How to survive a dog attack

Don’t run or fight

(Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dogs are known as man's best friend, but in the rare instance they attack, it can turn deadly.

The best bet for anyone, canine owner or not, is to familiarize themselves with tips on what to do if you encounter an aggressive dog. While your first instinct might be to run, that could actually make matters worse.

The guidelines below on how to avoid and survive a dog attack come from a variety of expert sources, including the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Beware of body language

Avoiding aggressive dogs means avoiding an attack. The ASPCA recommends examining a dog's body language to try to determine whether it could bite. Aggressive dogs will try to make themselves look bigger by making their ears stand straight up, puffing out their fur and pointing their tail up. Growling, lunging, barking and baring teeth are other sure signs of aggression. Anxious dogs that could bite out of fear tend to cower, put their tails between their legs, flatten back their ears and yawn or lick their lips. There's also a chance that dogs could show a mixture of fear and aggression. No matter the case, try to stay away if you see a dog exhibit these signs.

Know when not to approach

(Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP Images for The Humane Society of the United States)

A dog could snap without warning if it's approached at an inopportune moment. A dog that is eating, sleeping, chewing on a toy, sick, injured or caring for a puppy should not be approached, the ASPCA says. Unfamiliar dogs should never be approached unless the owner explicitly says the animal is friendly and comfortable with strangers. That includes dogs that are behind a fence or in a car, since animals will often take measures to defend their space.

Stay calm

If you do happen to encounter a dog that's clearly angry or anxious, your best bet is to stay calm and still. Dogs that approach aggressively are often too excited, so if you start displaying too much energy by screaming or flailing your arms, they'll become even more agitated and take that as their cue to attack, according to the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Extended eye contact can be seen as a sign of aggression or dominance, so avert your gaze. Hopefully you can deter the dog before the situation turns violent by throwing food or treats far away from you as a distraction. Running may be tempting, but that will just trigger the dog's chase instinct. Veterinarian Dr. Sophia Lin said turning sideways, remaining still and eventually backing away slowly has helped her avoid attacks on multiple occasions.

If a bite does happen

(Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

If a dog does attack you, it doesn't have to be fatal. Lin said try to place a purse, umbrella or another object between you and the dog to use as a shield. If a bite is inevitable, there are things you can do to minimize the damage. The IAABC recommends keeping your limbs away from the dog's mouth and if it does bite and refuse to let go, then push your limb forward rather than pulling it away so you don't suffer tear injuries. Try to keep the dog from shaking its head if it bites you, but do not grab it by the collar. Celebrity dog trainer Cesar Milan notes that a dog only has one mouth, so if it does latch on to your body -- ideally on a forearm or shin rather than a thigh to limit blood loss -- you can attempt to grab the dog's back legs and lift it off the ground. Do everything you can to protect your face, chest and throat. Also keep your hand in a fist to avoid losing fingers. If you can, give the dog a sweater, shoe or another article of clothing that it can bite instead of your body. This could distract the dog long enough for you to back away or get to higher ground.

Don't make matters worse

It's hard to quell the fight or fight instinct but in this case, you have to. As mentioned before, running will make the dog chase you. Kicking, punching or hitting the animal will just make it angrier, likely escalating the attack. Pepper spray and weapons are often useless, especially when a person isn't skilled in using them. Dog trainer Victoria Stillwell writes curling up in a ball to protect the most vulnerable parts of your body could save your life in the event of a vicious mauling. The dog will eventually lose interest and move on. If someone is nearby, ask them to grab a blanket, jacket or something else that can be thrown on top of the dog's head to block its vision and cause it to disengage. Dr. Brenda Griffin has mentioned that during severe dog fights, hoses or fire extinguishers are aimed at the dogs' mouths could force the animal to release its bite.

After an attack

Angelina Wilkins cries in her hopsital bed as she explains how she was mauled by two pit bulls Friday morning, April 14, 2006, in South Los Angeles. Wilkins, 42, of Los Angeles, was hospitalized in critical but stable condition with bites to her neck, chest and legs.

Once the dog loses interest, get yourself and others away from it. Don’t worry about trying to find the owner or gaining control of the situation, just try to get away. Regardless of the severity of the injuries, seek medical attention and call 911 if needed. Even small animal bites can lead to dangerous or even deadly infections so be sure to follow your doctor’s wound care instructions. The lawyers at Simmons and Fletcher suggest reporting the incident to animal control so an investigation can be conducted and the dog can be located before it hurts anyone else. If possible, get the contact information of any witnesses. This, and documenting the injuries, will be helpful if you decide to pursue legal action.

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