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Some Personal Observations On Dealing With Dog Attacks

Part 1- Prevention

By George Donahue

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two part series on dealing with dog attacks, adapted by from the author’s original post to the Karate Cyber Dojo and supplemented by commentary from Hank Prohm and Terry Bryan. Part 1 discusses the author's experience with dogs, along with some guidelines on preventing dog attacks. Part 2 discusses actual attacks, how to short circuit them, the use of pressure points on dogs, how to release a victim from a biting dog, the use of spray devices and other tools and tactics to use in multi-dog attacks.

A dog attack or a threat of one can be a fearful thing. Not only is it intimidating, but you could be severely hurt. So, what do you do when you when you are faced with a potential attack?

Here are some ideas on how to react based on my personal experiences. I can't call myself an authority, but I have gained some knowledge on the "do's and don'ts" and "what works and what doesn't work."

There is a difference between dogs you know and those you don't, between the behavior of aggressive versus defensive or protective dogs, or between dogs that on their own turf and protecting it and dogs that aren't. These factors impact the behavior you might use.

What I Know About Dogs

After I moved to the U.S. from Japan as a kid, I delivered the Sioux City Journal morning and afternoon editions, and sometimes the Des Moines Register and Omaha World Herald when their regular paper boys were indisposed. All these papers guaranteed delivery to the inside of the storm door, rather than to a box at the side of the road, so I had to enter dogs' territories, town dogs and much rougher farm dogs every day. I was also on the track and cross-country teams, and after high school I did a lot of road running. I met a few bad dogs along the way, dogs that weren't just warning me off their territory or having a little fun but could have left me for road kill. These dogs had owners who were unwilling to exert any control over their dogs, too. I learned a lot about dog control (on foot and on a fast-moving bicycle) from these experiences, and I was motivated to learn more.

Dogs are not always cuddly, couch potato house pets. Sometimes the same dog that can be fiercely protective of his master's home and children, loving and tractable, can turn into an instinctive killing machine out in the field. But at the same time, not all dogs that chase you or seem to charge will bite.If the dog looks cheerful as it comes at you, it probably is just bluffing. For a smiling dog, it's not the kill, it's the thrill of the chase.

Some Useful Rules I Have Used To Avoid An Attack

A good rule of behavior is to try to avoid any strange dog and never surprise one. This rule applies doubly if the dog is sleeping, eating, or chewing on something. If the dog is in the company of its infants, in its own yard or on its master's property, it will be in a protective mode. Be very wary of these dogs. They aren't playing.

Don't ignore a warning by a dog, a bark or its body language. If a dog approaches, don't turn your back and run away. A dog's natural instinct will be to chase and catch you. Instead, remain motionless, relaxed and keep your hands from moving about. Also, try not to show any fear. . Dogs can sense fear, just as they can sense the lack of fear.

If the approaching dog has not assumed an aggressive manner, you can let the dog approach and sniff your palm. This can have a calming effect. You become less threatening.

Your attitude is also important. Don't smile, since it is seen as "baring of the teeth" and an invitation to fight. Try to remain relaxed and don't become overly submissive or challenging; don’t look too weak and don’t look too aggressively strong, as that may seem challenging.

Eye contact is also a bad idea. Just like with a human, eye contact can be interpreted as a challenge. Instead I prefer to keep a steady gaze that looks through the animal. I do the same with humans who are trying to challenge me. On the other hand, if you look down, that can be interpreted as submissive. Sometimes this is just what is needed, but if the dog doubts the submissiveness, this eye movement might be interpreted as a sign of weakness and the dog might just attack. Thus, I’ve learned to use neutral body language (including eye contact).

The idea is to diffuse the situation. The dog might even lose interest in you and move on or become non-threatening.

If you are in someone's back yard or near a home (a dog's protective zone), you can also call the owner for assistance. This might work, but bad dogs often have bad owners. I always called dog owners whose pets were threatening me anyway, and a few of the owners did rein in their pets.

If the dog approaches in a threatening manner, one seasoned martial artist I know, Hank Prohm, has noted that what worked for him in several instances was the use of a "command voice," saying firmly but loudly, STOP!, while assuming a strong kamae (stance and body position), in most cases with his forward hand palm out and rear hand up by the ear.

Prohm observed, "Dogs have been with people for a long time. They know our physical signals. In both instances the dogs froze and dropped to their bellies. They knew I wasn't playing and that they would get hurt if they continued their attack. And these were big dogs."

In these cases, however, the hand and arm movements were deliberate. What you want to avoid is quick, jerky movements that can be seen as provocative. Also, the voice shouldn't be just a shout. It should be even and controlled and include intent, like a good kiai.

Part 2

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About the Author:

George Donahue is a 6th dan Shorin Ryu Karatedo student of Kishaba Chokei and Shinzato Katsuhiko, he is the director of both Kishaba Juku of New York City at the Ken Zen Institute of Japanese Culture & Martial Arts and the Ryukyu Kichigaikan of Medford, Mass. A well known authority on the martial arts, Donahue speaks and writes Japanese as a native. He was formerly Executive Editor of Tuttle Publishing in Boston, and the Editor of Tuttle Martial Arts. Currently he is Senior Acquisitions Editor, The Lyons Press (An imprint of The Globe-Pequot Press). He is also a member of's Advisory Board and a contributor to the website.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

preventing dog attacks, dog attacks, vicious dogs, self-defense against dog attacks, self-defense, avoiding dog attacks, dog bites

Read more articles by George Donahue

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