The Dogcharmer: Bite or flight

What to do when confronted with an angry dog while out on a walk.

Learn to handle an angry, barking dog while out on a walk. — Pixabay

Dear Tom:

I had a German shorthaired pointer for 13 years. I am not afraid of big dogs.

I recently arrived at the Oak Bluffs Harbor about an hour early for my coffee group, and decided to walk East Chop. While I was passing a house on the water on my left, a large brown dog was relieving himself against a tree on the right side of the street. I kept walking until he finished, saw me, and started barking at me. I stood still with my hands at my side, thinking he might come up and sniff my hands and move on. But he kept barking, then snarling. I started yelling, “Help me!” He circled behind me, snarling, and then attacked me, hitting the back of one thigh, almost knocking me over. Just then the occupant of the house on my left came out, as did a golden retriever barking at me, and she called the dog to stop, and he did. I kept walking. I filed a police report with the animal control officer.

How could I have handled the situation differently?

Thank you,

Dear Irene,

Sorry to hear about that scary dog experience, but after speaking with you, glad to hear that it was what I call a “closed-mouth bite,” as opposed to a real “grab bite.” Unless properly handled and trained, the “closed-mouth” biter is likely to progress to serious aggression, but rather than focus on this type of canine temperament, the question is, What’s the best response to a threatening dog?

First, NEVER turn your back to the intimidating dog. Doing so may act as an invitation to be bitten. Keep walking, but keep facing the dog, walking backward if you have to. In many of these cases the aggression is territorial, and the farther away you get from the dog’s property, he has less left so as to threaten you, the more likely he is to turn back toward home.

I am very familiar with the Doberman temperament, having owned Dobes for more than 25 years. One day while jogging, a Dobe left his yard and crossed the street to give me a hard time. Knowing dogs as I do, it was clear to me that this was more than bluster; this guy was serious. So I turned, facing him, and continued walking backward. This probably went on for over 100 yards, with the Dobe getting closer and closer, until he was broaching what I call “critical distance”; with a quick lunge, he could have bitten me. At this point, rather than allowing him to get any closer, I startled and threatened him by stopping and half lunging toward him with a raised fist, yelling, “Are you kidding me!” It stopped him from closing the gap between us, and after another minute or so he started to lose interest and then turned back, leaving me to finish my jog, but with a lot more adrenaline pumping through my veins.

Irene, if confronted with this type of situation again and the dog is within three or four feet of you (critical distance), you can quickly bend down as though you picked up a stick, and raise the imaginary stick over your head as though you are going to hit the offending dog with it, and with an authoritarian voice with a low pitch, yell at him. You’d be surprised at how many dogs would buy it and not close in for the bite. In summary, always face the growler, and threaten him back if he gets too close. For those who espouse standing still and not moving or threatening, I know several people who did that and ended up bleeding. That would be my tactic with the “attack-trained” dog who expects a fight.

Good luck, and hopefully this was your first and last such confrontation!

The Dogcharmer

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