Intuition may say to run or scream in the face of a dog attack, but it’s best not to

By People Staff
May 17, 2010 01:49 PM

Singer Vanessa Carlton’s harrowing run-in with a dog that chased her on a jog, then bit her, prompted us to wonder: What can you do to avoid attacks like this? The timing was, coincidentally, appropriate. This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week, and it isn’t just postal carriers that should be aware; according to the Associated Press, 4.7 million people suffer dog bites every year.

We reached out to Dr. Pamela Reid, animal behaviorist and vice president of the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center, for advice on how to avoid, or what to do in the event of, a dog attack. Here are some of her tips:

Do not disturb. If you’re in the vicinity of a dog you don’t know, and there isn’t an owner around, it’s best not to interact with the animal. Definitely avoid any interactions if the dog is confined in any way – in a car, behind a fence, or tied up. “I have a dog from the shelter, and she looks like she’s hideously aggressive in the car,” Reid tells “Then you open the door and she comes out kissing. She feels vulnerable in the car and needs to be defensive.” The same goes for when a dog is sleeping or chewing on something.

Stand still and be a tree. If you’re moving (like Carlton was) and you see a dog coming toward you, stop. It isn’t intuitive, but that’s what will help the situation. “Dogs are predatory by ancestry,” Reid says. “The dog may be triggered to chase you simply because you are running.”

Pretend you’re invisible. Don’t flail or scream, because that might make a prey animal more likely to attack. Don’t trigger any more aggressive behavior – avoid eye contact and don’t engage. If you’re carrying a backpack or other large object, put it between you and the dog.

Or, be the boss. “With some dogs, it can be helpful to yell at them to go home,” Reid says. “Sound really fierce and tell them to get lost, and some dogs will.”

If you’re the owner of a potentially aggressive dog, get help ASAP. Be a responsible pet owner and consult the services of a certified behaviorist or trainer. “It’s not something that goes away,” Reid says. “It usually gets worse without help. It’s really important to get help as quickly as possible even if you’re not sure.”

For more information on animal behavior and body language, check out the ASPCA’s virutal pet behaviorist.