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

If you have a pocket full of treats, try throwing them on the ground in front of the dog to distract and occupy him. Some people advise snapping open an umbrella in the dog’s face. I don’t know how practical this is. (A), I never have an umbrella unless it’s raining, in which case the umbrella is already open, and (B), a charging dog moves faster than my fumbling fingers. Your mileage may vary, I guess.

Keep Calm as You Walk Away

In removing yourself from the situation, take soft, relaxed breaths: Not only do you need oxygen, but also held breath tenses and freezes your muscles. Relaxed movements have better odds of pointing toward deescalation than tense, jerky movements do. Keep your body sideways to the dog. Much or most aggression is fear-based, and some fearful dogs will lunge or bite from behind when they wouldn’t quite dare to do so head-on. Move away calmly – remember not to run – and eventually you should see the dog lose interest. He may shake his body as if shaking off water and leave the spot where the confrontation took place.

What to Do If the Dog Bites You

If the dog does grab and bite you, do your best to remain calm. If he’s got hold of a limb, don’t pull away or shake – that can turn punctures into tears and also make the dog hang on harder. I know this is hard to believe, but it is possible to think clearly enough even in such a dangerous situation! Protect your face and belly as much as you can and try to remain upright.

How to Protect Your Dog

Suppose that like Nikki you have your own dog with you. Nikki’s move of putting Kimi behind her was a good one, but many dogs would confront a charging dog. The most likely result is a tussle with not much damage done. If the dogs are very different in size, the risk of harm goes up. Ditto, of course, if either dog has a history of serious aggression toward other dogs. Leashes may escalate tension and make the fight worse, but on the other hand an unleashed dog who panics may wind up miles away or run into the road and be struck by a car. For how best to break up a dog fight, check out my article on the subject.


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).