It has been thousands of years since mankind has had to fear for its collective safety from animal attack, if ever. In today's urban society, threat of animal attack has been all but snuffed out; except for dogs which, in spite of a vast majority of those gentle and domesticated, continue to be a not insignificant albeit infrequent animal threat to urban dwellers.

Most dogs are pleasant animals, deserving of the name: man's best friend. Of all the animals, they are the original domitae naturae and are now mansuetae naturae, presumed gentle. For more wild human law terms associated with animals and the law, see Duhaime's Animal Law Dictionary.

Animal attacks are rare. Most people will go through an entire life without ever having experienced one. The following advice is for the other "half" which will come face to face with a growling dog, teeth bared and low growl announcing nothing friendly. Every local newspaper has a thick archive on dog attacks - see Canine Ferae Naturae: The Statutory Elimination of Naturally Fierce Dogs.

This information is per-emptive, pre-attack, for those rare but terrifying moments when a dog is triggered back to a primitive time, when it was a wild animal - and attack does occur or appears imminent.

Pit bulls are often referred to in newspaper stories of dog attacks, many on children, but they are not the only breed to keep an eye on. Angry DogWhile most dogs are not aggressive but even properly trained domestic pets can attack given the right circumstances. Old dogs may become grouchy, bitches may be defensive about their litter, and some breeds are more inclined to be territorially defensive. Other dogs just do not fancy strangers and others might snap if subject to rough handling or play they are not accustomed to. To this list should be added the many dogs which belong to irresponsible owners who neglect to provide their dogs attention, affection or training or owners who intentionally encourage aggressiveness in their pets for reasons of personal protection.

All dog owners should take precautions to ensure that their dog is not a threat to others. In almost all countries, you can be subject to criminal and civil liability for attacks of your animal. While some places require prior knowledge of the animal's viciousness before making you liable for these attacks, others make you automatically liable, whether you knew your animal to be vicious or not.

The most important advice ever in regards to dog attack involves the moment of encounter. While there are unavoidable attacks with a dog hell bent on attack because of a medical condition or some unknown and apparently overwhelming provocation, many encounters with a dog in all appearance preparing for an attack, can be stood down by calm and patience, assertive but soft talk to the dog, especially with an owner on the ready to reel in his dog or to speak to the dog to indicate that there is no danger. In these very frequent situations, the taking of any fight position by the human can be interpreted by the dog as "game on".

The best overall societal remedy against dog aggression on humans is responsible training on the parts of all dog owners, especially those of aggressive breeds, failing which the state, province or city has, in some places, taken action to eliminate the frequent offenders out and out, dog-ocide. Again, see Canine Ferae Naturae: The Statutory Elimination of Naturally Fierce Dogs. The most serious problem a dog can develop is to show aggression. Here are some tips for dog owners:

  • Obedience training is essential in preventing aggression in dogs. If your dog shows signs of uncontrollable or sudden anger, consult with your vet or a dog trainer without delay.
  • If your dog is aggressive towards you, try commanding the dog to lie down right away and then give it a stern verbal correction.
  • Aggression towards visitors is common enough for dogs who merely want to protect its home or "pack" (which includes it's owners). If a dog was rarely handled as a puppy, the dog may not know that a tall stranger bending over and towards it with an open hand means to caress. Owners of such dogs should gradually introduce strangers to the dog and reward good behavior. A stranger is less threatening if sitting down.
  • Do not let your dog run free in the neighborhood. Even if your dog is as friendly as Lassie, a stranger does not know this and is seriously inconvenienced by a large, free dog in his or her path. The irresponsibility of owners who let their dog stray is compounded when children or joggers suddenly collide with a strange dog. A startled stranger may frighten even a passive dog into an aggressive response. The dog starts to mark a territory on which he runs free and introduces to it all kinds of subtle canine ferae naturae provocations.
  • Children should be taught to not approach or attempt to pet strange dogs.

As there will never likely be a law which can effectively prohibit idiots from owning dogs, dog attacks can and will happen. Here's some tips to protect yourself:

  • Avoid eye contact with an aggressive dog.
  • If you are jogging, stop jogging and walk by the dog, avoiding eye contact and sudden movement.
  • Avoid the temptation to rebuke the owner of an aggressive dog for allowing their menacing and unleashed dog to remain in your direct path. Aggressive dogs are often a reflection of their owner's character. If you notice the aggressive dog unleashed again, contact the police with a good description of the dog, the owner and time of day. Try to remember the dog's name if it was called during your presence.

Pit bull

  • If the dog runs towards you exhibiting aggressive behaviour (growling or barking), stand your ground without sudden movement. Brace yourself and command the dog as if you were its owner: "No!" "Down!" "Sit!" "Stay!" Do this repeatedly. Do not raise your hands in a fight stance prematurely as this may antagonize the dog and you might lose your one chance at stopping the attacking dog through commands.
  • If the dog is small and presents no danger for your neck area, you may want to try to kick it. A good blow to the nose or to the body will stop most small dogs.
  • If a large dog attacks, take a fight stance with one leg in front of the other to maximize balance and protect your inner body. If you are athletic, you may want to use your foot as a primary weapon. This response could mean jeopardizing your balance. Should you fall, you lose your height advantage to a dog.
  • Special note for pit bulls: these dogs can be unusually aggressive. Some experts recommend that the best response to an attacking pit bull is to fall to the ground, roll into a ball with your chin tucked in and cover your face, ears and backs of your neck with your hands. Keep your knees pulled up into your chest. The idea is to play dead and hope that the dog will give up the attack. {Editor's note: we have received many e-mails on this topic. They are of two variations. #1: Typical is the following: "When (pit bulls attack) a person or other animal, their first instinct is to grab ... and hold on. If laying down on the ground, there is a higher possibility of the dog biting in to a fatal spot. Standing upright is a much better strategy." #2: "Pit bulls are cute little cuddly dogs, great with children and anytime they attack, it's always the owner's fault".}
  • A large dog may lunge for your throat. Protect this area of your body first and foremost with your arm tucked into your throat as far as you can without pulling back.
  • Punch the dog on the nose as hard as you can. Twist or pull the dog's ears. The dog's eyes are another soft spot which you should attack if required to defend yourself. Another strategy is to kick the dog in the rib cage. This will wind it and could stun it enough to ward off any more attacks. Yell for help.
  • If you frequently encounter stray or aggressive dogs, pepper spray or electronic whistles (adjusted at a frequency to cause dog's extreme discomfort) are inexpensive and excellent safeguards against dog attack.
  • If an attacking dog appears to be aimlessly wandering, biting at stationery objects, wild-eyed or with a thick ropy saliva covering it's chest, it may have rabies. Note that dogs may have rabies even if not exhibiting these symptoms so in all cases of dog bites especially if the skin has been broken, seek medical attention immediately. Rabies is a universally fatal disease if left untreated. You must first ensure that the dog is quarantined and observed for symptoms of rabies. Don't try to corral the dog yourself; call the police. If you have any doubts about rabies, consult a doctor for possible anti-rabies injections.

See also the June 10, 2009 article in LawMag entitled Canine Ferae Naturae: The Statutory Elimination of Naturally Fierce Dogs.

An e-mail we received on 3-FEB-1997 is worth reading:

"If confronted by a pitbull that may be dangerous, I don't think laying down and curling up is the best defense. When biting a person or other animal their first instinct is to grab and hold on. If laying down on the ground, there is a higher possibility of the dog biting in to a fatal spot.

"Standing upright is a much better strategy. Running makes a dog naturally want to give chase. Much of my experience in this subject comes from the fact that I used to be a dog control officer and have dealt with dangerous dogs on a daily basis. Thank you for your time." D.,

And then on July 17, 2007 from Reese Blade:

"Just to mention friendly advice as you say below you receive email's advising on this topic , I volunteer for a self defense class my kick boxing instructor teaches (I'm the dummy ) animal attacks have been brought up as in or city street trash (homeless kids , punks degenerates) adopt violent dogs and use them to intimidate people or businesses from making them move on from loitering (and of course police can arrest them for that) anyway's most dogs will look for an easy bite something to grab and take at if your gonna be bitten anyway's you you have the choice where , feed them your lower arm preferably your left or lesser arm , and if you have a jacket or even a heavy shirt wrap it around your arm first , usually most people are found at a stand off with the dog before the attack and do have time to plan there next move but don't know what to do so they run , if not the case and a dog gets your arm , force it in to their mouth , a dogs teeth generally face inwards and this will not only hurt less than pulling away when you push it in the have to open their mouth to adjust their bite , but don't pull back yet  hold them there if a dogs mouth is forced all the way opened it cant bit or breath , they cant breath well threw your arm and their nose's don't work to well open , hold its head so it cant back off if it pulls away it will just take another bite force your arm in as hard as you can and hold the dog their until someone helps you it already has its teeth in as long as you don't let go the worst is over (sorry for the lengthy feedback , hope this helps)."