Dogs and people have formed a bond, closeness and companionship for hundreds of years. With an estimated 13 million dogs in the UK, it is no wonder that the number of dog attacks has increased considerably in recent years. Police records show a 34% increase in dog attacks over the last five years alone.
But why do dogs attack? Are there particular signs we should look out for? And what should we do if a dog attacks us or if another dog attacks our dog? These are some of the questions we will answer in this article.
Why might dogs attack?
Dogs, like many animals, have a natural instinct to hunt prey. When something triggers these instincts, attacks might occur. Many factors can trigger a dog’s behaviour, and it might show levels of aggression because it feels under physical threat or trying to protect its young, territory or food.
Occasionally, a dog may attack its owner or family, seemingly without being provoked. But a dog’s mind works differently from a human’s. What we may perceive as innocent behaviour, a dog might see as a threat. This is particularly true when a stranger approaches a dog’s home or if a dog feels it needs to protect the people it loves.
There could also be a medical explanation for why a dog might attack a person. Dogs, like humans, feel emotions intensely and react on a more instinctual level. For example, if a dog has an injury or mental disturbance, it could react aggressively out of character.
What signs should you look out for that a dog may attack?
All dogs vary depending on their breed, training and how they have been nurtured, but most will give signs that they are about to attack. This may include more obvious signs such as snarling, barking, growling and showing their teeth, to its overall body language, including lunging forward and staying low to the ground. Other signs that a dog is feeling threatened or aggressive might include the following:
- Its hair standing on end (this is a dog’s way of trying to appear bigger so it is seen as more of a threat)
- Showing the whites of its eyes
- Backing away but keeping its eyes on you
- Yawning more regularly
- Moving closer to the ground (trying to hide from the potential threat)
- Keeping its head level with its body.
- Being motionless and rigid.
The dog’s owners will be best placed to recognise changes in their pet’s demeanour and behaviour. When this happens, a responsible owner should recognise that this could be a red flag. It could be that the dog is unwell and unable to communicate that, or that a change in the household feels like a threat.
The owner should take some time to assess recent changes and discuss concerns with their vet, hoping that the progression of uncharacteristic behaviours can be better managed.
In the vast majority of dog attacks, the dog will change its behaviour or appearance. This will allow you to recognise that it is uncomfortable and has an increased risk of it attacking – this would usually be apparent, even if you didn’t know the dog.
How do you avoid a dog attack?
It can be argued that the primary way of avoiding dog attacks is the dog owner’s responsibility to properly train the dog and keep it secure.
Dogs have strong senses and can identify fear, so it is extremely important to remain calm if you feel a dog may attack. Likewise, avoiding eye contact with the dog can help to defuse the situation. Dogs interpret eye contact as a sign of aggression, so you should try to remain aware of where the dog is without making direct eye contact.
To minimise the risk of a dog attacking, it is wise to present yourself as non-threatening, so shouting or rapid movements could escalate a dog’s negative reaction. The other benefit of remaining calm in the face of a potential attack is that the dog won’t expect this reaction, slowing their approach and decision-making as they try to understand why you don’t seem scared or panicked.
Once the initial height of anxiety seems to have calmed, try to assertively command your space and appear as big as possible. Again, don’t do this in a threatening way, but make decisive, bold movements and make use of any items nearby to help protect yourself or make you seem larger than you are.
In doing this, you are effectively communicating to the dog that you are in control of your area, but you have no interest in their space. The hope is that the dog will recognise that you are not a threat and will lose interest in pursuing an aggressive approach with you.
If a dog looks as though it is becoming aggressive, remember:
- Do not make loud noises
- Do not make sudden movements
- Do not smile or show your teeth (the dog will see this as you baring your teeth in an aggressive response)
- Do not make direct eye contact
- Stay calm, and don’t run away (try to back away slowly and calmly)
What should I do if another dog attacks my dog?
Dogs attacking other dogs is a relatively regular occurrence. Whilst most don’t end up being serious and are often controlled by owners, this can be a very frightening experience. If your dog is being attacked by another dog, remember the following:
- Try to remain calm. If you panic, either dog will likely notice, which could further aggravate their behaviour.
- Do not try to physically stop the fight – the likelihood is that you will be injured, and the dogs could react more severely to try to get past you and to each other.
- Instead, try to distract the dogs from a safe distance by making loud noises, clapping your hands or banging something. This will hopefully distract the attacking dog and make them lose interest, scare them or buy you enough time to move your dog to safety.
- Try to put a barrier between you and the attacking dog.
- Call your dog by name or their usual calling method. You or the other owner may have success in simply calling at the dog and commanding their attention or asserting your authority.
Although you are likely to be frightened, stressed and in shock following an attack or attempted attack on your dog, there are some further practical things to remember:
- Take the contact details of the other dog’s owner. You may need these for insurance claims, compensation claims, or to report the incident to the police.
- If available, take the contact details of anyone else who witnessed the attack.
- Take photos of the scene and any injuries that you or your dog have sustained.
- Have your vet check your dog over. Even if there are no visible signs of an injury, it is still wise to ask a vet to provide a check-up for reassurance.
Likewise, if your dog attacks another dog, stay calm and try your best to control your dog by calming it and distracting it. Be sure to provide your details to the other dog’s owner and try to treat them kindly. It is likely that you’ll both be unnerved by the experience, but your calm and reassuring manner will help you both recover and respond without escalation.
Owning a dog is a joy and comes with immeasurable pleasure. Your dog is likely to be so much more than a pet, so it’s entirely natural to be protective of it. The important thing to remember is that your dog will try to defend itself, and by physically involving yourself in any attack, you run the risk of either animal becoming more aggressive or defensive.
It is also useful to remember that dogs are not naturally inclined to attack another dog or person unless they feel threatened. Try to remember this mentality when responding to a dog attack – remove the perception of a threat, and the dog will no longer want to attack. By responding in a calm and controlled manner, you will ultimately diffuse the situation much more quickly.
You could be entitled to compensation following a dog attack
Knowing what to do if attacked by a dog can be difficult. But it’s important to remember that if you or a loved one have been the victim of a dog attack, you could be entitled to make a claim for personal injury compensation. As well as receiving compensation for your pain and suffering, you could also recover any financial losses caused by the attack, such as lost income, if you had to take time off work.
To discuss your case with a friendly legal adviser, call free on 0800 678 1410 or use our online claim form to receive a call back. If you have a valid dog bite compensation claim, we will connect you with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can provide you with a no win no fee service.
No win no fee means there are no upfront costs to start your claim, and you only pay a fee if your claim is successful. If, for any reason, your solicitor is unable to win your case, you won’t pay them a penny.