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Defending Yourself Against Dog Attacks: Man Bites Dogs

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a dog attacks one in 72 Americans annually. Out of the 4.5 million bites, 900,000 of them become infected. Not all of those bites are fatal or even require hospitalization, but others result in loss of senses, disfigured faces, and amputated limbs. 

Dog attacks occur all over the world. In Thailand and Cambodia, I’ve locked eyes with the vicious, feral dogs lurking in the alleys. In Haiti, I met what locals called “the Haiti dogs,” that have killed and even eaten humans at night. I don’t know the statistics for bites in those countries, but they can’t be any better than ours. Given the grave damage and high frequency of these incidents, it would behoove us train for these encounters. Some beasts want to bite you. Today, let’s learn how to bite back.

Warning! The concepts shown here are for illustrative purposes only. Seek professional training from a reputable instructor before attempting any techniques discussed or shown in this story.

NOTE: Dogs are joyful playmates and loyal companions, and anyone who maliciously abuses one is breaking the law. I personally applaud laws like the one in Tennessee that publicly list animal cruelty convicts the same way as sex offenders. But not all dogs are our friends, and in all but six states, dogs that attack humans are subject to euthanization. In most of those states, it’s mandatory. So, if you’re forced to kill a violent canine in self-defense, you aren’t committing a crime; you’re probably expediting the inevitable. These techniques are meant for survival purposes only.

dog attacks canine defense techniques

Grabbing a dog’s front legs and pulling them apart like a wishbone can tear ligaments and cause damage that may halt an attack.

Canine Defensive Techniques

Decoy Arm: A charging canine is going to bite a part of you, no matter what. Presenting your nondominant arm (especially if it’s wrapped in a jacket) is the best way to keep that bite away from your face, neck, or groin. Once he’s locked on, you have a small but valuable window of time to execute another technique.

The Wishbone: Canine legs don’t have true rotator cuffs, and their scapulas don’t connect to their bodies as ours do. If the creature has short to medium length legs (and if you can safely reach them), you can yank them apart horizontally, as you’d snap a wishbone. Doing so will tear ligaments and possibly even the brachial plexus, halting the attack and preventing the beast from pursuing you as you make your escape.

Wrap and Roll: If you’ve been knocked to the ground and can wrap your legs around the canine, roll with him until you are either on top (where you can pin his head with your knee, strike, use the wishbone attack, etc.) or behind him (where you can choke him out). Warning: This is a risky technique, as you could accidentally bring the attacker’s fangs to your neck.

Neckbreaker (Hyperextension): Canine necks can turn left and right much farther than humans, so forget about twisting their head laterally. More importantly, during a savage attack, it’s almost impossible to grab and manipulate that murderous ball of fangs and fur without getting your face and/or fingers chewed off. Driving a canine’s neck backward, however, can stop the attack cold. With your decoy arm in the dog’s mouth, wrap your other arm around his neck, below the skull. With one explosive snap, drive the decoy arm forward as you yank the other arm back. You’ll severely damage the spine where the first vertebrae connects to the skull. Death or grave injury will occur, immediately halting the assault, allowing you to escape and seek immediate medical attention.

dog attacks neckbreaker

Sacrifice one arm to the mouth, get the other around the back and pull and push to hyperextend the animal’s spine, hopefully causing it grave injury.

Before the Attack

Canines are territorial creatures, so always be aware of your surroundings. In many instances, “beware of dog” signs have been posted, but missed by people before being bitten. Remember that fences are there for good reason. As a kid, my friends and I once ventured over a junkyard fence to find a shortcut. Within seconds, a nappy Dalmatian was tearing my shoes off as I clamored back over the rusty wire. 

The Approach

If you hear barking, snarling, or growling, stop moving immediately and look around. The canine may be simply warning you not to go any further into his territory. If that’s the case, respect his turf and slowly back away. But if he continues to approach, calm down and remember these instructions.

dog attacks training

Accept the inevitable and present your nondominant arm as a decoy to an attacking canine and attempt to use your good arm to gain control of the fight.

Breathing: No matter how tough you are, a snarling pit bull can quicken your pulse, considerably. Regulate that by breathing in for 4 seconds, holding it for 4 seconds and exhaling for 4, as well. This method is called “combat tactical breathing,” and it’s one of the only ways to lower both your heart rate and cortisol levels. Using this method, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can counteract muscle tremors and adrenaline blackout. As for sound, some experts say to be quiet while others say to shout commands to stay back. It depends on the animal of course, but personally, I’d just zip it and focus on my breathing.

Stance: Running will only excite the animal’s prey drive, so stand still. Turn sideways, nondominant foot forward, with your dominant foot behind, toes facing away to create a bracing structure, should the animal charge you. Keep your hands lowered. In addition to appearing nonthreatening, the area from your waist down is where the attack will be coming from, so that’s where your defenses should be focused. If you have a jacket, remove it slowly, and wrap it around your nondominant arm. Finally, remember that you’re a human so think like one. If there’s a car nearby, get into it. If the doors are locked, get on top of it. As I mentioned earlier, you can always climb a fence.

Appearance: If you’re wearing sunglasses, ditch ’em. As the famed dog trainer Ryan O’Meara once observed, shades remind canines of large, aggressive eyes glaring straight through them. Also, don’t smile, as showing your teeth will be perceived as a threat or challenge. Avoid eye contact, but watch those front paws, because they’ll be the first things to move, if he charges.

Weapons: Don’t wait to deploy a weapon later on. Do it now. Having tested this with my dog Scully, pulling out a folding knife and opening it while a Malinois is yanking you around by your arm is more than just a little challenging. If you don’t have a weapon on you when a dog attacks, scan for weapons of opportunity, i.e. sticks, bricks, etc. 

The Attack (Standing):

You tried backing away, but the beast is still coming. When the animal charges, don’t try and kick it as it hurtles toward you through the air. That’s just stupid. You’d have a better chance kicking an incoming missile. Instead, anchor those feet and offer your nondominant arm. You’ll sustain a painful bite but hey, it won’t be in the face, throat, or groin. Once the canine latches on, you can strike it with your other arm or break its neck. Remember that you are a biped, so stay bipedal. Your enemy is a quadruped, so keep him from being quadrupedal. Once the dog has your arm, don’t let him get his front paws back to the ground. Once he gets four on the floor, you’re in for the ride of your life. So stay upright. Take the bite!

The Attack (Supine)

Perhaps you never saw the dog attack tackle coming. Maybe you did, but you underestimated the power of it. Whatever the reason, you’re on your back and that means you’ve gone to DEFCON 5, my friend. Being on the ground is the worst position to be in, because you’re no longer bipedal. You can’t run. Your eyes, nose, and throat are literally inches from the jaws of death. You’re in Cujo’s world, and you’ve got to get out! 

dog attacks approach

The wrap and roll is a risky technique But if you’re already on the ground with the dog it’s a path to a dominant position.

Use the decoy arm to protect your vitals. If you can’t use the decoy technique, wrap and roll until you’re on top or behind the attacker. From there, you’re much safer and have a lot more options. If there’s no way to get off of your back, you’ll have to get scrappy. One soldier I met had to bite the dog back to make him retreat. While that wouldn’t be my first defensive choice, it wouldn’t be my last, either. Also, you can try to gouge the dog’s eyes with your thumbs or grab and twist their genitals (this also works on
human attackers). 

In closing, remember that if any animal, including a dog attacks you, it’s only using pure instinct. You have the added benefits of higher intelligence, tools, and training. You’re at the top of the food chain for a reason. So stay there!

dog attacks german Shepard

Like any pissed-off canine, rabid dogs are four-legged missiles that are best to avoid and evade rather than fight. Keep your head on a swivel when moving through unfamiliar areas.

Let’s Recap

You: Control your breathing. Don’t run. Deploy weapon and wrap your arm with a jacket, if available. Stay on your feet.

Them: The canine’s weapons are speed and teeth. If they attack, they’ll try to tackle you to the ground. Their vulnerable targets are the legs, neck, eyes, and genitals.

Environment: Avoid slippery areas. Look around for weapons of opportunity. Hide in a car, if one is accessible. Climb to higher ground. 

About the Author

Molotov Mitchell is a black belt in Krav Maga, the head of Atlas Krav Maga, and a concealed carry handgun instructor through the North Carolina Department of Justice. Trained and certified by the Wingate Institute in Israel, he’s trained groups around the world and invented weapons like the Benthic Knife and the patent-pending Hex Tool. When he’s not standup paddleboarding with his daughter, Ivy, he serves on the Wake County Fitness Council in North Carolina. His favorite color is blue.

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12 responses to “Defending Yourself Against Dog Attacks: Man Bites Dogs”

  1. Shawn Franklin says:

    ‘a dog attacks one in 72 Americans annually. ‘ Kill that dog now!!

  2. Kev says:

    But what do you do when it’s latched on your face?

  3. Gerald Hanner says:

    DEFCON 1 is the highest level of readiness; DEFCON 5 is the lowest.

  4. Brad Mueller says:

    If all else fails, grab their tongue and pull. Hey. You’re hand is in there anyway. No predator will bite it’s own tongue.

  5. J Led says:

    With gators and crocs you’re supposed to grab a good stick, wait until they open wide and jam it in their mouth vertically. I’ve never seen this method not work.

  6. Stephen Kluz says:

    Former Military Dog Handler here.
    It all depends…..on so many different variables that you would have to train as a dog handler to explore all the possibilities. For a German Shepherd or a Mal sized dog I totally agree with feeding the dominant arm from the wrist to elbow and make sure he holds on there while you react and you have to react within a second give or take a half a second. I’d prefer trying to make a grab for the windpipe with your free hand and squeezing for as long as it takes for the dog to lose consciousness. What you decide to do with the unconscious dog at that point is up to you. Continue to squeeze and finish him or get out of there fast because if he’s not dead he will recover within seconds and he’ll be pissed. Catching him on your arm will hurt because it hurt me during training and we used attack sleeves hidden inside the sleeve of a field jacket. The pressure from catching 3-4 dogs often paralyzed my arm for an hour or so. It was interesting work.

  7. StLPro2A says:

    In the US, unless I’m in the shower, I have a 9mm readily available. How many 9mm Defensive Loads does it take to stop a dog????? Drop to one knee to take him on straight without lead factor….like we train for leopard charge in Africa…..PHs warn of 1,000 stitches per second penalty for failure. Don’t have long…..

  8. Oyaji says:

    My Dad went against a neighbor’s German Shepherd when it attacked my youngest sister in our front yard. He was a large and incredibly strong man who let that crazy dog bite his ‘weak’ arm and then hypertensioned (folded) the dog backwards, breaking its neck/back. Running on pure rage, he flung the dead dog aside, went after the neighbor and beat him until he couldn’t walk. No charges and the neighbors soon moved, but Dad was sore for about a week.

  9. Dan says:

    Interesting! Waved at a dog owner walking his dog as we passed on a side walk. Dog thought I was going to strike his master (I guess). Dog seized my waving arm unexpectedly. I have a concealed carry license but was unarmed. I don’t like dogs. Every since a small child, if dogs aren’t biting me I’m stepping in their sh*t. I like your techniques–no love lost here!

  10. Paul says:

    Long time ago Master Chu (a LONG TIME AGO) said to us in class… “little dogs bark, big dogs growl”. Know the difference.

    I’ve seen many a dog bark like mad yet their tails were wagging. That is a hint. They are not enraged but giving their master a heads up you are there. It is when they growl and you see the hair on the back of their neck rise… watch out! Same goes for humans.

    • joe says:

      Apropos the bark/growl thing, REALLY dangerous dogs (like pits) often don’t utter a sound; they just pounce and bite. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Why warn your prey when you can just grab it? If the article author reads these comments, I have a question; is it easier to hit a dog with a blunt object if you come at it below their jaw? Since dogs are almost always looking upward or forward, I wondered if this would be a good way to blindside them. Thanks.

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