When A Dog Attacks-What to Do

What Would I Do if Attacked by a Dog?

This is a two part article.

By Ed Frawley  Copyright 2001


  1. The first part deals with what I (as a professional) would do if I were attacked by a dog.
  2. The second part deals what the average pet owner should do if they or their pet are attacked by stray dogs.



I was recently asked what I would do if I were attacked by a dog. The question was not what should someone else do if they were attacked, but what would I do. Considering the recent death in San Francisco by Presa Canario I thought it an appropriate title for this article.

The first thing that people need to understand is that 99.99% of the dogs that attack and kill humans are dogs with weak nerves or extremely dominant dogs with no training. These are not trained dogs with solid temperaments that are killing people. But even so, I will address both kinds of dogs.

Keeping in mind that question asked “What would I do?”

I will start be saying that it only takes me a very few seconds to evaluate a dog as it approaches. I can tell from a dog’s body language and eye’s if it’s a sharp, nervous dog.

With sharp dogs simply facing the dog with a loud, deep-throated confident “NO!!!!” will often be enough to stop the dog in its tracks. Most will turn and leave. The fact is these are not strong dogs that want to fight a human, they are weak dogs who show aggression, because they have learned that aggression makes people leave them alone. Dogs from this category that don’t turn and leave will stand off and bark. I would continue to stare at those dogs and give them a loud “NO, GET TO THE HOUSE!!!” Eventually they will slink off and leave, trying to act tough as they go.

Dogs like this are the ones who have the hair up on their back as they approach, they may (or may not) show a lot of teeth. Their body posture is not forward, they will stand with their feet apart like they are real close to “fight or flight” (which they are). If I can stop these dogs with my voice, I will pause and give direct eye contact for a second and then take a quick step toward the dog – yelling in a strong confident voice. The majority of them will bolt into flight.

These nervous dogs that don’t bolt will bark and circle as they try to get at you from behind. Simply turning and facing them with direct eye contact is going to prevent this. Very, very, very few dogs are going to do this, at least not to me anyway. Dogs sense strength and confidence in my body posture, eye contact and voice. For those dogs that don’t leave after a minute, I can slowly (and I mean slowly) back out of their territory. Which, depending on the dog, could possibly be quite some distance. I testified in court several years ago against a lady in Kansas whose Rots killed a 9 year old boy. These were allowed to roam the neighborhood. They considered their territory circle of several blocks around their home. By the way, this women is now serving 11 years in prison. It’s too bad that she will not spend more time there. She had no remorse.

The average person can do the same thing that I do when they are confronted by a nervous dog. What they don’t want to do is turn and run. No matter how scared you are, you can’t out run a dog, and running will only trigger prey drive and increase the possibility of an attack and being bitten.

The second group of dogs, (those that know how to fight humans), are a different situation. The only way to deal with an attack from these dogs is to climb a tree or fight them.

As the dog approaches, I would square off and offer a target, my left arm. Trained dogs have almost all been started on left arm bites. I would stand in a balanced position similar to someone trained in Karate. As the dog approached, usually at a run, I would wait until the dog was about 3 meters away and swing my arm up (in front of and across my body). This movement will trigger the dog’s prey drive and it will target the arm. As I do this, I quickly pivot to the side and jerk the arm away just as the dog was about to grip the arm. This is done when the dog is in the air with his mouth open, in other words “at the last possible instant.” Making the dog miss his grip obviously takes a little experience and coordination but it can be done – it’s surprising how focused one can be at times like this.

As the dog goes flying by I would try and disable the dog with a strong kick to the back of the ribs or groin. The odds are this would not work. The majority of these dogs will turn and come again. The second time will not allow as much planning. I have been successful in 3 passes of a dog before it was stopped by it’s owner. When an untrained dog misses a bite three times in a row it’s nerves get turned on. When that happens these dogs can be pushed into flight with an aggressive move towards them.

I have no idea how many times in the past 20 years that I have fought police dogs in muzzle fighting training, more than I can remember. I can say that the more experience one has the better you get at fighting dogs. I have run tough KNPV trained dogs that were sent after me in muzzle.

With that said the fact is the more experience a dog gets at fighting humans (Schutzhund training is not considered fighting humans) the better they get too.

What gets difficult is when an experienced dog goes for your legs. Most police dogs that have bitten a lot of people will learn that leg bites are more successful than arm or upper body bites. They figure out, through experience, that the last part of the body to move are the legs. French ring dogs know this too. But most French Ring dogs would not bite a person if their life depended on it (kind of reminds me of the French government). One of my best friend’s police dog broke a criminals leg when he hit him at a dead run. This dog figured out that the weight-bearing leg was the best target. He had over 200 street bites and the majority of them were leg bites.

You can make these dogs miss but you need to be quick. The older I get the slower I get. So I guess at this point I would have to go to “Plan B” (which is nasty). In Plan B, you have to let the dog bite you. You just have to suck it up and take a bite. Chewing on your lip helps, but I heard of a bad criminal who bit through his own lip when a police dog bit him because he did not want to scream and let the K9 officer know where he was hiding. They still found him – he just had a hole in his lip and several in his leg.

Of course there is always the possibility of taking the leg bite and then trying to choke the dog out – the key here is to not stop choking when the dog passes out. When dominant dogs are choked out in a fight drive they wake up and are still in fight drive. These dogs will wake up (usually pretty quickly) and if you are still there they will come after you again. So when you choke these dogs you have to finish the job (choke him until they are dead).

I can see all the PETA people here rolling their eyes, clutching their chest and saying I am worse than those dam Mink Farmers!! If you are a PETA member and it makes you feel better, I will say that there are police dogs out there that no man is going to beat. I can’t tell you how many tough guys have shot their mouth off about being able to beat a police dog with his bare hands only to cry like a baby when the dog bites him in his arm pit or upper inner thigh.

My grandmother once told me a very important statistic. That is: “you have 20 times more chance of being hit by lighting than being attacked by a trained dog.” Grandma was always great with statistics and making chocolate chip cookies. I cannot say that you would have the same odds with nervous dogs and irresponsible owners that allow them to run free.

I get asked about Schultz dogs (sport dogs) all the time and the truth is that the vast majority of Schutzhund dogs will never bite a person without a sleeve on. Sport dogs require weeks of additional training to convert them to police service dogs.

Sport dog training is actually good for dogs. It helps them relieve the stress in their lives (similar to us going out to play a game of racquetball). The training also teaches them when they can and cannot bite. Now there are always exceptions to this rule, like the lady I testified against in Kansas, her male Rot (the pack leader) was Schutzhund trained.

I have talked with friends about what the lady from San Francisco could have done to prevent her death when she was attacked by the Presa Canario. In my opinion there is probably nothing she could have done to save herself. These dogs had already had confrontations with her in the past and therefore they knew that she was afraid of them. So the option of facing them off was not there. The woman only weighed 110 pounds and the male dog (if my memory is correct) outweighed her by 50 pounds. She was attacked in the hall of her apartment and did not have any place to get away from the dog. I am not even sure if pepper gas would have stopped this dog. The only thing that may have worked would have been to drop to the ground, curl up in a ball with your hands clasped behind your neck and your arms and elbows protecting your neck and throat. Not many people can keep their wits about them when they are being bitten this badly. They go into flight mode and try and get away. I was pleased to see the owners of these dogs were also sent to prison to spend some time with their drug dealing friends.

If anyone that is reading this article lives in a similar environment (near aggressive dogs) you should always carry pepper gas and a walking stick. In fact, if you have to walk by a house or apartment with aggressive dogs, get it out and have it in your hand. If an attack comes you will not have time to fish around in your purse or pocket.



I get a lot of emails from pet owners who are out walking their dogs when stray dogs come out of no-where and attack their dog. This is NOT AN UNCOMMON OCCURANCE!

When this happens the pet owner needs to be assertive. Sometimes (not always) if you are lucky simply taking a step foreword and screaming no at the dog in a confident tone of voice ill turn the stray around.

More often than not the strays will come in to either attack or to posture over your dog. If your dog is at all annoyed by this the stray will attack to show his dominance.

This is where the owner needs to be prepared. He or she should have a stout walking stick along with pepper gas or both. If a dog will not back off with verbal threats then its time to get cracked right between the ears. The harder the better.

I continue to hit a dog until it backs off. If that means 3 hits or 10 hits. I will not allow a stray dog to hurt or kill my dog. As a pack animal your dog expects you as the pack leader to to protect him. So hang in their and whack the snot out of the stray. If the owner of the other dog is there – don’t allow this to intimidate you. If they don’t jump right in to pull their dog off – then whale on their dog.

When the aggressor finally comes off – get your pepper spray out. If the dog does not turn and leave. Spray the dog right in the nose. Empty the can on the dog. Pepper spray will not always have the same effect on dogs that it does on humans, but it does give them all something to think about other than trying to kill your dog.

After the Attack:

Now its time to go into the prevention phase of dog attacks. The first thing to do is to talk to the owner. Start with a sincere attitude. Maybe this truly was an accident where the owner was responsible but something happened and the dog got out.

But if the owner is a dink – then you need to go to the next level. Call animal control or the police. Insist that a police report be written by the office. If the dogs are picked up then the owner has to claim them. If it means that these animals are put to sleep because the owner will not pay the fine – then so be it. They are a danger in the community and they are in the hands of an irresponsible owner.

If the officer will not write one, ask who his or her supervisor is and talk with them. You need to continue to go up the ladder of authority until you get results.

If law enforcement will not write a report or issue a citation then go to the DA and explain what happened. Ask to see copies of your local dog laws. You can also ask to see copies of the state dog laws. The state laws are often stricter than the local laws.

It may be a good idea to talk to the neighbors of the stray dog owners (if you can find them) See if this is a common occurrence. Document your findings and build a case on facts.

Maybe its time that you get involved in passing strong dog laws in your community. Make sure the language in the law includes dogs that attack other animals in addition to humans. Lobby for this in your community. Leave petitions around the various businesses.

If you are not happy with the DA’s response tell him you are going to talk with the Mayor or local councilmen. That’s if they do not do something about this situation you plan on taking your case to the media. Write a well thought out letter to the local TV station and newspaper. Maybe its time for the public to pressure these officials to put more emphasis on dangerous dog laws.

Elected officials seem to pay attention when their name is associated with a lack of interest in public safety



Hi Ed,

I read your page on dog fighting and it was pretty helpful, thanks. I still don’t feel like I completely understand what to do if attacked by a dog, so if you could consider my specific situation I would greatly appreciate it, as I am somewhat at a loss.

Two nights ago I was walking down the main street of my small town with my very docile, friendly, sweet, yellow lab. He’s a classic lab, wouldn’t hurt a fly. We paused outside of a bar to look at the calander of events, when all of a sudden two dogs, one pit bull, one shepard/rottie mix, came tearing out of the bar and attacked my dog. They came out of nowhere, it felt like. Apparently, the owner of the dogs is a bartender at the bar, and had them tied to a stool while he was in the back fixing something. Asshole. Anyway, both dogs attacked my dog and I didn’t know what to do. I tried kicking them off but I don’t think I was ever even able to make contact with them. It happened so fast and I was so scared, it’s all sort of a blur to me now, frankly. Finally, after hearing my cries for help, people in the bar came running out and 2 men helped get the dogs off my dog. Luckily, my dog survived – he escaped with a deep puncture wound in his neck and some scratches on his face, but he will be fine. Please note that my lab didn’t fight back – I don’t know if that information is important, but it wasn’t a dog fight in the sense of equal fighting – it was a true attack.

Now I am scared to walk around my town….I feel like there are dogs everywhere waiting to “get” me and my dog. What can I do to feel safe? Someone suggested carrying dog pepper spray. I have heard conflicting things about this. Some people say it works to separate, even though you may spray your own dog in the process. I can do that, as long as I know the damage to him is temporary. Others, however, say being sprayed can piss the attacking dog off even more and make things worse.

I liked your method about making a harness for the dog with a leash, but if I am out walking with my dog, I figure it is unfeasible to get the leash off of him so I can use it to tie up the other dog. Also, I am not very strong and in a panic situation might botch that method. So dog pepper spray seems to be the most viable option for protecting my dog from being attacked. What do you think? Is there anything else you can recommend for a girl in my position?

Thanks for your advice, and I will continue to visit your page.




I would get a very stout walking stick and keep it with you every time you take your dog out. If a strange dog comes near you – warn him off with your voice (this is very important in respect to your dog looking at you as a pack leader – your dog expects you to protect him). If the dog comes through your warning then crack him over the head as hard as you can with the stick. We are not talking about love taps here. You will not kill a dog by doing this. They have very thick skulls.

Once I had a very, very dog aggressive GSD male at my kennel. A mistake happened and it attacked my 13 year old female black lab (retired drug dog). He had her down by the neck and I could not get him off her. I was not about to allow him to kill her in front of me. I hit him over the head with a flat bladed kennel shovel (with the flat of the blade). I hit him as hard as I could hit him. It took somewhere between 5 and 10 hard, hard hits for him to break-off the attack and stagger away. My point here is that it did not kill him (although I was prepared to kill him rather than allow Gabby to be killed). I am sure he had a headache for a couple of days but this extreme action on my part saved my old dog’s life. So hitting a dog with a walking stick one time may not be enough. Hit the dog as hard as you can hit him right between the ears.

With that said – a walking stick would not have worked on these two dogs that attacked your dog. I would recommend carrying pepper gas (the 10% concentrate stuff) and I would have put the nozzle within inches of the attacking dogs nose. Try and squirt it right up the nose and right into their eyes. Dogs don’t have tear ducts I think the nose works better. When the attacking dog backs off – continue to spray it. I would spray it until the can is empty.

When dogs like this attack they are focused on the dog they are biting. 99.99% of the time they are not going to stop or be concerned just because you are close to them with a can in your hand. They do not see that as a threat until it’s too late.

As far as listening to these people with their comments on pepper gas or whatever – I can say that you should learn one thing from this – “Everyone has an opinion on dog training (just ask). The problem is very very few people have the experience to back up their opinions.” This results in a ton of bad information being passed around.

This bartender should have gotten a citation for what happened. I hope you called the police and insisted on a report. If the police will not do anything call the DA and the Mayor and tell them if they don’t follow up you are going to write a letter to the editor of your local paper and complain that they (the MAYOR and DA – both elected officials) refuse to listen and help. That usually gets results.

Ed Frawley



I want to first thank you for all the good help you have been over the years to me. You helped me understand my young female Doberman that was being aggressive and who now is a gem. I also have ordered training DVD’s from you and have learned much.
I am turning 60 years old this next week – so I feel a bit insecure these days, being “elderly.” Today I write this with a concerned and troubled heart as last night I was walking one of my dogs, a female redbone coonhound, in the neighborhood during some Christmas festivities, so people were out and about and from down the street a family had a large male Doberman off leash and when he spotted me and my dog (who by the way was walking submissively and not growling or showing aggression) this Doberman (and I love Dobermans) went into a full metal jacket attack at us. He charged toward us but it was dark so I couldn’t tell any of the dogs intentions. I just assumed it was no good.
Something, I have never wanted to face. I also had just bought some pepper spray and was carrying it. I stomped at the dog and yelled NO, and the dog stopped and sized us up, then he went into attack again – charging us but I did not notice growls –  All the while I have stopped walking forward and my coonhound was on a gentle leader and a prong collar to control, as too many people are not responsible with their dogs and I don’t want a dog fight to happen, well finally this dog thought better of attacking us and ran back to it’s owner, who was about five houses away, but then took off in a full run down another street and went back to it’s home.
I retreated with my dog and glanced back to see the large Dobie run again around it’s owner but left us alone.
I simply am at a loss over how to protect myself in this situation. I’m sure if that dog had gotten closer my dog would have upped it’s guard mode and I might have had to use the pepper spray. Earlier that week, two dogs had circled us with their hackles raised, and I just froze and the dog I had was calm so all went well when the owner came out and apologized.
So, the bottom line, if a dog is running right at me, did I do the right thing, and should I assume the worst if the dog keeps charging – what if it is a friendly want to say hi dog? I just don’t trust loose dogs, not even dogs wagging their tails…..
Any suggestions would be most appreciated.


You handled this correctly but in the future, I would carry a walking stick as well as pepper spray. I don’t wait to see if a dog is friendly, I protect my dogs and puppies from ALL loose dogs that invade my space.  If a dog persists on coming up to us, I will stomp at him and say no, and then I will whack him with my stick if he doesn’t retreat.  I would use the pepper spray if the stick doesn’t work, being aware of the wind.  You don’t want to have the spray come back at you and your dog.

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