How to handle aggressive dogs



June 11, 2018

Aggressive Dog


For pest management professionals, sometimes there’s no telling what you may encounter on a service call. When a customer has a dog that’s aggressive or unfamiliar to you, follow these tips to avoid being attacked or bitten.


How to approach a dog

Treat all strange dogs with caution. Do not approach or stroke a dog unless invited to do so by its owner. Approach the dog slowly, allowing time for it to sniff you or make friendly contact.

Crouching down, speaking to the dog gently, avoiding eye contact, and patting around the chest or neck region are all non-threatening actions. If you are crouching, you must keep your face clear of the dog’s face.

Approaching suddenly, bending over the dog, or patting it on the head or back are dominant and threatening gestures and may cause a dog to react by biting.

Each dog has a different social and personal distance that a stranger is permitted to enter. This is why a dog that is tied up outside may snap or bite when someone tries to pet it. The dog cannot escape when there is a sudden invasion of its personal space.


What to do if threatened

Many dog bites are the result of people reacting wrongly when they are approached or threatened by a dog.

Your initial reaction should be to stop and remain completely still. Avoid eye contact with the dog and speak to it gently.

You can softly give the dog a command such as “sit” or “stay” because many will obey these. Avoid all threatening gestures such as yelling at the dog, waving one’s arm or rushing at it. In some circumstances, these actions can scare a dog away, but other dogs may react by attacking. Unless you have the skills, experience and the equipment to deal with this, any reaction that may accentuate the dog’s aggression is not advisable.

Erratic nervous movements or screaming will also cause the dog to advance further. Crouching to reduce your body size may relax some dogs, but any movements must be made slowly and deliberately. An article of clothing can be carefully removed and used to take the first bite if the dog suddenly lunges.

If the dog relaxes, back away slowly. Turning and running are signals for the dog to chase and attack. Most people are bitten moving away from a dog when they turn and run. If the incident occurs outside or near the dog’s home, it is important for you to gradually increase the distance from where the dog lives, as dogs are usually less aggressive on neutral ground.


What to do if attacked

If you believe it is a full-on attack, reach down and pick up a hand full of stones or whatever you can grab and throw it at the dog.

If that fails, grab your flashlight, clip board, briefcase or whatever you have, and offer it to the dog, keeping it away from your body. If the dog is truly aggressive, he will grab the object and hold on. Do not let go of the object; if you do the dog will soon realize that it is not you and will likely attack again. Normally after the dog realizes he is having little or no effect, he will stop the attack (or at least give you time to plan your next move).

Only strike the dog as a last resort; when a dog is in attack mode, pain can incite them more.

Never try to kick the dog when he is facing you. It’s reported that a dog can bite 10 times before a person can respond.

If you are knocked to the ground, remain motionless in the fetal position, and protect your face by crossing your arms above your head.


How to enter the property

  • Where possible, advise the dog owner of your visit and ask them to tie up any dogs.
  • Where possible, make your entrance in a vehicle. This is the way most dogs see their owners and friends arrive.
  • Before walking onto the property, check for signs that a dog may live there, such as bones, a dog kennel, chewed up articles or dog droppings.
  • When entering a property, rattle the gate or make a noise such as calling or whistling for the dog.
  • If the dog comes, greet him as a long lost friend, and if he responds to you and you are confident, enter the property.
  • When entering a property, the gate should be closed but not latched until it is known where the dog is and whether or not the dog is friendly.
  • If you hear barking but it does not get any closer after a reasonable time, assume the dog is tied up or behind a back fence.
  • Walk in confident manner. Dogs do not smell fear, but they are very good at reading body language (jerky nervous movements, etc).
  • If a dog approaches you, try and understand his posture. If he is alert but not aggressive, greet him (perhaps turning to the side to present a less imposing figure). Let the dog sniff you but don’t stop; just keep on walking, perhaps avoiding excessive eye contact. Remember to keep a weary eye out behind you.
  • If you come across a sleeping dog, back off and try to waken him at a safe distance. Then begin the greeting procedure.
  • Avoid walking close to the walls of the house because you may surprise a sleeping dog.
  • If a dog appears to be chained up, do not assume that the chain is attached. Also, the chain may be longer than you think or even break. Remember, dogs are more aggressive when tied up.
  • If a dog is hiding or lying on a doorstep, give him room to escape. Beware the fear biter.
  • If the owner is present, ask them to tie up the dog. Beware the statement, “It’s alright, my dog won’t hurt you.” All dogs will bite given the right circumstances.
  • When knocking on a door, stand back. If a dog is inside, the owner may not be quick enough to prevent the dog from biting you.
  • Never assume that because a dog’s tail is wagging he won’t bite. It can mean indecision on the dog’s part, and they seldom hurt you with that end.
  • When leaving the property, be careful; this is when most attacks occur. It is preferable to back off and put something between you and the dog.
  • Never run unless you can beat the dog to a safe haven. Running is a sure way to incite an attack.


How to approach dogs in cars

A dog will usually defend it’s owner’s car vigorously. As a result, many people are bitten when they walk too close to a car, or when they put their hand through an open window to pet the dog.

Refrain from tapping on car windows, as this only aggravates the dog inside and increases the likelihood of it biting the next person who approaches the car.

How to interact with dog owners

A sudden movement by a person or the passing of an object toward its owner when the dog is nearby or in between can be perceived by a dog as a threat to its owner. The dog may misunderstand the context of the interaction and react by biting or lunging at you. This situation often occurs when children and their friends are playing with the dog.

You can reach Frank Meek, international technical and training director for Orkin, at


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