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Some Personal Observations On Dealing With Dog Attacks

Part 2- If Attacked

By George Donahue

Editor's Note: This is the second 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 discussed the author's experience with dogs, along with some guidelines on preventing dog attacks. This part discusses actual attacks, how to short circuit an attack, 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.

Dog attacks can hurt. They can also be very dangerous. People die each year from them. But having said this, let me also say here that I've been a dog lover all my life. I've owned many dogs (almost all of them rescued from the pound or adopted strays) over the years, and I've been a friend to many more. Years ago, my mother's life was saved by a German shepherd, and mine was saved twice by a great beagle named Ralph. I also try never to harm any being unnecessarily, including dogs.

In responding to a dog's attack, I have defended myself when I needed to and at times I had no choice but to harm the dog. But, I've never caused them more harm than was necessary. I did so only to keep my skin intact, and I've never enjoyed it.

My observations on how to react to dog attacks are based on my personal experience as well as some observations of others I know. I can't call myself an authority, but I have gained some knowledge. As a kid, I delivered newspapers, ran track, and was on the cross-country teams, and after school I did a lot of road running. I entered into dog territory -- town dogs and much rougher farm dogs -- every day. Along the way I learned a lot about dog control. .

Let's start with some basics of how to deal with a dog attack. I'm not talking about a threat, or a barking dog that just seems aggressive. Here I am talking about a dog that has crossed this threshold, a dog that is trying to clamp down on one of your body parts.

Here, if you can, give the dog something (a shield or something to bite on) between you and him, such as a jacket, sweater, newspaper, or even a bicycle. If you don't have anything to offer, give him an arm, preferably with something wrapped around it for protection. Also, try to hold your arm so the bite clamps down of the sides of the forearm or wrist so if there are puncture wounds they won't sever arteries on the inside of the forearm or wrist.

If the dog jumps on you or otherwise knocks you to the ground, try to remain calm. Also remain as motionless as possible. Don't provoke or instigate further action unless the attack continues. If the attack does continue, some people advise curling into a ball with your hands over your ears, your knees protecting your throat. This passive attitude and submissive position might just end the attack. If it doesn't, again you can give up an arm and then take counter measures, some of which are discussed below.

Terry Bryan, who worked in the military as a scout dog handler, contributed a similar observation: "When we were attacked (in the military) by one of our own dogs and we had nothing in our hands, we would feed them our arm and let them bite. That kept them from going to the legs and dragging us to the ground or jumping up and going for the throat."

Remember, if you are bitten, the greatest damage is often done by the defender himself struggling or trying to pull free -- that rips the flesh. If you don't try to pull away or struggle, you only get puncture wounds.

Dogs, just like alligators and most other predators -- including humans -- have massive resistance against anything being pulled out of their mouths, but almost no resistance at all if you are pushing in. So, if a dog has bitten your hand, the best thing to do is to ram your fist down the dog's throat to cut off its air supply or at least make it gag (the same advice goes for a human gnawing on you, but you wouldn’t want to try this with a large alligator, as you’d be going exactly where it wanted you). If a dog is clamped down on you or anyone else, the worst thing to do is to try to pull the unfortunate body part out of the dog's mouth. You'll inflict a lot of unnecessary damage by your effort.

And of course, if a dog has hold of you, the dog's eyes and throat are usually vulnerable. I hate the idea of attacking the eyes, but if you’re endangered, the eyes might make a credible target. Although I have never had to do this, I would use my thumbs just as I would on a human aggressor. A sharp blow into the throat/larynx would also have effect.

Terry contributed another technique from his military training. "Once the dog locked on the arm we could choke the dog until he passed out. In a life or death situation, you can feed your arm to the dog and then by placing the other arm behind the head you can snap their neck. This is what we taught as a defense to military attack dogs."

There are other defensive maneuvers you can try too. One mistake that I made too many times, particularly when caught by surprise and without a good anti-dog weapon, and have seen others make almost invariably is to focus too much on the attacking dog's teeth, mouth, and head. This is the end of the dog that is going to harm you, of course, but it's not always the optimal place for a counter. Just as in war, the attack should be made where the defenses are weak, and you should always have a weapon in reserve. One maneuver I have used several times is to grab and attack one of the dog's back legs. If you can get hold of it, you can then snap it like a whip, up and across to flip the dog on his back and into a submissive position. You can then use the leg as a lever to keep the dog on its back, dragging it along, if you need to move to a safer spot.

Pressure Points - Dogs Have them Too

Dogs are anatomically similar enough to humans that you can use many of the same (but certainly not all) controlling pressure points and reflex points against them that work against a human aggressor. If you have a pet dog, you can practice very lightly on it to find these spots.

My dog Oppenheimer, with regular bribes, cooperated nicely with me for years as I learned these points, and he lived to a ripe old age. He also put up with my toe-training exercises (light kicks and a quick, snapping grip), but with less good humor.

Particularly useful, because they're readily accessible when a dog is mauling you, are the points in a dog's "armpits" and the points behind what would be the collarbone in a human. Dogs have a release point where the lower jaw hinges into the skull that can be activated pretty easily on most dogs if you're being bitten. It's harder to activate, though, on dogs with massive musculature in the jaws (like pit bulls). This area, too, is an area through which a massive tangle of facial nerves (including the hypoglossal and accessory nerves) exit the skull to fan out across the face. As with humans, a strike to this area from the back toward the front (hitting the rear edge of the jawbone) can be extremely painful and cause trauma, even unconsciousness. A dog’s jaw bone doesn’t protrude as much as does a human’s, however, so you have to hit this just right. If you miss the first time, you can try again. Unlike a human, a dog won’t get wise to you and defend against it.

And just like humans, dogs have a bundle of nerves leading from the back of their necks across the side of the neck and down into their front legs (brachial plexus). In the same area (side of the neck) is a major artery that splits, and in the crevice between the branches is a sack of tissue filled with blood that helps regulate blood pressure (carotid sinus). Thus a strong blow across the forward side of the neck might have a stunning effect, but the thick muscular necks of some dogs might make this a difficult maneuver. Most dogs are pretty quick at intercepting any strike to this area, anyway, so this is not something to try first.

Helping A Victim Of An Attacking Dog

If you see a dog biting a child or another person, rather than trying to pull the victim away, the best thing to do is to force your own hand and arm into the dog's mouth. In the case of a child or a smaller person, the larger diameter of your limb will make it possible to remove the other person's limb without any tearing and if you can keep the presence of mind to keep driving inward and downward you’ll prevent the dog from damaging you too much.

The Pros And Cons of Defensive Tools

For attacks by lone dogs, I'll start with my old standby: A fine repellant for moderately aggressive dogs is a mix of ammonia and Tabasco sauce in a small pump sprayer. Ammonia alone works almost as well, but you have to use more, and I think the increased dose is enough to cause permanent harm to the dog. The sprayer should be set halfway between stream and mist, so that you get good coverage. It works well when sprayed into the dog's eyes, and even better if you can get it into the mouth and nostrils, too. After you've used it once, all you need to do is flash the bottle at the dog and it will leave you alone. The spray has caused no permanent physical damage to the dogs I've used it on and hardly any discomfort to me.

Some people have recommended capsicum spray. All of the commercially available sprays (including tear gas and related sprays and various types of pepper spray) are formulated for use against humans who are standing still or moving fairly slowly. A fast moving dog homing in on your calf or throat is impervious to this spray and any other spray that is too misty. Once the dog slows down to chew on your leg, you could probably drench it, of course, but the price you'd pay is kind of high, and dogs don't need their eyes or noses to maintain their grip, anyway.

Capsicum would work well, though, in place of Tabasco in the recipe above. In an encounter with a dog you're just as likely to incapacitate yourself as you are to stop the dog by using these commercially-available sprays.

Another recommendation by others has been the use of a cattle prod. However, unless the design of these instruments has changed a lot in the last quarter century, I would avoid them. They work fine against passive animals such as cows, steers, and dogs that can't decide whether to bite you or roll over on their backs to get a belly rub. But, they don't work very well on bulls or really aggressive dogs. The voltage is not high enough to convince an aggressive animal of small brain to give it up, but it is high enough to make them REALLY mad. In addition, many of them only work with contact at the tip, rather than contact along the entire business end. In a stressful situation, you might not be able to make the proper contact. I once had a neighbor whose favorite stupid pet-owner trick was to have his Rhodesian ridgeback jump up to chomp on and then hang on to a cattle prod. Its eyes would glaze over from the juice, but it wouldn't let go. As was the case with this particular dog, some dogs deal on a regular basis with cattle prods or other shocking devices wielded by their masters or trainers. They’re rather inured to them, and they certainly know how to deal with a human wielding one with less than consummate skill.

If you have a well-made cattle prod with a large contact surface, and you combine the electrical shock with a well-placed simultaneous whack-shock upside the dog's head, it might work. A higher tech and higher powered equivalent, such as a taser, would fit the bill, but it's illegal to carry them in most places, and if you were locked in a grapple with a dog and zapped it with a taser, you'd probably just as likely zap yourself.

A water gun has absolutely no effect on a determined attacking dog, except perhaps to aggravate it a bit. A water gun filled with the repellant liquid of your choice is bad news, too. You'd have to have a perfect shot to hit the dog's eyes or nostrils, and anything less would be totally useless. I would expect that the average cop seeing a person running with a water gun would shoot first and express regrets afterwards, anyway.

When I had to deal with particularly dangerous dogs, I sometimes used to carry a gas-powered pellet pistol for defense, but this was in a rural area where I was well known and, if not well liked, at least tolerated by the local police. A nicely placed point blank shot into a vicious dog's muzzle or nostril will discourage all but the most aggressive dogs from ever messing with you again, without doing any serious permanent damage to the dog. These weapons are much more effective if you roughen up the pellet with pliers before you load them. Smooth pellets tend to bounce and aggravate; roughened pellets gouge and repel.

One of my brothers likes to carry a drumstick with him on runs. He was a drummer in his youth, and he handles nunchaku as well as anyone, so he can wield a drumstick with precision, speed, and power. For dogs of moderate aggressiveness, a sharp whack on the snout with a drumstick is usually enough. For more aggressive dogs, if you are very fast and you have good hand/eye coordination, you can use his technique of holding the ends of the stick with both hands and facing the dog. If the dog lunges, you jam the stick into the back of the dog's mouth until it can go no further, then very quickly twist your newly placed lever to dislocate or sprain the dog's jaw. A dog with a dislocated jaw is a dog that will never bother you again, or at least until the sprain heals. A dog with a jaw sprain gets pretty passive, too.

A variation that I prefer, because I don't have quick hands, is simply to jam the pointed end of the stick down the dog's throat as far as it will go, use my free hand to grab the dog's foreleg, and then push the drumstick upward and back over the top, pinning the top of the dog's head to its back. Dogs hate it when this happens and will run away as soon as you release them. The three times I've used this technique I've yelled the standard intellectual mantra "bad dog! go home!" before releasing them. The dogs I used this on never came after me again, even though they saw me fairly often. It didn't appear that the stick down the throat had done them any permanent harm -- it certainly didn't diminish their barking.

Multiple Dog Attacks

Dealing with a pack of dogs is very different from dealing with lone dogs. Dogs revert to their more primitive natures when they run in packs (like human teenagers or football fans), and the most difficult dog attacks to deal with are those involving pack behavior. The most successful way to deal with a pack attack is to immediately identify the alpha and beta animals (top dog and the dog who's waiting impatiently to take over) in the pack and take them out of the picture. If you're lucky, when deprived of their leaders the pack will lose its pack mentality and each dog will begin to think as an individual and decide that maybe this pack attack thing wasn't such a good idea after all.

Although I've been attacked by pairs of dogs several times, I've only experienced one attack by a pack of dogs, when I stumbled upon them killing a fawn, so I don't have much to offer by way of tips for fighting dog packs, except to make eye contact with as many of the top dogs as possible.

Surprisingly, in this one case I was somehow able to draw one of the dogs in the pack to act as my defender, and he covered my flanks and rear as I concentrated on the front. I think that when I stared this dog down he remembered that he was domesticated, that he liked humans, and that he was not a wolf. I also knew the dog. He was called Ralph, and he also loved guns and the over-under .410 shotgun and .22 rifle I was carrying probably was an attraction, too.

After Ralph and I had taken out the three most aggressive dogs in the pack, most of the rest ran away. Two remained, whimpering and making gestures of submission. I guess Ralph and I were their new alpha and beta.

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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.

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defending yourself from dog attacks, dog attacks, vicious dogs, self-defense against dog attacks, self-defense, dog bites

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