How to Handle an Aggressive Dog

Flashback to July 2014 in Metamora Township, a rural Michigan community located to the west of Detroit. That’s where Craig Systma was jogging, cruising along at an easy pace throughout the quiet countryside when he was attacked and bitten 8 times by a pair of aggressive dogs that had escaped from the backyard of a nearby home.

Systma died from his injuries, despite the best efforts of neighbors and witnesses who rushed to his aid in the aftermath of the attack. While Systma's fatal run-in with aggressive dogs is rare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do estimate that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Dogs can become aggressive for a variety of reasons, from territorial to protective to possession. Other reasons that account for a dog's aggression may include fear, defense and aggression that has been redirected from another stimuli. Aggression can also vary from minor (i.e. barking, growling, showing teeth) to major (i.e. nipping, biting, biting and shaking, muzzle punches and lunging). Always keep in mind that many dog owners do not take the necessary time to correct dog aggression.

Take an incident that occurred in August 2014 in Juneau, Alaska, for instance, when high school children were prevented from getting home due to a pack of large, barking dogs blocking their path. The children waited for the dogs to leave, only to watch them come back later after they had made it safely home. Frightened, the children retrieved a gun from their home and fired warning shots into their yard to scare the dogs away.

Warning shots are one way to handle an aggressive dog - or dogs, as was the case in Juneau - but not everyone has the time to retrieve a weapon. In most cases, fast action and quick thinking is critical because the attack or aggression can be so sudden and seemingly unprovoked. With that being said, here's a look at some tips on how to handle an aggressive dog, should you ever come into contact with one or more:

Take preventative action

The best way to handle an aggressive dog that you might encounter is to take the necessary precautions well in advance - just in case you ever encounter one. For instance, most mail workers carry an EPA-registered deterrent spray (i.e. mace) to use in the case of a dog emergency while they're on their route. These typically spray up to 15 feet and will stop a potential attack without any long-term damage to the animal. Consider purchasing this product and taking it with you on walks - just in case.

  • 1. Back off - Never approach a dog you’re unfamiliar with. Yes, the biggest key to handling an aggressive dog is not to involve yourself with it in the first place. So if there’s a dog walking around your neighborhood unsupervised that appears threatening, leave it alone and retreat to your home to report the animal.
  • 2. Stay still - In the event that you’re approached by an aggressive dog, don’t run from it or scream. Stay still and stay composed - and avoid eye contact. Running or screaming may just increase its level of aggression. Wait until the dog backs off and then slowly retreat to safety.
  • 3. Retreat mode - If you've been knocked over or bitten by an aggressive dog, roll into a ball and place your hands over your head. Remain as still as possible as you do this and wait for the dog to retreat. Contrary to what you may think, fighting a dog back can actually make things worse and bring out more aggression.
  • 4. Fight back - This suggestion is controversial, in that fighting back may make your injuries worse if you've been attacked by an aggressive dog. However, some dogs have the tendency to be relentless – so fighting back might be the only way to stop the attack. If that’s the case, look for any type of weapon you can use. If you have house keys or car keys in your pocket, arm yourself and aim for the animal’s eye. Large rocks and sticks may also work well. If there's nothing to arm yourself with, try punching it in the eye or snout. Additionally, if at any point during the attack, you believe you can get away, make a run for it. Look for a tree nearby to climb or a car to climb on top of until the dog retreats or help can be summoned.

Dealing with an aggressive dog isn't something you ever really anticipate. But unfortunately, it occurs more than you’d like to think. So if you've sustained a dog bite or have seen an unsupervised dog on the loose, it’s important to report it immediately. And if you or someone you know has suffered injuries from a dog attack, contact us today. It’s estimated that less than 1 percent of all dog bite victims receive any compensation for their injuries suffered. Contact us today so that we help get you the compensation and justice that you deserve.