As preppers, part of our survival skill training involves some sort of self-defense. However, most are only training to defend against humans. Considering you’re just as likely to be attacked by an animal as you are another human. So, it only makes sense to familiarize yourself with the basics of dealing with a dog attack. Let’s discuss the best ways to avoid provoking a dog, how to survive a dog attack (if the worst happens), and tips for dealing with the aftermath.

Dogs attack over four million people in the U.S. every year. While most are not-fatal attacks (usually less than 50 fatalities a year), dogs can inflict some nasty injuries that can cause permanent disabilities.

Preventing an Attack

Respect the Dog’s Space

Most dogs are territorial. In fact, many dog attacks are actually caused by the victim encroaching on the dog’s natural territory. There are some pretty simple rules that you can follow to make sure that you’re not putting yourself in a position to be attacked.

  • Do not approach an unattended dog – An unattended dog has marked his territory. Unless you’re the dog’s owner, you will be an uninvited guest into his territory. The dog has no way to decide if you are friendly or not, and there is a good chance they may attack simply out of instinct.
  • Don’t pet a dog without letting them “scent” you – One of the most common dog bite scenarios is when children run up to dogs and try to pet them. The dogs have no idea if these children (who are usually pretty loud) are there to play with them or harm them. If the dog feels threatened, there’s a good chance it will attack. In short … DON’T LET YOUR CHILDREN PLAY WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S DOGS.
  • Don’t surprise a dog – No amount of cuddling, doggie sweaters, or diamond studded collars will ever change a dog’s natural animal instincts. When you surprise a dog, you’re inviting disaster. If you’re approaching a dog, be sure they know you are there, move slowly, and let the dog take a few steps towards you to make sure they know you’re there and not a threat.

Know the Warning Signs of a Potential Dog Attack

Prevention is your best bet for how to survive a dog attack. Preventing an attack is much easier than fending off a dog that is attacking you. Picture this: you’re in a bar, concert, or some other event and you see that stereotypical drunk guy getting loud, puffing up his chest, and growing more aggressive by the second. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that this guy is ready for a fight.

Dogs are no different. There are almost always pre-attack warning signs that you should be able to spot if you’re paying attention.

  • Growling – This should be pretty obvious, but if a dog is growling, that is a sign of aggression. Don’t approach a growling dog.
  • Ears are erect – When a dog is in fight or flight mode, his sense of hearing is heightened and its ears will stick up. This isn’t always a sign of aggression, but it does mean that the dog is paying extra attention to what is around them and could be a warning sign of aggression.
  • Tail is in the air – When a dog goes into fight or flight mode, their tail will go straight into the air. Again, this isn’t always an indication of aggressiveness but it could be the only warning you get before an attack.

A vicious dog will often fight until either it can’t get up anymore or you can’t.

How to Survive a Dog Attack (If You Can’t Avoid It)

Don’t Do This

  • Don’t look a dog directly in the eyes if you think they’re already being aggressive. Many dogs will take this as a sign of aggression and may attack.
  • Don’t let a dog circle you – When wild dogs hunt, they circle their prey in packs to trap them. If a dog is already showing signs of aggression and starts to circle you, follow along with him. Don’t ever turn your back to an aggressive dog or let them get behind you. Dogs are often opportunity hunters, meaning they will wait until their prey’s attention has been diverted or they think it can’t see them to attack.
  • If you are attacked by a dog, your natural instinct is going to be to run away or to fight back wildly. Avoid this. First off, dogs can run faster than you. Fighting back wildly by swinging your arms or kicking at the dog will do nothing more than escalate the fight and there’s a good chance the dog is going to bite and latch on to that arm or leg.
  • Perhaps the most important takeaway in knowing how to survive a dog attack, know that it doesn’t matter how tough you are. A vicious dog will often fight until either it can’t get up anymore or you can’t. They’re not going to back down by brute strength alone in most cases.

Do This

  • If confronted by a dog without a safe way to avoid it, stand your ground. Don’t let it get behind you. Put your hands to your side, don’t make any sudden movements, and stare the dog straight in the eyes. More often than not, you’ll win the standoff and the dog will just walk away.
  • If you have a purse, backpack or something else that can be used a barrier between you and the dog, use it.
  • Speak calmly to the dog, try not to show fear or aggression. Calling out to the dog in a passive tone can often times immediately defuse the situation.
  • If the dog does attack, try to stay on your feet. You want leverage against the animal and you don’t want to lost that leverage by getting on the dogs level. They’re much more comfortable fighting at that height than you are.
  • If you must defend against a dog attack without weapons, try to attack easy targets. A quick jab to the eye of a dog will usually end a fight or at least give you time to escape. Kicking the legs of a dog may break them and prevent it from chasing you. Essentially you’re going to have to incapacitate the dog in some fashion rather than just senselessly punching or kicking as the dog likely won’t even feel your blows.
Angry black dog bearing teeth in the woods.
Angry black dog bearing teeth in the woods.

How to Survive a Dog Attack with the Right Weapons

Getting into an unarmed fight with a dog is the last thing you ever want to do. Your best bet for surviving an animal attack — or any attack for that matter — is to prepare to use a higher level of force than your attacker. It’s advisable to carry a can of OC or pepper spray at the very minimum as it is pretty effective on most dogs.

However, if you really want to be prepared to deal with attackers of both the four- and even two-legged variety, a concealed firearm is your best bet. Obviously, you should check your local laws and ordinances to determine the legality of any weapon carried on your person.

After a Dog Attack

The aftermath of a dog attack could be as much as a nightmare as the actual attack. If you’re attacked by a dog and have to defend yourself, the first thing to do is get to a safe distance. The dog could resume the attack, the dog’s owner may become aggressive to you and for all you know, that dog could have rabies or other diseases. You don’t want to take any chances. Get to a safe distance from the animal and call 911 to report the attack. Treat your wounds as best you can before help arrives.

When the immediate threats have been taken care of, it’s also a good idea to file a police report and possibly retain a lawyer in case the dog’s owner decides to press charges. Document any injuries and attempt to find any witnesses to make sure you are properly prepared to defend your actions.

Thankfully, most dog attacks are non-fatal. There are plenty of other critters on this planet with far more lethal attack potential. That’s why it’s important to know the most dangerous animal threats to your survival on land.