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How to protect yourself from a dog attack

While we all adore our canine companions, it’s worth remembering that despite thousands of years of conditioning making them man’s best friend, some dogs still have wild instincts. 

It probably won’t be your own pet that turns on you, but it can and does happen. Regardless, with one third of NZ households having a pet dog it’s not unlikely you could find yourself a potential victim of a dog attack. It’s an unfortunate possibility often borne out by local and international news stories. Do you know what you can do to avoid serious injury or worse?

“Even the contemplation of a dog attack is unpleasant, but being aware of and confronting risks is the first step in mitigating them,” notes Michelle Le Long, Chief Operating Officer at pet insurance provider PD Insurance. “And while keeping dogs under control is required by law, dangerous situations can and do arise all too frequently.”

Alert and ready to respond

Many attacks occur while walking your own pet, only to be set upon by an aggressive canine that has come off its leash and is lunging at your dog or children. The first and most valuable thing you should do to avoid becoming a victim is maintaining a keen sense of situational awareness. In other words, be alert to the danger and be ready to respond.

 “Nobody wants to stereotype man’s best friend, but the fact is certain breeds are more likely to have certain behaviours,” says Le Long. Some dogs are specifically bred for aggression, in other words, in much the same way that others are bred for speed, endurance, loyalty, or herding. “If you notice a breed which has a reputation for aggression, avoiding any issue can be as simple as steering clear – particularly if the other dog is already off the leash.”

Avoiding escalation of an attack

Should the worst happen, and a dog is about to set upon you or your pet or children, the first step is avoiding escalation of the situation. Stop, stand and leave is the official government advice, says Le Long. This plays to the psychology of what is happening when a dog attacks.

“Typically, a dog attacks because it sees a threat or is stimulated by your movement. You want to remain calm and avoid provoking the aggressor even further. Don’t show fear or anxiety, avoid eye contact by looking at its feet, and assert your space using any object you might be holding. Importantly – do not advance on the attacker. If the situation appears to come under control, command the dog firmly to ‘sit’, ‘down’, or ‘no’.”

What to do when being attacked

If that doesn’t work and a threat becomes an actual attack, your response must change rapidly. If a fight develops between your pet and an aggressor, remember your personal protection takes priority. Do not get between the dogs or attempt grabbing a collar, as this is likely to result in one or both dogs turning their teeth on you.

Pull on your dog’s leash, if possible, while commanding ‘NO’; release the leash if the fight continues escalating. Get the other dog owner’s help or that of any bystander by ‘wheelbarrowing’ both animals. This means grabbing and lifting their hind legs to pull them apart simultaneously (or as close to, given the circumstances). Use your water bottle or any other available source and squirt liquid into the dogs’ ears or faces or try distracting them by throwing a jumper/similar on top of the situation.

Should the worst happen and a dog sets on you, call for help and take evasive and protective action immediately. If any object is available, use it as a shield – bags, bicycles, clothing – grab whatever is available. Should the dog knock you down, get into a face-down position with arms over the back of your head and protect fingers by clenching fists. If a dog latches on, avoid pulling it off as this will tear your flesh.

Lift the dog by its hind legs if you’re not knocked down and are able to, which can cause enough discomfort that it will release you. At all stages, stresses Le Long, extracting yourself from the attack and minimising damage to yourself and your pet or child is an absolute priority. If you are bitten or injured in any way, seek immediate medical attention – the same applies for your pet – and report the incident to your local council without delay.

Safeguarding yourself

Le Long notes that owning a dog comes with legal responsibilities, and advises every pet parent to familiarise themselves with the law. “There’s no question that canines of all kinds are a source of great joy for people of all ages and all walks of life. However, there are risks associated with owning a doggo, and there can be risks being around unknown dogs, too.

“You don’t want to become a victim, and you don’t want your pet causing damage or distress to others. Carefully selecting your preferred breed, applying good training and knowing what to look out for means minimising those risks.”

Finally, she notes that pet insurance is both affordable and makes a big dent in medical bills associated with pet parenting. “All New Zealand pet parents should consider insuring their pet. It softens the reality of unexpected costs and is available from as little as a dollar a day.”

 

Media contact 
Leandri Smith – The Mail Room 
027 365 9003 | [email protected]