BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 13:05 GMT, Wednesday, 3 January 2007

How do you fend off a dangerous dog?

The Magazine answers...


A five-year-old girl in Merseyside has been killed by what police describe as a pit bull terrier type of dog. But what should people do when confronted by what they think is a dangerous dog?

Ellie Lawrenson died of severe head and neck injuries after being mauled at her grandmother's house in St Helens.

The exact circumstances of her death are unclear, but it would appear a small girl like her could do little to defend herself against a killer dog.

However experts say if an individual believes a dog could be intent on attacking them, there are ways to help to defuse the situation.

No sudden movements
Put hands in pockets
Avoid eye contact
Back away but do not run away
Children can accidentally provoke a dog
Never try to break up two fighting dogs

"Standing still and put your hands in pockets because they like to get hold of something," says Madeleine Forsyth, a veterinary surgeon and non-practising barrister based in York. "A waving arm is an obvious target."

Avoid eye contact because it is confrontational and it is always unwise to turn your back, says Miss Forsyth, so standing sideways and looking slightly away is advisable.

If a dog does bite, do not pull away because that will tear the flesh, she says, but shout for help.

"Hope there is someone with a breaking stick to introduce between the jaws.

"Anything will do that can be slid between the teeth at the side, but given the strength of the jaw and the leverage, it would have to be a very powerful bit of stick or it will just break."

No warning

Dog attacks are very rare, says Miss Forsyth. What is called "dominant" aggressive behaviour like barking is normal and does not make a dog likely to attack unless provoked.

More dangerous is "predatory" aggression which is unusual but means the dog can strike without any warning at all. And if a target like a person has been attacked once, the dog will seek out human targets again.

BBC graphic
A feature to the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

Never run because the dog will always overtake you, says Stephen Lomax, a veterinary surgeon and barrister from Shropshire.

"Move away slowly and don't make any sudden movements. And don't approach the dog.

"But the most important advice is never ever try to separate dogs having a fight because of the risk of accidental and serious injury."

A spokesman for the RSPCA said it is important to study a dog's reaction to you.

"If it stiffens up, holds it tail high, snarls and stares at you then be on your guard. If it shows its teeth it may be safest to go no further, but don't turn and run - back away slowly."

And acting in a friendly and confident way will lessen their own fear, he adds.

Below is a selection of your comments.

If you are about to be attacked by a dog, stand very still, face it and point over and away with your right arm and in a commanding and loud voice shout GET HOME. most command dogs and domestic dogs will turn away and go.
Graham, Nottingham

Water is one of the best remedies, when you see a dog attack, if someone can get a bucket of water, that tends to help!
Mike Richards, Thame Oxfordshire

Surely the onus should be on the owner to control the dog. How are we meant to reconcile all these horrible stories of attacks with advice to stand still and look sideways? You can't explain that to a child when a dog of equal size is bounding towards them making loud and threatening noises. My own child was knocked over in to water at Cooden Beach by an out of control Labrador dog. The owner's response? I should look after my children better!
John Gregory, Windsor

My brother was attacked by pit bull few years ago. He punched into dogs nose and kicked him few times in a ribs. Pit bull ran away like a little puppy.
Erik, London

I have always been told that with animals such as bears this is correct do not try and fight back however DO fight back with dogs They can sense fear and will stand down if they think you will attack them back....are you sure this is correct or people could end up getting hurt!
Alexis, oxford

I was told by an American firearms team that, if attacked by a big dog one should push one's hand as far down the throat of the dog as possible and lock the other free (and unbloody) arm around its neck, thereby stopping it moving away. The dog will eventually collapse. When asked the obvious question about its teeth, the American said, 'Whatever it's doing to your forearm, it ain't doing it to your groin.'
Derek Smith, Brighton

Much to the owners upset I'm sure the dogs having chosen to assault me over the years have probably come off worst. Fortunate in cycling to work in winter I wear heavy coats, gloves and hobnail steel toe cap boots. Having slowed to a walking pace on a public right of way an Alsatian and large Labrador still decided I was fair game, one dog got the hobnail boot in the mouth hard and the other backed off from the bicycle club about to lamp it one. The owners response? 'I've told you before, they attack cyclists!' Like that's normal? Educate the owners, I don't blame the dogs.
Adrian Barnard, Didcot

This article provides information I had not seen before, and is most helpful. I am elderly but in good health, and being able to get out and walk regularly and safely is a necessity. Thank you very much.
Ray McDonald, Vacaville, California, USA

Having been confronted by an Alsatian and seconds later a Doberman I was able to stop the dogs in their tracks with an extremely load shout of GET OUT OF IT. This must have startled the dogs and I was able to ride off safely, I just hope I do not have to try it again,
Trevor, Oxfordshire

Yes. Next time I get attacked by a rampant dog, I am going to stand still and put my hands in my pockets. That sounds plausible.
Fi, London

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A family describes the experience of a pit-bull attack

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