When Dogs Attack

Podcast - When Dogs Attack

Podcast Episode 33: When Dogs Attack

In this episode, we discuss dog attacks. We review the risks and frequency of dog attacks on people nationwide. Taking precautions to avoid unnecessary risks and several self-defense options with a good chance of working.

Not a day goes by without dogs seriously injuring and, in many cases killing people somewhere in the United States. These stories make the local news where they happen but rarely make the national news. People get mauled by stray dogs or dogs that broke out of yards. Small children get killed by family dogs or neighbor dogs. Some people get partially eaten by dogs. Every day there is another horrific story.

Some Context

These stories horrify anyone who reads or sees them. To me, as professional dog trainer, they have an additional element of sadness. None of these things would have to happen. Of course, some people are just irresponsible dog owners, which can lead to horrific outcomes, but many of these events indicate a deeper problem. Too many people have lost touch with nature.

Many years ago, a former client told me his dog wanted to play with a squirrel when he was chasing it. When I told him it was more likely that the dog would have killed the squirrel if he had caught it, the person was in disbelief. The idea of their dog being a predator who enjoys chasing prey was foreign to him. I was speechless. Of course, I know Golden Retrievers who very well may want to play with squirrels without harming them, but that is not the norm.

I am not writing about this to make anyone afraid of their dog. There is no need for that. But I do want to encourage everyone to understand the nature of dogs and learn to live with them in harmony and peace. Dogs are predators and enjoy predatory activities, regardless of breed. That is why play-based training is so powerful. It gives dogs an outlet for their genetic drives and makes them happy, satisfied, and much more fun to live with.

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Podcast Transcript: When Dogs Attack

Hello, this is Ralf from Happy Dog Training and welcome to another episode of Dog Talk. Today we’re going to talk about dog attacks—dog attacks on other dogs and dog attacks on people. If this topic is not something you want to hear about or if some of the descriptions that will probably be included is not something that you’re comfortable with, this would be an episode to skip, but I will give you a lot of self-defense tips on how to survive a dog attack and how to prepare yourself, and maybe avoid it and protect yourself and your dog in this episode.

So, it’s a little bit more of a sober topic. We’ll have a couple of those coming up where they’re more serious. But this is important and there’s not enough information…it’s not talked about often enough. Let’s put it that way.

Dog Attacks are Becoming More Common All Around the World

So, a couple of things to understand about dogs and what they do. Every day, literally every day, I see a story [about dog attacks] somewhere in the country or somewhere around the world. This happens also, apparently, a lot in the United Kingdom, but also here where dogs attack people. This is not even just about dogs getting in dog fights with other dogs. This is about dogs literally going after people. And every day there is a story of some sort and many of them go far beyond the dog just bit someone because that doesn’t make the news anymore. Most of these stories don’t even make the national news.

But they do make the local news and you find those if you search for them or if you get alerts on dog news and dog stories, as I do. And the things that you see are very disturbing. There are mutilations, people being disfigured, even pet sitters who were being hired, disfigured by dogs. We are seeing dogs, partially eating people. Children being killed, babies being killed, adults being killed by dogs or packs of dogs. This is not a rare occurrence at all.

Dog Attacks Happen Frequently

This is a very common occurrence. It’s, however, more in some parts of the country and not so much in others. Where I live in California…in California it doesn’t appear to happen all that often. While in the Midwestern United States, it seems to be quite frequent. For whatever reason. We can all speculate on that. I don’t know that I have an answer to that. It’s just where the news stories pop up. I’m just judging that based on what I’m reading. But it happens. It happens all the time. It happens almost every day. And there are some very disturbing things. The infant being killed by a dog in the home or by a visiting dog or the family visiting a family with a dog is a very common theme. And also, older people who can’t move as fast being attacked.

Gruesome Attack on an Older Man

There recently was a story where an older couple and the man was, I think 80 years old, just drove somewhere to visit friends or family and got out of the car. Some dogs broke out of the yard across the street and got to him super fast. It was not just one dog. It was multiple. Attacked him, killed him, dragged him around the corner. The woman he was with was in her 70s was also injured but not dragged and killed. He was killed and partially eaten. It was a horrific story. This is not what you wish on anybody.

Precautions and Some Things To Know

These things happen. So, my point is, I’m not trying to scare you and make you feel all horrible. My point is this happens a lot and it is worth thinking about what you would do in a scenario where you, your child or your own pet is attacked by another dog or a couple of dogs.

We’re going to talk about some of those things that you can take as precautions that are legal. They are perfectly legal things to do and that are worth doing and considering in light of that, because it’s better to be prepared and it’s better to think about what you would do ahead of time than being confronted with something you’ve never even thought through.

So better be prepared for that and hope it never happens to you. Because it’s going to probably go very differently than you imagine or thought out.

My Story

I’m a professional dog trainer. I’ve been doing this for almost 19 years now and I have been attacked by dogs. I have been attacked by a dog that literally wanted to kill me. And I was able to overpower that dog and secure him. I’m not dead, obviously, I’m sitting here, but it was 13 holes later, so I had 13 puncture wounds on my legs and arms as a result. And this can be quite serious.

This is not a dog that had ever shown that he would do that. So, there was a neurological issue that came into play that we didn’t know about. But things like that can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter what your experience is or your background. It doesn’t matter if you work in this profession like I am or not. The chances that you’re going to be able to defend yourself if you don’t work with dogs, every day is lower.

If you work with dogs every day and you understand how to secure a dog and how to overpower them, win a battle, per se, chances go up, obviously, just like with martial arts and humans.

Dogs Can Flip a Switch

Okay, so a couple of things that can be helpful for not even getting into the situation. There are some things I see as a recurring theme that seem to not be understood a whole lot in the general dog population or dog owner population, I should say.

Dogs can get themselves worked up into a frenzy where all the rules go out the window. I think most people have seen two dogs behind a fence when they walk by with their dogs and the fenced dogs barked at them but they couldn’t get to you.

And then those dogs behind the fence started fighting with each other. It’s redirection they’re doing on each other—they’re now starting to fight with each other. Maybe they’ll stop or they won’t. Maybe the owner comes out and interferes. It could end very badly. But that is a redirection from one dog, that has a target it can’t get to, onto another.

High Levels Ogf Arousal

Dogs can work themselves up into a frenzy. Under the right set of circumstances and the right type of dogs, that can end very poorly, even if those dogs, under normal circumstances, never showed any signs of aggression or problematic behavior.

Maybe they bark at the people going by the fence but nothing dramatic occurs, and then something like that happens. Dogs are predators and dogs have sharp teeth and they can tear flesh and break bone quite easily. If it gets into a frenzy, that can happen.

There’s an instinctive drift that can happen with dogs in their behavior. A lot of times, when your dog has normal behaviors, why would it do that? Why would dogs just do this? They got worked up somehow. They got into a frenzy, and they redirected. This is often the answer to a lot of these mysteries, so to say.

Breed Differences

There are certain dog breeds—the bully breeds—where you have an activation to high pitched squeaking sounds that you may get from a squirrel, or you may get from a small dog or even a crying baby.

That doesn’t mean they’re all like that. We have pit bulls. We have seen that. This happens with some pit bulls. A good number, actually. When they hear a certain sound, there’s just this flip that switches and it’s like, okay, now it’s serious.

You can have a situation where your super friendly pit bull is in the dog park playing with other dogs, no problem. And somebody brings a little dog in, and they start chasing each other, no problem, everything’s going well. And then the little dog makes sounds that flip a switch and something playful becomes quite serious—all of a sudden.

So, these things can happen, and they can happen pretty quickly. Understand the dog breed you have, understand what triggers and switches may exist. Most dogs don’t react this way to sounds, but pit bulls do sometimes.

There’s something to be aware of. It’s not something that you should be afraid of either. Just understand that about your dog and maybe not to leave a dog alone with a small child. Not that you should ever leave a dog alone with a small child, but with some dogs you must take more precautions than others. So just a couple of points on dogs in general. They can get worked up and they can escalate and just do things they would otherwise not do.

People Can Flip a Switch, Too

That is something we should not forget. This can happen to us as well. This is not unique to dogs. We don’t think about it in these terms, but people can flip a switch. I mean, road rage. So, there are things that just drive you over the edge and off we go. It can happen to any species, and any being. It’s possible. Just something to understand.

It’s also possible for your dog and they have some sharp instruments in their mouth to cause some damage with. So, a little introductory talk on this.

What You Can Do … Options

Let’s talk about what we can do and hopefully give you some descriptions of things that are actually feasible and practical.

You should think about the options I’m presenting and think about what you would be comfortable doing and try to practice that and become better at it or good at it at least, so you can actually execute this and be ready, if that situation occurs. At least you stand a chance.

Doesn’t mean it’s going to go well. You never know what’s going to happen. How many dogs are coming, you don’t know what exactly is going to happen. But being ready is better than not. This is something I share with my clients when it comes to protecting yourself and your dogs against attacks. And I’m going to share it with you here on the podcast today.

Stun Guns and Sticks

Hopefully you can benefit as well. Things that are very effective are stun guns. Stun guns and stun sticks and any kind of electricity that you can use as a self-defense weapon. They’re legal in all parts of the United States. So, for example, like a stun gun that comes often with a flashlight, it has a handle. You should get a longer one, not one of those short ones that fit into your purse. It should be something a little bit longer, so you have some distance from the animal. Like the electrodes are only in the front, the buttons are on the back. And you could direct that at a dog and give them a jolt.

These self-defense weapons are available. I think you can even buy some of them on Amazon. I mean, they are available and they’re legal everywhere, including California where I am. And we pretty much prohibit everything else around here. You can buy them because they’re non-lethal.

A Non-Lethal Option

They’re not going to kill anybody. But they definitely make an impression on an attacking dog. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to work in every scenario, but they give you a good chance. They give you a fighting chance with a lot of dogs. They’re going to be enough to give them a jolt like that and pretty much ensure that nothing bad is going to happen to that dog, except for a big surprise, and a jolt of pain.

And most likely he’s going to just take off. That is the most likely outcome. And you can buy these anywhere. You buy them online or in stores. You can buy them in sports stores. They’re available widely. So, it is an option. And they’re a good option.

Something to carry like that around or something I recommend because, it’s a very mild intervention per se, comparatively to what we’re dealing with in a dog attack. But it’s also very effective because it’s quite a shock to the system. So, it can definitely help you defend yourself and protect yourself. And legal, completely legal. It’s a good thing to consider.

Defensive Sprays

Another option to consider are defensive sprays. Forget pepper spray. Don’t even bother with pepper spray. It’s not going to work on most dogs. What has a better chance of working would be bear spray. Bear spray is much stronger than pepper spray and has a better chance of working for you again as a completely legal thing to carry around and have. I carry it when I hike for bears, obviously, but when I hike out there in the wilderness, I have bear spray on me. And bear spray can work. With bear spray, practice, because you’re basically shooting a thin stream out, so you should get maybe a couple bear spray bottles and practice how they actually go and see how this goes with wind.

Maybe protect yourself and see if it flies in your face then and how much it would fly in your face and how it would affect you. I mean, don’t try the bear spray on yourself, but understand how it generally goes if there is some air flow, because there probably will be. Well, bear spray is an option. Maybe it still won’t work, but it’s an option. Also, it’s fairly mild and not going to lead to any permanent damage.

Wasp Spray

Wasp spray is even more effective than that. You can also buy it. Wasp spray is also available at home improvement stores, and you can spray that. That is also a very effective self-defense spray.

Pepper spray for dogs is not going to do a whole lot. A lot of dogs are just going to get annoyed by that. Become even worse. So, I wouldn’t bother with pepper spray. It doesn’t even work on a lot of well, it works on people, but not on all people. I mean, it also limits what it does to people.

As for sprays. I would recommend a bear spray or a wasp spray. These are a couple of options of how you can defend yourself with non-lethal means, towards dogs.

So, stun guns and sprays, if you are in other parts of the country that allow for other means of defense publicly, then you have other options. I live in California. That is pretty much the thing that we can do here legally but they can be quite effective.

They Are Effective Options

I would not necessarily dismiss any of those as ineffective second measures. They can be quite effective. And I would recommend that you prepare one of those two things and carry them around with you when you go into areas where you just don’t know if there may be a loose dog somewhere or somebody may break through a fence or you’re not sure how, or what can happen to you.

Have it in your car or have it handy. I mean, it’s just something to have close by as a means to deal with a dog that attacks you. Not a pleasant topic to think about, obviously, but here we go. It’s just one of those things. It’s better to think about beforehand what you’re comfortable doing and how you can do it and practice it somewhat and then be able to execute it when the time comes. So, you don’t become the victim and you’re the one who ends up as a fatality in a dog attack. Because we don’t want that.

Avoiding These Situations is Best

Okay. I think on this topic, the last thing I want to say is the best dog attack is the one that doesn’t happen. Or the one you avoid. That’s the same with human fights. The best fight is the fight you don’t have. It’s the fight you avoid. Even if you are self-defense-trained like I am, and other people are, and you know how to handle yourself—you know how to do things.

The best fight is the one you avoid and don’t have. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, there’s always someone better. So, it’s better to not be engaging unless you absolutely have to. This is the same with dogs. Don’t try to be the macho hero with this. If you can escape or avoid. Do that. It’s 100 times better than all the alternatives.

If there is a neighborhood street where the fences don’t look that sturdy and you know there are dogs behind those fences. Dogs that are wild and you don’t know what they would do if they got out, maybe it’s better to not walk that street. Yes, it’s your neighborhood. No, it’s not fair. No, you shouldn’t have to make that adjustment. It’s not right that you have to and you don’t have to. It’s your choice. But it’s the smarter thing to do.

Situational Awareness

If you can avoid getting attacked by a dog, do so. You don’t know how it’s going to go. It doesn’t matter how well you’re trained or what you know. It doesn’t matter what you think you can do. Don’t. Avoid it, if possible. It’s not something you want to get yourself into. I’m speaking from experience. Trust me. You do not want to get attacked by a dog. That gets very scary, very quickly. That is not something you should take lightly. So, if you can avoid it by taking precautions, do so.

Look around before you exit a car in a neighborhood of a friend or relative you normally don’t go to. Also look around if you go to a strange place and somewhere residential or rural area. Maybe prop the window down, listen, look around a little bit. It’s just something that you need to be aware of. Have a little bit of situational awareness. In unfamiliar situations. But it probably would also be nobody there to help you. So, avoid what you can whenever you can. Just be aware of your surroundings in that scenario.


The last piece of advice on this. A couple of self-defense points. A few points on the seriousness of this was the introduction of what’s going on in this country and around the world. Actually, it’s a serious thing, unfortunately. A couple of options on how to protect yourself when it happens. And lastly a piece of advice: avoid it as best as you can because you never know.

A little bit of an unpleasant topic, but I think it’s an important topic, and it’s not talked about often enough. And I think we should do that more often. Consider the things that are unpleasant but likely or necessary that we will have to deal with at some point.

We’ll have another topic coming up that’s in the same realm of that. It’s not about dog attacks at all, but it’s, yeah, it’s something along those lines that nobody likes to think about, but it’s important.

I hope this was informative. It was helpful. You got something out of it and I will see you again next time. Bye.


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Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.


Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.