle it or the latch first and wait. If you are routinely going onto people’s property like a courier for example, wear a baseball cap so you can quickly deploy a bite object to put in front of you. If rushed at, you want to leave the dog’s territory so you are no longer a threat. Back away slowly and put an object between you and dog such as your baseball cap (wave it around with an extended hand), bag, clipboard, coat or even a shoe (not so helpful if you are a tog wearing lifeguard!). I used my bag once to shield myself from an aggressive street dog in Laos, which is known for rabies – thank goodness I always carried a bag! When knocking on a door (which often triggers a dog to rush toward the door and bark i.e. “someone’s coming into my territory!”, have something ready again to put between you and the door, but remember that often dogs will hear the knock at the door while at the rear of the property and come rushing toward the front from the side of the house. This happened to me when making an enquiry to a dangerous dog complaint and a large Rottweiler came hurtling around from the back of the property trapping me between the doorway and itself – since then I would knock on the door, then take a few steps backward and scan for side threats too!

Despite being a dog lover, when I was working in Ambulance it was common to go inside to people’s home when they were injured and sick, often in pain. Dogs pick up on their owners distress and want to be protective. Owners often are offended to have it suggested their dog could bite someone, so the most diplomatic way to deal with this is say “Sorry, I am really allergic to animals, could you put him in another room please”. This way, you are not suggesting their dog is dangerous and most people are very understanding when this tactic is deployed (no one wants a sneezing paramedic while inserting needles!).

Make sure you report any incidents to local animal control as the next person including a child may not be so lucky. Local animal control have the power to classify dogs as dangerous or menacing, and this can require owners to take additional measures to keep the public safe, such as muzzling in a public place or improve fencing requirements.

And despite German Shepherds being the culprits from two out of the three dog attacks I have survived, every breed is capable of attacking, they just have different calibre teeth.

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