Jan Anderson has been the victim of three dog attacks in the last two years.
Each time, she was walking her dog on a leash when other leashed dogs broke away from their owners and came gunning for her dog. In the first instance, her dog – a miniature schnauzer – was killed. In all three attacks, she was injured.
“I’m not the type who just drops the leash and runs,” Anderson said. “I throw myself over the top of my dog and do everything possible to save her.”
Though it seems unusual that someone could experience so many dog attacks in such a short period of time, Anderson, 74, takes her dog on either a walk around her neighborhood or a hike on a local trail at least twice a day.
“So I’m out there and the odds are better to get attacked,” Anderson said.
After her dog was killed about two years ago, she started carrying both pepper spray and a Taser – non-lethal weapons commonly recommended by animal control officials for defense against aggressive dogs.
“In my experience, pepper spray really is a pretty good deterrent,” said Shannon Gray, Animal Control Supervisor with the Prescott Police Department.
The caveat to using this chemical agent, however, is that the spray must be well-directed.
“It really has to hit the dog in the face,” said James Risinger, Animal Control Supervisor with the Prescott Valley Police Department. “It won’t be effective if it just gets on the dog’s body, because of its fur.”
Similarly, direct contact to an attacking dog’s body has to be made with a Taser, so it requires coordination as well, Risinger said.
AVOIDING AN ATTACK
Unfortunately, dog attacks are typically random and aren’t always easily avoided.
“No one goes looking [to be attacked by a dog]; and when it happens, it’s almost like it found you,” Risinger said.
Nonetheless, some of the basics of avoidance Risinger often teaches during animal behavior workshops is not to approach a dog that is exhibiting negative body language. Additionally, eye contact can be a dangerous thing. “That is essentially a full on challenge of the dog,” Risinger said.
If the dog appears to be getting aggressive and has the ability to reach you, don’t run away.
“Even in our domestic animals, there is an inner wild side to them,” Risinger said. “If the person runs, it will trigger a hunting mechanism and then they will chase.”
Instead, it’s best to stop and stay still until you know what the dog is going to do. For someone like Anderson, who has been attacked because dog-owners have lost grip of their dogs’ leashes, she now goes as far as to ask other dog walkers “Do you have control of your dog?” before walking her dog past them.
“I will not assume these people have control,” Anderson said. “I will ask them if they have control.”
WHAT TO DO WHEN ATTACKED
When it comes to a person being attacked by a dog, Risinger teaches that dogs tend to bite whatever part of a person is closest to them. Therefore, putting an object — any object — between you and the dog will likely redirect the attack towards the object in your hand and away from you.
“A walking stick is a great tool,” Risinger said. “When you present that and the dog bites it, it doesn’t think ‘oh, I just bit a stick.’ It’s an extension of you. So when you don’t react because of the stick being bit, that’s not normal to them. Then, when you tell [the dog] to get back, well, guess what, you’ve all of a sudden become stronger than the dog, because in their mind, you were not hurt by their bite.”
If not a stick, use whatever else is available.
“I had one guy who used an IPad,” Risinger said. “It destroyed the IPad, but it’s better than your legs or your arms.”
If bitten, something that is recommended — but notably difficult to follow through with — is to push against the biter instead of pulling away. This forces most dogs to open their mouths and prevents tearing injuries.
“It’s counterintuitive, because you’re instinct is to pull away, but pulling away is how a lot of people get severe bites,” Risinger said.
Once you have the opportunity to retreat from an attack, Risinger said to do it by backing away and never taking your eye off of the dog. Then, when in a safe place, contact emergency responders to help handle the situation.
“We will come out there, even if it’s not an animal control officer,” Risinger said.
DOG ON DOG ATTACKS
Dog on dog attacks are particularly tricky. First of all, protecting a dog by jumping in front of an attacking dog is very risky.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘do I pick up my dog?’” Risinger said. “It sounds harsh, but I say no. The reason why is you’ve brought the attack up to your face.”
If the dogs are already on each other, breaking it up can be very difficult as well.
“Most people get bit trying to break it up,” Risinger said.
His best advice for an active tussle is to yell commands loudly; blow a whistle, if you have one; continuously try to back your dog out of the situation; and, if possible, strike the attacking dog on the nose with a blunt object.
“Dogs noses are particularly sensitive,” Risinger said. “This should, hopefully, give you some time to create distance so you can back up to a safer position or establish a barrier with something like a stick.”