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I Do Not Bite Stray Dogs

Updated on June 14, 2015

Do you find stray dogs to be scary?

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German Shepherd Dog in attack mode.
German Shepherd Dog in attack mode. | Source
Doberman Pinscher
Doberman Pinscher | Source

Gross encounters of the toothy kind

I enjoy the company of well-behaved dogs, and feel that reward-based training is better than coercive fear-based approaches. That said, your knowledge of positive reinforcement training techniques will not be very helpful when two big hungry stray dogs are giving you the evil eye while you're out for a walk in the neighborhood.

I've been bitten by dogs on three occasions in my life. The first time happened during childhood. I was visiting with one of my young friends, and was standing in his backyard. For whatever reason, Allen's family's German Shepherd did not appreciate my presence, and attacked. I was not very dog-savvy at the time. And as an adult, I don't remember enough details to get inside the dog's head, and figure out what made him go postal.

The second gross encounter happened in young adulthood. I was being a nice guy, and taking a friend's Doberman Pinscher out for a walk. For no obvious reason, the dog bit my hand with just enough force to draw blood, and then stopped. Testing, testing... After the fact, there was not much that I could do. However I do remember using some choice Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.

These days, I almost always know where I stand with big dogs. We have an unspoken understanding: I won't bite them if they don't bite me.

Small dogs are a different story. The third gross encounter happened several years after the Doberman incident. Some irresponsible dog owner let his Chihuahua run loose. The dog sneaked up behind, and bit me on the ankle. Don't let their small size fool you; Chihuahuas are holy terrors.

Hubpages author, alexadry, who is a professional dog trainer, has written an article about the warning signs in a dog's behavior, and about certain aspects of canine etiquette that can minimize the likelihood of a toothy encounter. Some of these are well-known; others were new to me.

I'd like to add two lesser-known approaches.

Attack-trained Chihuahua
Attack-trained Chihuahua | Source
Airedale Terrier, a medium-to-large dog.
Airedale Terrier, a medium-to-large dog. | Source

The invisible stone

Sometimes I enjoy taking long walks in the neighborhood. Half a mile from where I live, there's a quiet residential street that I call Stray Dog Alley. Most of the stray dogs are indifferent to me. A few are even friendly.

One warm Summer evening, I was walking there, and suddenly I felt something cold touching my calf. I turned around, and saw that a stray Airedale Terrier had been very curious about what I smelled like up close. I knew where the dog lived, because on another occasion, the same dog had barked as I walked past, when he and his mistress where standing in her driveway.

The biggest stray dog hazard is when two of them join up. On one such occasion, I could read their body language. They were both very curious about what a Larry Burger would taste like.

During daylight hours, there's an effective approach for dealing with stray dogs who have less-than-friendly intentions. If you're right-handed like me, lean to your right side, and touch your fingertips to the ground. The dog will usually back off. Why?

Almost everywhere in the world, there are ignorant little boys who throw rocks at stray dogs. Being intelligent creatures, the dogs associate the throwing motion with the pain of being hit with a small rock. They make the same association with the gesture of my leaning over to pick up a rock. Dogs -- and some people -- indulge in magical thinking.

However most dogs have poor vision. When I make that same gesture, they fail to see that there are no available rocks for me to pick up and throw at them.

An enlightened approach?

At night, the Invisible Stone Technique does not work very well, because the stray dog cannot see well enough to appreciate your theatrics. For people who enjoy long nightly walks, I recommend carrying a 4-cell Maglite flashlight, to minimize gross encounters of the canine kind. (At one time, this was called a police flashlight.) With the flashlight, you can scan poorly-lit areas of the sidewalk, and avoid stepping in dog poo.

More to the point, you can shine the light directly in the eyes of any suspicious stray dog. A vicious dog will find it difficult to attack vulnerable body parts that he cannot see. However I had one surprising experience while experimenting with the flashlight doggy deterrent.

On one evening walk, a stray German Shepherd eyed me from across a quiet residential street. As she approached, I aimed the light beam directly at her eyes. This had no effect whatsoever. She continued walking toward me.

Apparently, some irresponsible owner had driven the dog to a strange neighborhood, and dumped her there. In her new surroundings, the dog became increasingly desperate. She had no dependable food source, no safe place to sleep, and no companionship. Then the dog smelled me.

She sized me up as being a soft touch, and as a good prospect as a new owner. She had absolutely no intention of harming me. In my most authoritative voice, I told her to go home. No effect. I looked in vain for an ID tag with a telephone number or address on her collar.

Then she followed me all the way home. I fed her, and let her sleep for a couple of nights in my walled-in patio, because it was a weekend, and our local under-funded Animal Control department was closed at the time. End of digression.

Now the obvious question: Why the police flashlight? Wouldn't a lighter one be just as good? No, it would not deter a pair of stray dogs that had teamed up. Fortunately, the heavy flashlight is a dual purpose tool.

When gripped at the wide end and swung like a hammer, an old-school police flashlight can provide legal, bone-breaking self-defense against a canine or human attacker.

A shorter version of the Maglite that I carry on long walks at night.
A shorter version of the Maglite that I carry on long walks at night. | Source

Mel Gibson befriends ferocious dog in Lethal Weapon III

The youtube video and more

Mel Gibson used two of the time-honored techniques for befriending a dog. He offered the Rottweiler a dog biscuit. But that's a no-brainer.

Another example: Mel also got down on his hands and knees. When he's on the same level as the dog, he's less intimidating.

Mel also stuck out his tongue and panted. In dog language, that means: I'm really enjoying your company. However if the dog is not in a friendly mood, that overture may irritate him.

Sometimes Hollywood gets it right.

One more thing: I'm slightly hard of hearing. It is extremely difficult for me to understand what people are saying when they mumble, as Mel was doing in the video. This is a major pet peeve of mine about movies. Rant over.

Like all animals, dogs want to survive. They want food. They want to mate. Female dogs want to rear their young. In many cases, territorial defense is necessary to accomplish these objectives. As pets, dogs also need adequate physical exercise.

Dogs are social animals. They enjoy the companionship of humans, and of other dogs in their pack. Dalmatians also enjoy the company of horses. Livestock Guardian Dogs, like Great Pyrenees, bond with, and enjoy the company of sheep, or other farm animals that they were brought up with.

Big, stray dogs are not killing machines.

Copyright 2012 and 2015 by Larry Fields


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    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 2 years ago from Northern California

      Hello, nicomp. Because of the speeds involved, cyclists can trigger the chase reflex in dogs. I'm glad that you've found an effective deterrent.

      A homeowner with a chewy dog may choose to spray the wooden legs of their furniture with bitter apple spray, which one can find in a pet store. Apparently, this makes the furniture less appealing to Rover.

      Perhaps you could also spray the stuff on your lower legs, before heading out on your bicycle. :)

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      As a cyclist I am harassed by dogs too often. My defense is to grab my water battle and squirt them before they get too close. The sound of claws on tarmac never gets old.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi jaybird,

      I should have said: Almost everywhere in the world, there are ignorant little boys who throw rocks at STRAY dogs. I've corrected that now. Thanks for your comment.

      The Invisible Stone Technique may not work against dogs that have been well-supervised for most of their entire lives, and suddenly find themselves abandoned on the streets. Dogs who have spent all of their waking hours indoors, walking on leash, and having fun in a dog park may even associate the throwing gesture with a game of Fetch!

      About police dogs. My understanding is that they've become partially inured to pain in their training. For that reason, and for other reasons, it's necessary to supervise police dogs carefully. But I've never encountered a stray dog that had the 'earmarks' of police training.

      Side note: In Sweden, military dogs are even trained to run at intruders in a zigzag. That way, if the intruder shoots at the dog, he's more likely to miss.

      By default, my community has a reputation for being overly dog 'friendly'. In my experience, the Invisible Stone Technique always works against aggressive stray dogs that I encounter on long walks. In some cases, the dogs will run away. In other cases, the dogs will back up a few steps and then turn to one side, in preparation for running away.

      Since I have no plans to commit a crime, or to fly over to Sweden in order to trespass on a military facility there, I don't expect to have any run-ins with police dogs or military dogs.

      My repertoire should be adequate to discourage 99.9% of STRAY, would-be canine attackers. One exception is a pack of big, hungry, feral dogs. The other exception is a sneaky, ankle-biting Chihuahua.

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 5 years ago from New York

      Good Hub Larry Fields! Having grown up and worked with police K9 dogs the greater part of my life, I'm not so sure I agree with your reaching to the ground routine. You are correct when you say that dogs are smart (sometimes smarter than the average person would even realize). Dogs associate human movements to learned behavior. I think it's safe to say that most dogs don't have children throwing rocks at them. If they have never had this happen to them they wouldn't have a clue what someone was doing when they reached over and touched the ground. Also, any crazed or well trained service dog (much like that of the pictured German Shepard at the top of your hub with the army soldier) is not going to halt their actions by someone leaning over and touching the ground. With bite pressure up to 328 pounds per square inch (rottweilers) I don't know about you all but I'm not about to expose one of the most vulnerable areas of the human body (the head) by leaning over and touching the ground.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi rajan jolly. Thanks for your comment.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Interesting stuff and I'm partly prepared to deal with dogs with the tips you provide. Thanks.

      voted up/interesting.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi alexadry. Thanks for stopping by.

      You write the very best dog-training articles that I've seen at Hubpages. Keep up the good work.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Nell-burger. :) Thanks for sharing the story.

      You did the right thing. That dog was just being territorial, and was mentally prepared for two scenarios. First, an attack by you. And since that didn't happen, the back-up plan was for you and your son to run away, and that would automatically trigger the predatory chase reflex. Your choice of the 'middle way' buffaloed him.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      I have had ankle biters chase me and my Rottweilers on walks, of course, the owners cared less that these little Cujo's were trying to bite us as soon as we turned our backs. I was able to change a few for the best by tossing treats their way walk after walk, and some sooner than later were starting to bark less and more and more wag their tails upon seeing us!

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Gordon. Thanks for stopping by. Great minds think alike. :)

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image

      Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Interesting Hub, Larry and I really enjoyed the read. I'm glad you end with a big plus for German Shepherds. I've had German Shepherds most of my life and although I am used to many types of dog, I have no doubt which is the most friendly, reliable and trustworthy. I agree with you that sometimes the smallest of dogs are the ones to watch out for and not the bigger ones. I have only ever been bitten or attacked by small dogs. Funnily enough, I'm wary of small dogs while I automatically think of most big ones as my pals and they tend to reciprocate.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Great points Larry, or should I say larry burger? lol! I remember a long time ago when my son was small, me and him were walking through a wood and there was a back entrance to a house. Next second a big hairy mongrel came racing out at us. my son was 8 at the time and was petrified. I instantly said to him, 'keep still' so he did, so did I, we never looked at the dog and stood like statues. This totally confused the dog and he whimpered, put his tail between his legs and went back indoors just as the owner came out to get him, so that's another good idea, and of course a nearest tree and a good set of legs will help if it doesn't work! lol!