What to Do If a Dog Charges You

Learn how to handle a charging dog and keep yourself safe.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #95

How Can You Tell Whether a Dog Will Attack You?

But can you assess the threat in the moment? That’s hard to say. Because serious dog attacks are so rare, few people have ever witnessed one. Because charging dogs are scary, and fear tends to get in the way of calm observation, those few eyewitness accounts are nothing I’d hang my hat on. So my suggestions derive from my experience, common sense, and the observations and experience of other knowledgeable dog people.

Most dogs that attack people are owned, not stray, so your best protection may be knowledge of the dogs in your neighborhood.

Which dogs spend a lot of time out in the yard, charging the fence with a snarl when anyone passes? (2) Steer clear if you can. That goes double for a physical fence that’s too low or in bad shape and for any so-called invisible fence – a shock fence. (3) In general, I would worry more about a silent dog moving fast and heading straight for me than I would about a dog who ran in my general direction while barking his fool head off. Big dogs can generally do more damage than small dogs, and do it faster. And, finally, the more dogs, the scarier. Obvious, right?

Don’t Run Away from a Charging Dog

Running as a tactic has enormous appeal, maybe especially if you’re being rushed by more than one dog. But unless you’re two steps from safety, running may make the situation worse. Domestic dogs don’t generally seem to form stable packs, but they do gang up on prey, and to act like prey by running may turn a group chase into an outright attack. Plus, a mid-size, healthy dog has a faster top speed than you, even if your name is Usain Bolt.(4) Whether you’re being charged by one dog or three, this isn’t the time for your bunny rabbit imitation. Don’t yelp, flail your arms, or run.

What to Do If You’re Charged by a Dog

Nikki’s tactic -- stand tall, use a big voice, and order the dog to go away or sit -- is a common one. How often does it work? Who knows? Most dogs apparently break off the charge, but remember that serious attacks are rare anyway -- maybe those dogs didn’t have mayhem in mind in the first place and are content to have you leave the scene. If you have the presence of mind to greet the dog in a soft and friendly voice, that’s worth a try. As a species, dogs read human signals well, so a nonaggressive response from you may defuse a volatile situation.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).