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My Pet World: What to do when a dog approaches (or bites) you?

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

Several weeks ago, I was taking a walk when a dog ran quite a distance from its backyard and bit me twice on the back of my right thigh and knee. I was terrified and shocked. I turned my back to the dog (like you are supposed to do when a dog jumps on you), crossed my hands on my chest, started hollering “no” and “help,” but did not kick at him for fear he would grab my leg and drag me down. Not quite sure why I had the presence of mind to do all these things. The dog retreated back to his yard while barking viciously at me. I returned home a different way, limping. The bites had not broken my skin, but I was sore and badly bruised.

I reported the incident. Not sure how the sheriff handled it. How should someone react to a dog when this happens? It was such a scary and shocking moment. There is little time to process and react to protect yourself.

–Joyce, Cook County, Illinois

Dear Joyce,

It can be very frightening to be bitten by a dog and difficult to control your reactions to avoid escalation. It sounds like your instincts served you well and you got the dog to back down. Turning away from the dog and crossing your arms across your chest not only protected your face and torso, it also helped you maintain some balance if the dog had jumped on you.

When I teach children to be safe around strange dogs, I tell them to stand like a tree (freeze in place) and cross their arms over their chest for those very reasons. I tell them to never stare at the dog, which can feel like a threat to a dog, or speak to the dog, because a fearful voice can agitate the dog further. Silence and stillness tend to result in a dog’s quicker retreat. It sounds like you overpowered the dog with your voice and got him to retreat. If you hear your voice sounding scared though, go silent quickly.

If the dog knocks them down, I tell the kids to stay on the ground and be like a rock, tucking their head, arms and legs under them. They need to stay there until the dog leaves, or an adult comes by to help. Adults can apply these techniques as well. As an adult, you also can carry pepper spray to ward off an attacking dog.

Always report these encounters to authorities for the safety of the neighborhood. These dog owners need to be educated by the police or an animal control officer on how to keep their pet restrained. A male dog running loose and not fixed is more likely to be territorial and go after anyone that seems too close to his property.


Dear Cathy,

You gave some advice recently about a dog who had trouble with loud noises. I have had a similar issue with my 16-month-old Golden Retriever. She is frightened of certain situations. People have suggested a compression vest or shirt. I was just wondering your thoughts on using one.

–J. Stein, Holtsville, New York

Dear J,

A compression vest or shirt, like Thundershirts® or Anxiety Wraps®, can work well in reducing a dog’s anxiety, so use them. But, please know it won’t change her fears unless you combine the vests with counter conditioning. I don’t know what she is afraid of, so I’ll provide an example of how this works. If she is afraid of stairs, make sure she is wearing her compression vest or shirt, and then take her by leash to some stairs. Do not try to get her to walk up or down the stairs. Simply ask her to sit next to the stairs. If she looks at the stairs, click (if she is clicker trained) or give a reward word, like bingo, that she knows when she hears it means she has done something right and will get a treat. Repeat this several times a day.

A few days later, toss a treat down one step (like from the top of a porch stoop) to see if she will forget about the stairs and go for the treat. If she does, she is making progress. Reward her for every glance or movement in the right direction. It will take time, but eventually, with conditioning, she will go up and down the stairs on her own.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)




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