Things to teach kids: How to stay safe from an aggressive dog


I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs, and I probably always will. However, just enjoying the company of furry friends isn’t enough. It’s important to understand that while dogs can be beloved companions, even members of the family– they can hurt you. (If you live in an area where stray dogs are common, or if you have young children, this information will be especially useful!)

Here are some ways to tell if a dog is dangerous:

If you’re a dog lover like me, you may be tempted to pet every pup in the park. As long as you follow these steps, you should be fine.

  1. Check that the dog is leashed. Leashed dogs can be controlled by their owner, who knows the dog best and (hopefully) can tell if the dog is about to get aggressive.
  2. Always ask first! Some leashed dogs look friendly, but are teething, or get protective of their owners around strangers. Make sure you have a confirmed YES from the dog’s owner before you pet his/her pup.
  3. Silence ISN’T golden. While an aggressive, guttural bark isn’t good, when a dog gets still and silent he could be warning you to stay away.
  4. Watch for the “whale eye.” When a dog tilts his head and shows the whites of his eyes, he may be telling you to back off. It’s a distinctive look. (Note: This can vary by breed.)

    Photo: Pixabay, USAF, Public Domain

When the worse comes to worst and a dog is determined to attack you, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.

  1. Stand your ground. Running activates a dog’s hunting instinct, and will cause an unchained dog to chase you.
  2. Show your size. Even a Great Dane is rarely as large as a fully grown adult. (If you’re not a large adult, pretend you are!)  Without shouting or waving at the dog, stay self-assured and stand tall. If you’re carrying anything, hold it in front of you to make yourself appear larger. Ideally, the dog will see that you’re not afraid nor a threat, and will disengage.
  3. Protect your vitals. If the dog attacks, use what you’re wearing or carrying (maybe a sweater or purse) to keep the dog’s mouth occupied. Distract him from going after your body by offering your clothes or accessories. If there’s nothing left and the dog is still attacking, it’s safer to be bit on the forearm or shin (where there are no major arteries.)
  4. Ball your hands into fists, as fingers are easy targets. If a dog grabs you, try not to pull away because this might tear your skin. Instead, try to grab the dog’s hind legs and throw him onto the ground. He’ll have to release his jaw to get back on his feet.

Kids and dogs:

Children shouldn’t grow up fearing dogs but if threatened or attacked, they should know what to do, writes veterinarian and author Marty Becker. Kids should never try to engage with dogs running loose, even if they appear friendly. If approached by a strange dog, children should “be a tree,” Becker advises, standing straight with feet together, fists against their neck and elbows against their chest, avoiding direct eye contact with the animal. Kids may want to flee but shouldn’t, since running might spark the dog’s prey-chasing instinct. In nearly all cases, the “be a tree” response will cause menacing dogs to walk away. But if a child is knocked down, “be a tree” changes to “act like a log,” Becker says, “face down, legs together, curled into a ball with fists covering the back of the neck and forearms over the ears.” The child should stay in that position until help comes or the dog leaves.

Again– I LOVE dogs. We here at Self-Reliance Central want you not to fear them, but understand how to defend yourself.