You're taking a stroll in a park and an unfamiliar dog crosses your path. The dog begins barking and growling, and then, suddenly, it leaps and attacks you. Your response during that split second can be the difference between walking away unharmed or being mauled by the dog. Perhaps even be the difference between life and death.
Why Dogs Attack
Dogs are very protective of their territory. A dog will attack if you unknowingly trespass into its perceived territory and the dog considers you a potential danger.
A number of illnesses can lead to increased aggression in dogs. Thyroid disease, brain tumor, or rabies are just a few of the illnesses that could cause dog aggression.
Often, aggression is a means to establish dominance in the canine world. Dogs who display such behavior feel that they are in charge and growling, snapping, and biting are ways to display their dominance if they feel challenged. If your dog is showing signs of aggression in order to establish its dominance, then it may very well bite, snap, or growl when you try to move it off the furniture, grab its collar, restrain it, or give it a leash correction.
Fear is another major reason for dog aggression. Usually dogs display aggression when they sense they are in danger and, in that case, aggression comes naturally to them as a means of defending themselves. This may happen if the dog is cornered with no means of escape or he may think that you raised your hand to hit him not pet him. A frightened dog will bite if he feels there is no means of escape there is impending harm and biting is the only way to protect himself.
This type of aggression arises when the dog becomes possessive of a toy, a bed, food, or any other object. A dog exhibiting possession aggression will growl if he sees anyone approaching his food bowl or while he is chewing his toy. These dogs may bite strangers as they enter your home. However, the degree of aggression differs from dog to dog and between objects. A dog may not care if you pet him and sit next to him while he is chewing a rubber toy but may growl or snap when you do the same thing while he's playing with a toy he is possessive about.
Aggression caused due to frustration is often referred to as "barrier frustration" or "redirected frustration". Such aggression arises when the dog is unable to get to something and he gets frustrated. This frustration comes out in the form of aggression. As his frustration grows, so will his growling, barking, or biting. This is often seen in dogs that spend their day tied to a leash or a behind a chained link fence.
How to Handle a Dog Attack
Remember that most dogs are in subjugation to humans. A strong, verbal command to "Lie Down", "Go Home", or "Stop" may pause his attack momentarily, giving you time to back away.
Dogs have short attention spans. Often, after some barking, dogs lose interest and go away.
Not much that you can find in your pocket or pick up is likely to be very effective against a big dog. However, if you are lucky enough to find a thick branch or a nice fist-sized rock, you may be able to get a dog to stop attacking with a strong enough hit to the head.
Standing sideways to the dog and keeping the dog in your peripheral vision instead of making direct eye contact will signal to the dog that you are not a threat.
Loud sounds may make a dog think you are a threat and, thus, it may attack you.
Don't panic and try to maintain your composure and think clearly. Look for a way out in any direction, including up if you can climb a tree or up a ladder. If there are no obvious means of escape, then prepare to fight back or defend yourself. Lastly, don't forget you have a voice. Scream for help so that anyone who's within earshot can assist you.
Remember that one of the most sensitive spots on a dog is its eyes. A quick jab in its eye will seriously disorientate a dog, giving you more time to escape or defend yourself.
If bitten, the last thing you want to do is struggle or pull away as this can cause open, torn wounds. If you stay still and protect your delicate body parts (e.g. your ears, face, and neck) the dog will only be able to inflict puncture wounds on areas of your body that have thicker skin.