Stray dogs—dogs that have been abandoned and are homeless or dogs that are running loose without an owner—are a growing problem nationwide. By some reports, more than 500,000 dogs are lost or abandoned every month across the country. Some are reunited with their owners and others are picked up by animal control authorities, but some become feral and can pose a threat to humans.
Annually, on average, about 800,000 people are injured by dogs seriously enough to require medical attention; 63 percent of dog bites occur within pet owners’ homes and 43 percent of all dog bites involve children bitten by the family dog. Broad estimates indicate that about 10 to 12 percent of dog bites involve strays.
We all know it is the responsibility of dog owners to care for, train, and look after their canine companions, but we also know this does not always happen. So what should we do if we encounter a stray dog while out walking? Our attention to our surroundings and our intellect are our top defenses in avoiding an incident with a stray dog.
Never approach a stray dog. Strays are usually hungry, thirsty, sometimes injured—and almost always frightened. They could also carry disease. There are too many unknown factors with a stray dog; it’s simply not worth the risk. Despite knowledge of or a love for dogs, it is best to steer clear of a stray.
Walk with awareness. Stay aware of your surroundings. Even in familiar surroundings, scan the area, near and far. This level of awareness doesn’t have to take away from the joy of your walk. You may see things you’ve not noticed before. It’s always best to know who and what is around you. Also, for a variety of safety reasons, always bring a mobile phone with you.
Seek a safe haven. If you see a stray dog approaching from a distance, look for a place that’s secure. Step inside a fenced area, enter a place of business, or knock on a neighbor’s door. It’s always better to be safe than risk a potentially dangerous encounter.
Carry food as a distraction. Pepper spray (or some other non-lethal spray) is not an appropriate defense measure, as this doesn’t always work and can exacerbate the situation. Carrying treats or a pocket full of kibble along with you is a much better option. Because strays are almost always hungry, you can use the food to take the dog’s attention off you. Throw the food farther and farther away from you so the dog focuses on the food while you retreat to a place of safety. Kibble works especially well as the dog will forage to find every morsel.
If the above is not possible or a stray approaches you by surprise, follow these guidelines to protect yourself:
- Don’t try to run. Stand still. Hold your arms in front of you, clasp your hands together, and don’t move. Keep your eyes focused downward and watch the stray with your peripheral vision. Don’t stare at the dog. He could interpret this as a threat. Let the dog sniff you if he wants, but do not stick your hand out as this can be interpreted as a threat. When the dog leaves, do not turn your back on the dog. Back away slowly, so you can keep an eye on the dog.
- If you have been knocked down by a dog—don’t try to get up and run. Roll into a ball. Cover your face and head with your arms, keep your legs together, and pull your knees up to your chest. Don’t get up and don’t move until the dog has gone away.
Remember: Never run from a dog. You must use your intellect to overcome your instinctual urge to flee. More than 90 percent of the times dogs exhibit aggressive behavior, it is a reaction based on fear. Your goal is to eliminate a perceived threat or remove an opportunity to attack. If you run, there is a high probability that the dog will chase and attack you. If you stand still, he will most likely sniff you, and go on his way.
After the dog has gone, call the animal control authorities in your area. By doing so, you will give the dog the best chance for survival by getting him off the streets into a safe place and hopefully, reuniting him with his owner or a new one.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com