When Dogs Attack
By James Sotomayor

Every once in a while I come across a prominent martial artist who states (and actually believes) he can defend himself from a sudden and vicious dog attack. After I get up from the floor (from laughing so hard) I ask him "you're not serious are you?" He usually indicates he is, obviously a real dog has never attacked him, or perhaps once out of his coma, he's forgotten how bad it was.

I'm not talking about poodles or puppies; I'm talking about full-grown Rottweilers, pit bulls and Dobermans. If a policeman has to discharge an entire clip into a charging pit bull to stop one, do you think your kicks and punches can do the same? Wake up and smell the red meat, it could be yours!

Anyway, once these guys find out I'm a professional dog trainer, they inevitably ask me to set up a match between them and a pit bull…and I won't do it. #1. because unless they have a gun they'll be maimed or torn apart and #2. Why subject an innocent dog to possible injury.

In any case I went to a Russian martial arts seminar a few weeks ago and as sure as rain, when the (famous Russian) instructor found out I was a professional dog trainer he asked me to arrange a match between himself and a pit-bull. It was at this time I realized, most people really don't understand how deadly a dog can be let alone a pack of dogs. They assume a few kicks will do the trick, when in fact that will only hasten their demise.

This article is not about the ineffectiveness about using martial arts training against a wild dog; it is however my attempt to educate the general public about this issue; and dispel some myths which martial artists have about fighting a dog. Whether you are a martial artist or not, this information may save your life.

First - If you ever come across any martial arts instructor who claims he can successfully defend himself from a serious dog attack, do yourself a favor and run for your life. This is a dangerous person and he is teaching dangerous concepts. The reality is, all you can do is to attempt to escape without too much damage.

Although we love our pets, sometimes they can turn on us, quite often a neighbors cute and cuddly dog can suddenly attack and kill a child. It really shouldn't surprise us, after all dogs are animals, no matter how cute and cuddly they are. Hunting and fighting dogs especially have been bred for centuries to maintain aggressive traits. Don't think these traits disappear because you feed and pet them, and don't think a swift kick to the jaw will stop it.

The Facts
Health officials say dogs bite or attack more than 4.5 million people each year, killing an average of 20 people in the United States alone. Look at the statistics; dogs around the world than kill more people than sharks. Depending on where you are in the world, many countries report anywhere from 10 to over 30 lethal dog attacks per year. Multiply this by over 190 countries and/or territories and you have a better appreciation of the problem.

Not all dog attacks are lethal, but many are still serious enough to warrant emergency medical care. The following headlines (from 2001-2002) reflect a rising trend in lethal dog attacks.

"Stray dogs kill mother of five" Chukhotka, Russia
"Woman devoured by dog, Moscow" Russia
"Rottweiler kills 3-year-old, Chicago" USA
"Rottweiler savages boy in street" Manchester, England
"Pit Bull attacks German Shepard and owner" San Francisco, USA
"Man killed by his Tosa fighting dogs, Ibaraki" Japan
"Man fends off dog and is knife-attacked by its owner" Drachten, Holland
"Baby girl mauled by Rottweiler" Chicago, USA
"10-year-old girl attacked by police dog, Jacksonville" Florida
"Hunting dogs kill disabled retiree" Kagoshima, Japan

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Humane Society of the United States recently updated data on fatal dog bites for the period 1989 to 1994.

In a 6-year study published in the medical journal PEDIATRICS (Vol.97 No. 6, 891-5), Jeffrey J. Sacks, M.D. and associates reported the finding of 109 bite-related fatalities. They found that 57% of the deaths were in children under 10 years of age. 22% of the deaths involved an unrestrained dog OFF the owner's property. 18% of the deaths involved a restrained dog ON the owner's property, and 59% of the deaths involved an unrestrained dog ON the owner's property.

The researchers also found that 10% of the dog bite attacks involved sleeping infants. The most commonly reported dog breeds involved were pit bulls (24 deaths), followed by rottweilers (16 deaths), and German shepherds (10 deaths). The authors point out that many breeds, however, are involved in the problem.

It is also important to recognize that most of the over 50 million dogs in this country never bite or kill anyone. However, the problems caused by the highly visible minority of animals and their OWNERS have far-reaching consequences.

There are many reasons why dogs suddenly become vicious; owner cruelty, dangerous training methods, and insensitive handlers to mention a few. But the reason why dogs attack us is not the focus of this article, how to protect ourselves from these attacks is.

We will not formally address the training and type of dogs' people should or shouldn't adopt, but will focus on the real threat of a dog attack, what you should know and how you need to respond. Just like a fire plan, have a plan that let's you and your family survive a dog attack; and rehearse it.

Dangerous dogs
The stories of adults and children viciously being mauled have prompted much discussion concerning the liability of dog owners. That dog you got to protect you from burglars is more likely to sink its teeth into your children than into the bad guys. One of the most disturbing aspects of some of the attacks is what seems to be an apathetic attitude by the owners. Some owners have even trained their dogs to be viscous but failed to take steps to protect the innocent public.

The danger of big, powerful and often aggressive dogs has been underscored by the fatal mauling of a San Francisco woman in the doorway of her apartment by a neighboring couple's two 120-pound Presa Canarios. On March 19th 2001, one of the dog's owners was convicted of murder, the other of involuntary manslaughter. The day before, a Wisconsin couple was charged with homicide because their six Rottweilers had killed a 10-year-old girl who was playing in their home with their daughter.

Young children are often the most vulnerable to these attacks. Children are small people; they are closer to dog size. So the dog often views them as playmates. In dog society there is a distinct rank order, and dogs sometime see a young child as someone they can push around or perhaps discipline by biting or nipping.

Many police departments around the nation are starting to lay the responsibility of dog attacks on their owners, and insurance companies are increasingly refusing to insure homes where dangerous dogs are kept; and without insurance, it is almost impossible to get or keep a mortgage.

Some insurance companies are starting to blacklist certain types of dogs. On the basis of both reputation and dog-attack statistics from the centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the most dangerous dogs listed include Rottweilers, Dobermans, pit bulls, Presa Canarios, chows, Akitas, huskies and wolf hybrids. We're not advocating avoiding getting a dog in one of these categories, but we are saying that if you come across one of these dogs in the open be extra careful, you are at some risk.

Why dogs behave that way
Any breed of dog has the potential to bite, but some breeds tend to be more aggressive than others. Dogs like people have a wide range of behavioral patterns and personalities. Some breeds of dogs have been bred specifically for the aggressive trait. These dogs are often used for the purposes of guarding, protecting and herding, and as such are more prone to bite,"

Sometimes, veterinarians say, the most troublesome dogs are those that might be least suspected. Unlikely though it may seem, tiny dogs sometimes kill. Last year, for example, a Pomeranian, one of the smallest breeds, jumped onto a bed and killed an infant in a home near Los Angeles.

There are a number of reasons why dogs bite. Dogs may bite due to fear, to protect their territory, or to establish power or dominance over the person being bitten. Some dog owners mistakenly teach their dogs that biting is an acceptable form of play behavior. Because dog bites occur for many reasons, many components of responsible dog ownership - including proper socialization, supervision, humane training, sterilization, and safe confinement - are necessary to prevent dogs from biting.

Dogs also have their own sense of "personal space," They are territorial. No matter what the circumstances, there is always a chance that a normally docile and gentle pet will be aggressive to a human. Normally dominant or aggressive-prone dogs are far more volatile, having personal spaces that extend for many feet beyond their physical position. Anyone or anything that penetrates this area can be subject to immediate attack.

Some important things to know

- Sadly, every year a number of newborn infants die when they are bitten by dogs that see them as prey, teach your children the essential rules about avoiding strange dogs. Also, teach them not to tease, chase or throw things at dogs behind fences or gates.

- A real danger with dog attacks is when they start biting your legs, at some point you may lose enough blood and go into shock, where you may well drop to the ground and a dog can finish you off there. Always place something between you and the dog's teeth, plan an escape.

- Dogs are generally motivated by motion…running dogs, children on bicycles, a squirrel etc. They are also motivated by noise, and are more likely to bite when a person yells or screams.

- Always keep in mind that a dog that doesn't know you may see you as an intruder or as a threat.

- Avoid going onto private property unless specifically invited.

- Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog. Make certain that any dog entering the household receives proper training and socialization.

- If you are bitten or attacked by a dog, take steps to minimize the damages. As soon as possible, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water and then call your regular doctor for additional information on how to treat your wounds. If your wounds are serious enough, go directly to your local emergency room.

- As soon as your injuries have been attended to, report the attack to your local animal control agency or police department.

Dog Myths: True or False
While doing research for this article I came across a wide variety of solutions regarding handling dog attacks. Some work, but many of them are extremely dangerous, and under the wrong circumstances, can get you killed. There are so many myths prorogated by well meaning animal trainers, veterinarians and dog owners but believing them can get you into serious trouble. Test yourself in this true or false section (answers are below the last question.)

True or False
1) The first, and most important rule for preventing dog attacks is: NEVER go near a strange dog.

2) If you are in a situation where a stray dog comes up to you, stand very still with your hands to your side and feet together, be a tree.

3) You are safe if a dog that is chained, leashed or tied up securely, you can approach a dog under these conditions.

4) If a dog is close by and starts smelling you, stay calm, turn your hand inward and present your outside wrist while hiding your fingers.

5) If a dog approaches you run as fast as you can to a safe place

6) If a dog attacks you and you slip to the ground, stay on your side, tucking your chin and knees to your chest and placing a fist over each ear, be a rock.

7) Avoid eye contact with a dog because the dog may perceive this as a challenge. Stare straight ahead if you encounter a dog running loose.

8) Do not disturb a dog while they're sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy, or caring for their young.

9) Do not try to outdistance the dog on a bicycle. Stop, dismount and stand with the bicycle between you and the dog. Without something to chase, the dog may lose interest.

10) When a dog begins to back away, slowly retreat also, keeping the dog in view without paying much attention to it. If the dog begins to come back, stop and wait until it moves off again.

11) Do not run when confronted with a threatening dog. Running only stimulates the dog to increase its aggression.

12) Do not be embarrassed to ask a dog owner to restrain the dog until it clearly recognizes you as a friend.

13) If approached by a dog do not make any noise, be as quiet as possible.

1) TRUE: Always stay away from stray or unfamiliar animals; this includes animals that seem secured or tied, some dogs can easily snap their leash or jump over a high fence.

2) FALSE: This is an old wives tale. Although this may work for small dogs you will be in for a big surprise if an attack-trained dog doesn't believe you're a tree and bites you in the ass anyway.

3) FALSE: Dogs they are territorial, their instinct is to defend their property or area. Actually many people find themselves in trouble when they approach a secured dog and try to pet it.

4) TRUE: When a dog smells your hands, retract your fingers and curl your wrist inwards. This small step can save you from losing your fingers.

5) FALSE: Almost any dog can outrun a human so it doesn't make sense to run right away. Stay still long enough to plan your escape, once you know where you are going, go fast, jump on a car, climb a fence or tree, and if you can, place something in between you and the dogs teeth.

6) FALSE: This is even more ridiculous than "be like a tree." If a dog perceives you to be in his territory he may bite you anyway, and on the ground you are dog's meat. Most human deaths by dog attacks are attributed to the person being on the ground. If you can, get up fast and put something between you and the dogs teeth; your belt, a jacket, a bicycle, a book, anything. Then plan to escape to a place where you can put a barrier between you and the dog.

7) TRUE: eye contact is threatening to a dog. You are invading his territory. Keep him in sight with your peripheral vision and look for a barrier between you and the dog.

8) TRUE: Unless you're the owner, a sure way to get bitten by a dog is to disturb him when he is sleeping, eating or caring for their young.

9) Depends: If you are moving quickly get yourself out of there, BUT in case you know you can't pick up enough momentum, Stop, dismount and stand with the bicycle between you and the dog. From this point plan your escape.

10) TRUE: In this case the dog is just protecting his territory. Back off slowly; show him you're no threat.

11) DEPENDS: Run as fast as you can to a secure place, BUT, if you don't have the distance, stop immediately, plan an escape…if the dogs starts charging you, go to a secure place.

12) TRUE: Always ask the owner to restrain his dog. The dog may think he's protecting the owner from you.

13) TRUE: If the dog doesn't see you as a threat he may just leave you alone.

James Sotomayor is a martial artist and professional dog trainer, you can contact him through his website: