DISCLAIMER: this information is for me alone.
ALWAYS seek expert advice. Bad advice could get you injured, maimed or killed.
I am NOT an expert on dog behaviour.
I write this particular post because I have a lifelong distrust of dogs, and I am reading of more and more attacks on children, especially.
As a primary student, there was a terrier which menaced me every day I walked to school. It attacked me a few times, forcing me to fend it off physically with my schoolbag or a stick I took to carrying. On my 10th birthday I got a bike, and would hear it’s stumpy little legs tearing after me for a hundred metres or so. The owners of the vicious little shit never shut their gate, despite complaints from my school.
In late primary, my best friend Mark owned Jess, a Golden Shepherd, who ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ yet whenever I knocked would start snarling and pawing the door. Did they secure Jess before opening the door? No, they let her lunge out and bite me, twice. I remember being more worried the second time because it ripped the knee out of my only pair of jeans, and how my mother would react. Her bite was worse than the dog’s, and I could at least stop going to Mark’s house.
As an adult, I used to jog through a 213 hectare native reserve near my house until injury put an end to that. Twice I was approached by very large dogs off-leash. The first time was a huge white dog, unknown breed, that just stood very erect and still, stared at me but didn’t aggress, which then stalked me for a good ten minutes. The second time, two full-grown Rottweillers came bounding up, sorta playful but sorta not. By the deathly look on the owner’s face when he caught up I was right to be shit-scared of them.
More recently, I had to jump a fence one night for work and the owner’s two dogs were on me in a blink. The big Shepherd was jumping/snapping up at my face, again sorta friendly sorta not, but the smaller yellowish dog, unknown breed, went straight for me. It snapped at my knees twice before I kicked it airborne across the yard. Clearly it was the alpha, because the big dog also retreated. I excuse both dogs, poor things, I was in their yard. But the chance of getting mauled was the same.
My wife was bitten on the ankle by a toy dog breed just before COVID broke. The dog was on-leash, with it’s whole family, and all they said was ‘Sorry, sorry’ and tried to walk on. I had to stop them to exchange details in case my wife’s injury became infected and she needed treatment. When I angrily threatened to end the little rat on the spot, they grew quite defensive as if somehow it wasn’t their dog’s fault.
I find this attitude typical of all dog owners.
I wish we could skip this next bit: blah, blah, it’s not the dog it’s the owner, blah blah, yes we all know that the owner is always partly responsible for a dog attack. Was the dog mistreated > was the dog off leash > was the yard secure > did it have a history of aggression > was it a restricted breed > etc ad nauseum. Many owners have the gall to turn it back on the victim of the attack — you provoked him, etc. — anything except accept that their dog was to blame.
Truth is, any dog can attack.
I’ve conducted an amateur metanalysis of advice from dog behaviour experts. With dog attacks on the rise, and with my 2yo grandson sharing public spaces with off- and on-leash animals every day, it will be too late for the flustered owner of an attacking dog to cry “Sorry, he’s never done that before!” If I’m with him, the dog won’t get close. But not everyone is as hypervigilant and distrusting as me.
Let’s begin with the numbers. The Office of Local Government in NSW keeps accurate statistics of reported dog attacks. Most countries do the same. In NSW this quarter alone there were 1,206 reported dog attacks. 661 were on people, 691 were on other dogs. 72% resulted in injury to the person, with 42 hospitalisations. Italicising ‘reported’ because most non-injury or minor injury dog attacks aren’t reported.
Private Lesson No. 1: You are at risk of attack every time you walk your dog, especially if you intervene in a dog fight.
The breeds responsible for the majority of attacks in NSW were the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Australian Cattle Dog, the German Shepherd, and the Border Collie. With almost no quarterly variation, these are our most dangerous breeds. I don’t care what Staffy-lovers say, every attacking Staffy had an owner who also lamely proffered the ame excuses after the attack.
The numbers speak for themselves in the risk analysis.
Private Lesson No. 2: Never trust these dog breeds in any setting, irrespective of what their owners say.
Your first reaction to an aggressive dog will often determine the outcome. Stay upright, and keep your face, neck, stomach and fingers out of reach. Dogs are lightning quick, and fingers are hard to replace. NEVER reach out to a strange dog. NEVER bend over a strange dog. NEVER squat, sit or kneel down to a dog’s eye level. NEVER kiss a dog on the nose, unless you want to lose yours.
You don’t know the dog’s bite threshold. You may have reached it.
Private Lesson No. 3: Keep your face (fingers, etc) as far away from the dog as you can, even if the owner insists its okay to pet the dog.
Many popular dog breeds were bred for non-domestic purposes. It is an outright lie to claim that dogs only attack when provoked, or when owners fail to train or control them. For example, Pit Bulls were bred to kill other animals for sport, not for cuddles. It is the only reason they exist. They remain popular despite being responsible for 76% of all deaths in the US between 2005-20.
One breed alone killed 568 Americans, sometimes their owners.
Private Lesson No. 4: You can never completely trust your own dog, especially if it’s a known attacking breed.
When confronted by an aggressive dog, no single option works everytime, but proper preparation improves your odds everytime. Think PPE. In many countries you can forearm yourself with defensive weapons, including custom-made dog sprays, knives, even firearms. In NSW that’s illegal. But you can carry a walking stick, or a backpack, waterbottle, housekeys, flashlight, etc. Your first line of defence is physical. If the dog is biting something else, it’s not biting you.
Private Lesson No. 5: Always carry a ‘bite stick’ equivalent to offer an attacking dog instead of your arm, or face.
An attacking dog is either reacting defensively or aggressively. It shows how far down the PC rabbit hole we’ve fallen that some government websites use the euphemism ‘non-defensive’ for dogs that are trying to kill your toddler. Both types are capable of killing, but the latter will actively pursue you. You can’t back out of its territory or away from its food. It is hunting you.
Private Lesson No. 6: Move away slowly to safety. Running increases the likelihood of dying. Stay calm, create distance, and you may survive.
If the dog does bite, reeling away will just rend the flesh off your body. Don’t do it. Move towards the dog. Make no mistake, you’re now fighting to save your life. Jam your arm down its throat, stab its eyes, punch its nose, crush its ribs, or let it maim, mutilate or kill you because “I couldn’t do that to a dog”. What, even if it’s attacking your child?
Private Lesson No. 7: Fight for your life, because you ARE fighting for your life.
Lastly, if I’m walking in the park with my grandson and a non-aggressive dog approaches, I’ll pick him up. I shouldn’t have to, because every dog should be under control. My advice to dog-owners who live near me, obey the on-leash laws — because if your dog attacks me or my loved ones, I will disable or kill it.
Private Lesson No. 8: Because they can always buy another dog.