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MCM180's picture
Defense against dog attacks?

Hi all,

I couldn't find anything on the site about this.

Any advice about self-protection from dogs? Serious question. A couple of times in the last few months I've been this-close to having to defend myself and a daughter from loose dogs in my neighborhood. One was a Great Dane. The other wasn't quite that big but wasn't a little guy either.

Any thoughts? (Bring a knife?) Different physiology, more worry about teeth instead of strikes, probably different legal standard...it's a very different self-protection paradigm. If nothing else it could be an interesting thought experiment.

Thanks, y'all...


Tau's picture

In the first instance, please report it to the Police. Other people may be at risk.

deltabluesman's picture

Great question.  I'll comment.  First, let me say that the environment and the context have a huge influence on the best strategy for handling this problem.  I'm going to give advice based on my own background, but it could be completely useless for your problem.  (Nevertheless, since this is a general forum, maybe someone will find it of interest.) 

I grew up in a very rural part of Kentucky where most families own dogs.  In that area, a lot of people will intentionally buy dogs to guard the home.  When I was growing up, formal dog training was practically unheard of.  I think it's still that way now.  All it takes is an abusive or neglectful owner, and you can very quickly have a problem with large, aggressive dogs roaming over everyone's property.  So that's what I'm thinking of when I give this advice . . . your situation may be entirely different. 

And before anyone takes this the wrong way:  let me reiterate that I'm talking about large, dangerous dogs.  I'm not talking about punting a neighbor's rabid pomeranian.  ;)

I've heard all kinds of suggestions on how to fight a dog.  In my opinion, once we are talking about a dog that is (a) large enough and (b) aggressive enough to pose a risk of serious bodily injury, we're looking at a life-threatening situation that's similar to being confronted with a knife or gun.  I'm not going to give any suggestions on how to fight a dog unarmed, because I haven't found a great solution that I'm confident enough to pass on. 

Instead, I think we have to focus our energies primarily on all of the things we can do to prevent a dog attack.  It's great if you have an effective animal control agency in your area that will take care of the problem.  I know that many places do have agencies that take this job seriously.

Back home, I can unequivocally say that the local animal control authority is useless.  They never (over the span of a decade) took any kind of meaningful action against the neglectful dog owners in my area.  When that happens, you may be able to hire a local attorney to help you consider other options, but even then you're looking at an expensive, uphill battle.  

If the authorities don't solve the problem, you're looking next at awareness and avoidance.  For example, when I visit my family, I never go jogging on back roads in rural Kentucky.  I have just had too many encounters with aggressive dogs, and the risk-benefit ratio isn't worth it.   

As a last ditch resort, you may have to contemplate physical intervention.  There is a lot that could be said here.  I'll do my best to be succinct.  First, you can't always tell immediately whether a dog is going to be a genuine threat.  There's a lot of dogs that will bark endlessly but never actually hurt you.  Then there are dogs that will attack you, but will stop as soon as you hurt them.  Yes, if you grow up around a lot of dogs, you'll develop some intuition about the level of danger you're in.  I think this has to be developed though, and I don't think it's something that can be taught in a class.  So as much as I hate to hurt an animal, I also think we have to err on the side of caution.

So, let's say that you do get the intuitive sense that you're facing a dangerous dog.  In that case, I think the game plan is to (a) trust your instinct, (b) try to slowly back away from the dog, keeping your eyes on the animal, and (c) prepare to use whatever weapons you have available.  I don't know where you live, so I'm not sure what kinds of self-protection weapons are available.  Apologies if I end up saying something unhelpful.  In my case, if I had any suspicion that I'd be dealing with an aggressive dog that day, I'd carry a concealed firearm (legally, of course).  And then we could think about, as a last ditch options, ways to train with the firearm to deploy it effectively in those circumstances.

Anecdotally, I can say that I've had two instances in my life where I had to get physical with dangerous dogs.  On the first occasion, I had a suspicion that the dogs would be on the road, so I was carrying a "tire knocker" with me (it's a short club).  Two dogs rushed at me and I hit the first one with the club.  As soon as I hit him, both of them ran away.  On the second occasion, an otherwise completely friendly dog suddenly started acting extremely aggressive/erratic and was threatening one of my relatives.  In that case, I made the decision to kick the dog preemptively, and again, the dog immediately ran off.  But even though those situations turned out OK, I wouldn't want to rely on those strategies again.

A few other comments:

I mention firearms because if I were going to personally invest time in training against dog attacks, I'd spend 80 to 90% of that time practicing the use of preemptive shots with the firearm.  But I don't mean to suggest that the firearm is a shortcut or easy way out.  It goes without saying, but I should emphasize that it's essential to have thorough firearms training (from an expert instructor).  You have to be able to make split-second decisions about when to take the shot, so that you don't put others in danger.

I personally would not rely on a knife of any kind to defend against a dog.  As I mentioned, I have used a club to defend myself against a dog, but I wouldn't do it again.  (Of course, at the end of the day, you fight as hard as you can with whatever you can.)

In the USA, the laws that apply to self-defense against animals are much different than those that govern self-protection against people.  It does vary somewhat from state to state.

I know it's probably too obvious to say, but attacking a dog unarmed might make sense if you're trying to buy someone else time to escape.  But again, you have to be ready for a very grim outcome.

In my life, most of the time I've encountered an aggressive dog, I was able to defuse the situation by backing away slowly.

Lastly, let me emphasize that defense against a dog can very quickly turn into defense against a person.  Aggressive and dangerous dogs usually have aggressive and dangerous owners.  A few years ago, a man who was affiliated with one of our schools was confronted by an aggressive dog.  He shot the dog to protect himself.  As soon as the dog's owner found out, the owner came over and murdered the man who had "killed his dog."  So any time you defend yourself against an aggressive dog, be on the look out for the dog's owner.  It is entirely possible that you will have to defend yourself against the owner right after you finish handling the dog.

These are just my initial thoughts on the matter.  Although I have some experience on this, I don't want to come across as an expert on self-protection against dogs.  If anyone has found effective, reliable resources on this subject, I'd also be interested in learning more about them.



PASmith's picture

Excellent post. For my part it can be tricky working out if a dog is a barker or a biter. Barkers (especially barkers that are barking through fear rather than guarding instinct) can often be made to back off and give you space to escape with assertive body language, a stern tone of voice or cesar Milan style "pssst" and a pointing gesture. I once backed a dog up like that when confronted on a canal tow path. Backed it onto the barge it was guarding and then proceeded on my way (with a couple of instances of needing to turn and back it off again so it didnt get me from behind). Of course a dog that is determined to bite won't be as easy to back off and in that instance i would advocate some sort of weapon, climbing onto a car or kicking as a last resort. I know of one person (Dave Turton as it happens) who killed a dog that was attacking a child with a modified rear nacked choke. Grabbing the tail can help with controlling tge dog (which is one reason many guard breeds are traditionally docked).

Tau's picture

deltablues that's an excellent and thorough post. Thank you. Right from the beginning you reference context and this is essential. Here in the UK do don't carry firearms so that solution isn't there for us. However I would suggest also that use of dogs in the way that you describe is also rare here.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

MCM180 wrote:
Any advice about self-protection from dogs?

Here in the UK, dogs have been reported as the “weapon of choice” for some gangs due to the ability to openly walk with them. There have also been cases of people deliberately employing dogs as weapons during violent crime, and the use of an animal is something that the law considers when deciding on severity of a sentence for violent crime:


Factors indicating higher culpability …Use of weapon or weapon equivalent (for example, shod foot, headbutting, use of acid, use of animal).

Always strikes me as ridiculous that “headbutting” is in that list considering how comparatively ineffective it is when compared to punching, but that’s another topic.

Here’s some links to UK news reports relating to the deliberate use of dogs in violent crime:





We will have out of control domestic dogs attacking of their own volition, and we will also have dogs trained and encouraged to act at the behest of owners. I would suspect that the statistical likelihood of the former would be far higher than the later, but a quick search is not revealing solid figures.

When discussing dog bites generally, there is this study: https://jech.bmj.com/content/72/4/331

Conclusion: This study suggests that the real burden of dog bites is considerably larger than those estimated from hospital records. Further, many bites do not require medical treatment and hospital-based bite data are not representative of bites within the wider population. Victim personality requires further investigation and potential consideration in the design of bite prevention schemes.

This news report from last year would also seem to be relevant:


MPs are to investigate the effectiveness of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act amid figures suggesting there has been an increase in attacks. Hospital admissions for dog attacks rose by 76% in a decade, according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The legislation was aimed at reducing dog attacks, but figures from 2015 suggested hospital admissions related to them had risen 76% from the same period 10 years previously.

And the committee pointed to RSPCA figures suggesting that of the 30 people killed by dogs between 1991 and 2016, 21 had been attacked by dogs that were not banned.

The charity has since updated this figure to 37 deaths, of which 28 involved non-banned breeds.

This is the advice given in the event of dog attack from the RSPCA:



The dog is almost certainly attacking you because it considers you to be a threat in some way. There are two main priorities to ensure your own safety: firstly to physically protect yourself and secondly to reduce the threat to the dog so they stop the attack. Using strategies that combine these two priorities will afford you most protection.

• Stop moving towards the dog.

If you are at home, stand still (see above FAQs). If you are out walking, jogging  or  cycling  and  a  dog  approaches  you,  you  have  probably  inadvertently entered what it considers to be its territory. If it runs towards you but is not barking or growling, it may just be checking you out and after a quick sniff to determine you are no threat may leave you alone. Stand still and let it sniff. Do not try to touch it, or make sudden movements, but speak reassuringly. Keep standing still and it will lose interest and leave. If it is barking or growling, it considers you a threat that must be dealt with and will be unlikely to leave.

• Stay calm.

Indoors, or if you are walking or jogging, stand still and face the dog, slightly angling your body away from them. Keep your body relaxed and on your back foot. You want to give the impression you are leaving calmly. Do not try to shoo away, hit or kick the dog as you will be increasing the threat, and will increase the possibility of a full attack. Talk to the dog calmly in a pleasant tone of voice. Tell it you mean it no harm and that you are leaving. If you are cycling, dismount and place the bike between you and the dog. This allows you to slowly wheel it far enough away to remount. Do not try to outpace the dog as this may encourage it to chase you.

• Get something as solid as possible between you and the dog.

Indoors this may be furniture, a chair, coffee table or even a cushion. If you are delivering something to the house it may be the parcel, a bag or your coat. If you are in the street or park it may be a bench, a lamppost or litter bin. If cycling, use your bicycle as above.

• Watch the dog. But do not stare into its face.

Turn your head slightly to one side and downwards. Watch it very carefully out of the corner of your eye.

• You may need to move, either behind something or to get away from the dog.

If the dog does not press home its attack, walk slowly backwards or sideways. Do not let the dog get round behind you; keep moving gently so that you continue to present a half side/front view of your body. Do not make sudden movements or run, just walk slowly away from the dog. It is not likely to pursue you very far. Keep walking and talking up to the point at which the dog loses interest in you. Try to place more solid objects between you if you can, for example move from table to sofa, or from lamppost to litterbin. If you must get past the dog, try to circle round, keeping at least the original distance between you.

• If the dog does press home the attack.

Try to hold something between you and it, such as your briefcase, bag or coat. Fend off rather than try to fight back. Very few dogs press home a serious attack and after a snap-bite they will be content that you are leaving. Do not scream or yell. If you know there are people within hearing distance, call to them for help. Stay on your feet and do not corner yourself. Continue to walk slowly away, backwards or sideways, looking down and sideways, talking reassuringly, fending off if necessary and aiming to place solid objects between you as you leave.

I’m no expert, but some of the above does not strike me as convincing or realistic i.e. “If the dog does not press home its attack, walk slowly backwards or sideways.

It may be that most of the above is OK for a domesticated pet that is frightened or agitated, but I can’t see the above working for an aggressive dog during a committed attack.

Something similar to Rory Miller’s demarcation of social violence (dog considers you a threat and is protecting its space) and asocial violence (dog wants to harm or has been trained to harm) could possibly be applied here.

In “Fighter’s Fact Book 2” (a book I provided a chapter for) Loren Christensen included a chapter on dog attack:

You will fight how you train. That's why Fighter's Fact Book 2 presents a critical look at training and real-world applications. When you've mastered the skills taught in this book, you will truly be ready to defend yourself in some of the most desperate situations imaginable. You will learn how to defend yourself against multiple assailants, violent dogs, and knife attacks. You'll learn how to contend with close-quarters attacks and adversaries who are impervious to pain. You'll also get no-nonsense instruction on fighting wounded and the justified use of extreme tactics. Loren W. Christensen shares lessons from his decades of martial arts training and law enforcement experience. He has also enlisted a host of expert contributors: -Lt. Col. Dave Grossman -Iain Abernethy -Rory Miller -Kris Wilder -Lawrence Kane -Alain Burrese -Wim Demeere -Richard Dimitri -Mark Mireles -Tim Delgman -Dan Anderson These men are proven survivors, and their multidisciplinary analyses will change the way you see training and fighting. The authors will show you how to make your street techniques fast and explosive, and how to prepare yourself mentally to use extreme force. These skills are not for the faint of heart. They are hardcore techniques intended to save your life or the life of a loved one.




When liaising with Lauren for the book, we discussed his chapter on dog attack and he told me how common it was for police officers to be attacked by dogs in the US (used by criminals as weapons and to protect property and people during raids, searches and arrests). So, if you want the sharp edge advice of someone who has “been there and done that” then Lauren’s work would be the place to go.

Lauren as also produced an e-book on the topic




Wim Demeere discusses the book here: https://www.wimsblog.com/2013/05/self-defense-against-a-dog/

MCM180 wrote:
Any thoughts? (Bring a knife?)

A final thought around weapons: Legalities obviously come into play here. Carrying a knife is not a good idea in the UK as you’d be on the wrong side of the Offensive Weapons Act. I’m also not convinced that a sharp close-range weapon would be that much of an equaliser as the dog as a mouthful of the same, as well as the issue of accessibility. Here in the UK, where is rains all the time, a strudy umbrella could provide an improvised thrusting weapon when closed, and a shield of sorts when opened. It would also be in hand as well, so the issue of accessibility is removed. Chairs, carried jackets, bags, etc could also provide barriers, weapons and distractions.

It’s definitely a topic we should discuss more and if anyone else knows of interesting and useful sources, please share.

All the best,


PASmith's picture

I can't help thinking of the nonsense advice that did the rounds when i was a kid.....grab the dog's front legs, pull them apart and you'll rip their heart. Seemed plausible when I was 9!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

PASmith wrote:
I can't help thinking of the nonsense advice that did the rounds when i was a kid.....grab the dog's front legs, pull them apart and you'll rip their heart. Seemed plausible when I was 9!

I heard that as a kid too … which was pre-internet, so it makes you wonder where that urban myth originated and how it spread so widely? Whatever it was, you and I were obviously exposed to the same source :-)

All the best,


sarflondonboydonewell's picture

Ah the dog's front legs ; rmember it well ; as the dog leaps at you grab the legs and pull apart and it breaks the chest bone; I think I saw it illistrated in a book as well but cant recall which book. Year's later talking to dog handler mentioned this in conversation only for him to burst out laughting!

deltabluesman's picture


I really appreciate the feedback on my earlier post.  Thank you.  This has been a very valuable thread for me as well.  I'll definitely be reading and studying the links that Iain provided.

And +1 on the problem of dealing with myths in this area.  When I was really dealing with this problem a lot, there was very little good info out there.  I'd see a lot of stuff like:  "First, let the dog bite the meaty part of your forearm.  That way you can gouge out his eyes with your free hand!"  And that would be pretty much the extent of their advice.  I never heard the one about splitting the chest bone apart, but I have to say that's the best one yet.   

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

deltabluesman wrote:
I never heard the one about splitting the chest bone apart, but I have to say that's the best one yet.

It seems this is a UK myth that those of a certain age (those in the prime of life :-)) were exposed to. There must have been a common source for this, and I’d love to know what it was. My guess is one of the “survival” books that were popular at the time, or maybe a magazine article? Either way, it certainly got around :-)

All the best,


PASmith's picture

it certainly got around

It did. We're a couple of years different in age (IIRC) and from opposite ends of England but I'd bet most school kids in the 70's and 80's heard that meme about grabbing a dogs legs :-)

Josh Pittman
Josh Pittman's picture

I also heard the myth about pulling the legs apart. I was young enough to believe it in the '90s and early '00s, and I grew up in the US and Turkey...I want to say I heard it from an American, but I'm not sure on which continent!

Tau's picture

Well since we're covering myths: https://youtu.be/OhJP0lERFek