You may have heard the news about a 63 year-old woman who was mauled to death by four dogs in Palmdale, California, when she was jogging. While most such incidents don’t end as tragically, joggers, runners, bicyclists and others know all too well the problem of suddenly being pursued, snapped at, or bitten by a loose, aggressive dog.
The best way to prevent such attacks, obviously, is for the owner to train their dog not to do it in the first place, and to always make sure their dog is in a secure yard, inside the house, or on a leash. Unfortunately, some people are not responsible enough to do this, so it falls upon us to know how to protect ourselves in such situations.
Why do dogs attack?
In the case of joggers, runners, bikers, etc., it’s because the motion of the person triggers their prey drive. However, not every dog will naturally decide to chase down and bite someone who’s moving too quickly. Those dogs that do have learned to do it — again, because of human negligence.
It starts with a dog that barks to defend its territory as a jogger runs by. Why does the dog bark? To make that person go away. And what happens when the jogger keeps running? They go away, and the dog has “won.” After this happens repeatedly, the dog learns that barking will make the invader leave, so its excitement level goes up in anticipation. This continued reinforcement really is the definition of a “vicious cycle.”
Eventually, this increased excitement can lead to the dog becoming bolder and more aggressive to the point of actually rushing toward or chasing the jogger. With enough excitement and unbalanced energy, this may lead to a bite or an attack, and the dog isn’t really consciously doing it.
How to avoid being bitten
If you are confronted by an aggressive dog, the most important thing to remember is this: Stay calm. Don’t give in to fear or anxiety, and don’t start yelling or kicking at the dog. An aggressive dog wants you to be stressed out before it attacks, but if you remain calm and in control, it slows them down and throws them off.
Also avoid direct eye contact with an aggressive dog. Stand slightly sideways (which also makes you a narrower target) while keeping the dog in your peripheral vision.
Once you have successfully used calm assertive energy to keep that dog back, claim your own space. If you happen to be carrying anything in your hands, like a cane or an umbrella, place it out in front of yourself to appear bigger and be more in command of your space.
What this tells the dog with your body language is, “I don’t want your space, I just want this space that I am in.” Maintain your very calm and assertive state; this energy creates a barrier that automatically demands the dog’s respect by letting it know that you are not afraid.
When the dog senses that you aren’t threatening it — and are not threatened by it — it will probably lose interest and the situation will de-escalate. Unfortunately, though, this process is not always possible.
What to do if you are attacked
Especially for joggers and runners, there is a danger of being completely blindsided, so that a dog attack is happening before you can even have a chance to try to avoid it. If you have enough time, the first line of defense is to let the dog attack something on you that isn’t you — for example, if you’re wearing a sweater, get your arm out of a sleeve and get that sleeve in the dog’s face. If the dog takes the bait, let it pull the sweater off, then slowly back out of the area. To the dog, it has just gotten hold of a piece of you, and this may distract it long enough for you to get to safety.
It’s probably good practice to always have something on you that you can use in this manner, whether it’s a sweatshirt tied loosely around your waist, a stick, or even a stuffed dog toy. If you can pull it off quickly enough, you can also use one of your shoes for this maneuver.
In all cases, remember to protect your face, chest, and throat. Also keep your hands in fists to protect your fingers. If you must be bitten, the safest place for it to happen is the shin or forearm; a dog bite to the thigh can cause fatal bleeding.
If you are bitten, resist the natural urge to try to pull away. This will just make the injury worse through tearing your flesh. Oddly enough, if the attack escalates to this point, then you actually want the dog to latch on. Why? The dog only has one mouth, but you have two hands. If you can manage it at this point, grab its back legs and lift them off the ground.
You can find more information on what to do to defend and protect yourself in this WikiHow article.
Remember: Dogs are not naturally inclined to attack humans unless they feel a threat to themselves, their pack, or their territory. We cannot always avoid the problem because some dog owners are irresponsible or negligent. However, we can arm ourselves with the knowledge that will prevent a situation from escalating, and minimize the damage if it does move on to an attack.
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