Some places I travel to have stray dogs in the city. Can a knife be used effectively if attacked by one or more of them? I've had creepy close encounters.

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    @mmcc You might get away with a baton or a small knife, but carrying pepper spray is illegal in quite many countries. Besides, it doesn't always work. What you really don't want is to enrage it further.
    – Mast
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 6:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 13:09
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    IN the city? Tennis ball. Where I am, so many strays are angry unloved abandoned dogs that love to play fetch (or at least go destroy the tennis ball) Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 14:19
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    I'm not going to write an answer as you have some good ones, but i was always taught to make eye contact, then look away, repeat this several times which is basically saying they are dominant in their world. you'll notice if you keep eye contact with your pet dog, they will pretty much always look away repeatedly as long as you keep it, because they are giving you dominance. When a dog attacks it is often a dominace thing. My dad (blackbelt) always said you could kick them under the jaw if they were running and would bit their own tounge and stop. But i dont think im that quick and accurate.
    – Nate W
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 23:24
  • How many years are you willing to dedicate to the practice and theory of knife fighting?
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 6:02

13 Answers 13


It can be used for sure, but there are better options. A knife would require you to be very close to the dog, whilst a stick or pepper spray would provide much greater distance between you and the threat.

Pepper spray is used by the US Postal Service, and they have lots of experience with dog bites.

Of course, if you can avoid aggressive dogs in the first place, that's better still.

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    It is not legal to carry pepper spray in all jurisdictions, so check the legality first. But pepper spray is far better than a knife against a dog.
    – Bent
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 13:54
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    @Bent Carrying a knife is also illegal in many jurisdictions.
    – kasperd
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 18:22
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    German post uses treats. I don't know whether they have pepper spray in addition - but I know that our dog loves them all madly: there are no other strangers that come (at least once in a while) basically just to give him a treat (and even without any requirements like sit or down)... ;-) Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 0:30
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    @Mast small knives (under a certain length and only one sharp edge) are coincidentally also very unsuited for self defense.
    – Josef
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 11:25
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    I worked for the post office for several years and carried pepper spray daily, but never needed to use it. By far the two best defenses were using the mail bag itself as a barrier between myself and the dog and being very loud and threatening. Dogs always backed down. Putting something between you and the dog is much more important than having a weapon in my opinion because you can deflect/avoid an attack. I'd rather have a backpack or something than pepper spray in my experience. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 12:35

Your primary objective when defending yourself against stray dogs is not to kill the dog, but to

  • avoid getting bitten
  • make the dog leave you alone

If you fight a dog with a knife, even if you manage to kill it or make it run away, you will likely get a few bites and scratches. Having a stick or pepper spray is a much better option, as it gives you a range advantage. Please note, that carrying a stick or a pepper spray (and even more often, a knife) inside a city might be illegal, depending on where you are. In the outdoors, a stick and pepper spray are usually more legal, but check the laws in your jurisdiction.

What is (as far as I know) legal everywhere, is ultrasonic dog deterrents. They will make even the most vicious dog (and often even larger animals, like bears) run away in fear. Their only disadvantage is that they will not work if the dog is deaf. Still, carrying such an ultrasonic deterrent with you might be the best choice if you are afraid of stray dogs. Their advantages, compared with other options:

  • no legal problems (as they are useless against humans, you won't be accused of carrying it with you to attack people)
  • it makes the dogs run away, so less risk for you getting injured in the fight
  • even if deaf dogs are unaffected, if a whole pack attacks you (stray dogs usually either travel in packs, or don't attack when they are alone), making the majority of the pack run away in fear usually scares those away who would have been unaffected by the ultrasounds.
  • knowing that you have it with you will bolster your confidence, which by itself is a good deterrent. Dogs are very good at reading human emotions, and they are more likely to attack those who are afraid.
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 16:59
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    In the UK, it is never legal for an ordinary civilian to carry pepper spray. A pen-knife is legal (but very unlikely to be effective against a dog). A walking stick would be fine. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 9:05
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    +1 for primary goal is not being bitten: stray dogs may have rabies and/or other diseases. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 17:24
  • +1, stick is the best when keeping distance and timid the dog away. In the old days all beggar carry one. Back then stray dogs could be lethal.
    – Bogdan
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 21:10

Knife is not a good idea. It does not give an understandable warning to an animal. When it comes to a warning, they more likely understand a stick-shaped thing. So for carrying, light telescopic baton is more suitable (or any other stick you can comfortably carry around). Remember, at the first place, you want to repel oncoming animal, not to harm it.

Also, besides the limited range of the knife you can be facing legislation problems. In addition to those problems mentioned in other answers, in my country there is a complex legislation "Animal is not a thing" which may lead to a criminal investigation in case when you caused injury to an animal (most prominently to a dog). You may be able to prove that you needed to defend yourself, but you will need to go through the process anyway. I think it is not worth it.

The way to go is to use ultrasonic dog repeller which has immediate effect as seen on many videos including for example this.

I originally proposed bright pocket LED flashlight switched to strobe mode, but experience other than mine shows that flashlights seldom work reliably for repelling the animals. Maybe it is due to narrower spectrum of their light (partially incompatible with that seen by animals) where incandescent light would do better? (Anyway, incandescent torch light is rare today so it is out of scope.)

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    To be honest I am not convinced you have any experience with wild animals. I am not convinced @CharlieBrumbaugh does either. A strobe light will not deter an aggressive animal. Neither will punches with a tactical flashlight (which do not carry significant weight hence tactical) unless the animal is undersized. This is why if you do not have a firearm or knife (because of legal or ethical reasons) the general recommendation from people who have experience in this is to use strong mace (called bear mace). This is why I am downvoting your answer. Your advice could get someone killed.
    – user17553
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 7:05
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    Stones are also good option, cause stray dogs knows it will hurt them if some one hurl the stones to them
    – AConsumer
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 9:40
  • A telescopic baton is usually considered a weapon and may be illegal (depending on jurisdiction).
    – Hobbes
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 16:41
  • @ user17553 – answer fixed. @Hobbes – I think that is a good point. And compared to ultrasonic repeller it may be less effective anyway.
    – miroxlav
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 23:20
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    When I was in rural areas in India I found that a bright LED torch in the face of stray dogs worked well. The dogs I encountered there were protecting their territory and seemed to just want me to go away. Stray dogs in the city were different, being more accustomed to bright lights, and were best left well alone.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 8:37

From personal experience with packs of stray dogs, especially coyotes, and also having some strange experience, carry a walking cane or staff (if you can).

Dogs, while attacking as a pack, or thinking about attacking, try to do three things:

  1. Find easy prey
  2. Limit prey mobility
  3. Attack prey blind spots

Keeping this is mind, stay moving to wherever it is you’re going. Use your “command voice,” like “I see you dog.” And be mindful of your blind spots.

Avoid places, like alleyways or ravines, which limit your ability to choose where to go.

I’ve found that walking sticks, of any length from cane to staff, are globally acceptable, and allow you to rapidly switch between advancing dogs (or whatever) while keeping you moving.

I also agree that pepper spray, like many other answers state, is very effective. If possible, use pepper spray at range, and switch to the stick if close engagement is unavoidable.

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    Treking poles are also effective, and a visible stone in your hand. Also for shephard's dogs like those huge beasts in Anatolia or Caucasus. Not to hit them, they are too big and very dangerous, but to keep them at distance. Unfortunately, their owners tend to beat them, so they are used to this type of control. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 19:07
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    Speaking as a former meter reader (entering people's yards) all except the biggest meanest dogs fear a stick, especially when wielded by a person who is acting aggressively with it (i.e., waving it and advancing toward the dog). And another tip from a former meter reader: All dogs, no matter how dinky, will be aggressive and not back down when their owner is nearby. Because they know where their food comes from. (IOW, don't go in that yard with a dog if the owner is present or even visible through a window. Even if the owner is holding on to the dog. Trust me on this.)
    – davidbak
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 21:19
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    @VladimirF : Shepherd dogs require a completely different approach. Unlike coyotes or wild dogs, they don't see you as food. They see you as an intruder to their territory. You should not fight them (they are used to fighting bears! Also, a predator tries to avoid injury, a defender on the other hand risks more), you should freeze in place, and, if possible, slowly back away towards the direction you came from. It can often happen that they surround you, sit down, and continue barking, calling for their owner. In such a case there is not much else to do than to wait for the shepherd to arrive.
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 5:03
  • @vsz I never said fight them, I said they are way too large, they would kill you!!! But you heve to keep some minimal distance. Often you would wait for days, if not weeks, in those countries. And you would not get anywhere if you went back, often they are in places you have to pass, on a path in the mountains, they will come to you even when you are far from their herd and you are just passing their mountain valley and will run to you from unpredictable directions, seemingly from were you came. Their owner can be in a distant city. Fortunately, they always just closely followed and barked. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 5:51
  • @VladimirF : I'm talking about my experiences in the Carpathians. Fortunately, there aren't any herds out there in the open without a human. If the herd is moving away from you, or you are already moving away from the herd, the dogs stop quite far from you, bark for some time, and then leave when the herd is far enough. If the herd is moving in your direction, they are much more aggressive, they come much closer to you. However, in such cases, the herd soon arrives, and then the shepherd calls the dogs back. (Are there completely unattended herds of sheep roaming around in the Caucasus?)
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 7:06

Some places I travel to have stray dogs in the city. Can a knife be used effectively if attacked by one or more of them? I've had creepy close encounters.

Probably, but it's far from ideal. The reason you explicitly mention a knife is because you're a human who knows about knifes. You know they're sharp and they can hurt you and others. When someone near you takes out a knife, your flee or fight instinct might kick in, a dog that's about to attack you won't be scared off by your knife. The knife is not something they know as a threat.

Instead, you have to stoop to their level, use their own weapons against them. You're probably already familiar with one of theirs: sound. This is great, because it doesn't scare other people near you but when used right will scare the dog. As it happens, you probably already carry your delivery system with you: a mobile phone. The great thing about phones is that they can make sounds, many sounds, even sounds us humans can't make (very high or very low-frequency sounds). Another great thing is that this is very cheap, you already own the phone, all you need to do is search for an app aimed at making sounds that deter dogs for you phone.

I'm not going to promote a specific app here, but you should search for something like 'anti dog sound' in the app store for your phone. Then go to a few dogs (start with ones you know) and try it on them. If it works: great, if not: it only set you back a few moments of your time.


A knife is perfectly fine to make human attackers understand to better leave one alone, however a dog will not understand what "knife" means, nor what it does. having 1-2 plastic bags with dry dog or cat food in the pocket, which one can distribute when trying to get away, is the best strategy - because a) it does not involve any violence and b) stray dogs are corrupt and if you meet them more than once, they might still remember your mercy (they remember this for several years).

the only situation where violence against stray dogs is justified, is when they encircle one and prepare the attack. then one has to understand who the leader of the pack is, because when not neutralizing their leader, this will result in hospital - also in this situation dropping food yields higher chances of getting away without a scratch, than trying to kill one of them. unless grown up on a farm and knowing exactly how to do it, it might even be a delusion, that this might be an easy thing to do, because dogs aren't slow.

paying the duty is your best chance to trespass on their territory, when you have to (you're the intruder, not them). this just sometimes might lead to situations, where it can become difficult to get rid of them again, which is still better than violence - which they can only return with violence - and so violence should always be the very last resort, in pure self-defense. running a few times around the block and entering a few houses makes it impossible for them to track you down, even if they already knew where your apartment was.

they can smell your fear; that's exactly why dry food is a good approach. being seen (smelt) as provider for snacks is anytime better than being seen as possible prey. and if it really has to be a weapon, bolas should quite effectively body-stop a single dog... and one should consider rabies (that's why close-combat is an unpredictably dangerous situation). Concerning the suggesting to use pepper spray ...this works in both directions, which is merely depending in which direction the wind blows. do not turn your back on them and try to appear as large as possible. better save than sorry.

Clarification for people comparing stray domesticated dogs with wild bears:

I've found tons of relevant behavioral studies (in German & English): https://www.wolfscience.at/en/research-at-wsc/publications/ and generally, one just cannot claim that a bear would be "highly collaborative with humans", which wolves and dogs are. and this collaborative behavior is exactly why collaborating with them is a pretty sane approach - and this is not feeding wild animals. read closely, I've wrote "when trying to get away", which implies that feeding them should not be the default - but it can help to take shortcuts on the way, which one otherwise would rather avoid.

I mean, other answers suggesting smashing the dog's skull receive up-votes... while answers, which can be backed up with a little research, that merely suggest common sense are being down-voted? this tells an awful lot about this community. stray dogs are still domestic animals. that humans do not consider them as pets, only because they don't have a name, does not matter.

The comparison to postal services is fitting, because territorial invasion is a huge factor... I'd still punch the postman, if he'd spray my dog, only to deliver an invoice, which by itself barely is sane - and only proofs, that some people refuse to realize, that they are the invaders, because they do not realize the territory claimed, eg. by a pack of stray dogs. if they follow one once, one can see where the borderline is, because this is exactly where they will leave off. I find it interesting, that a "trust in authority" answer is the most popular on "The Great Outdoors". SO is rather welcoming.

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    @ShivendraGupta a handful is enough already, as bakshish payment in critical situations - it just has to be the tiny stuff, so they need time to pick it all up... while when it is always the same stray dogs, one can even train them to behave. after a while, they will start greeting one (as stated, dogs do remember who once feed them, when they were hungry). Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 9:51
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    If feeding wild bears is bad, I can't see where feeding wild dogs is good. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 10:24
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    they can smell your fear is a gross oversimplification. They cannot. There's also too may anthropomorphisms in this answer to be reliable.
    – user15958
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 10:27
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    @JanDoggen this answer is based upon experience, including voluntary vet work, including stray dogs... understanding psychology is a far more reliable weapon, than primitive physical violence could ever be. the title of the question already implies, that the OP has fear ...and tries to determine if a knife would help there. see wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-smell-human-pheromones Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 10:58
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    @JJJ this also is a comparison with wild animals - while stray dogs in most cases already have a dependency towards humans, this is nothing one would newly introduce. stray dogs already live right within a human society - and they may guard their territory, just as they would if they'd had an owner (no matter if this is a farm's yard or a whole street). besides, most stray dogs are not even too dangerous... and in case of an emergency situation, what you'd prefer, a) some dog food which gives you the time to get away or b) stabbing a dog? a knife equals close combat, including rabies risk. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 15:10

From my personal experience,

  1. if you see stray dogs then ignore them and don't try to look in their eyes, they may follow you otherwise.
  2. If dog(s) are barking at you then don't get nervous, just stay normal and don't try to run, if you run then they will run faster and may catch you and bite.
  3. Now, if still you are in situation where stray dog are following you, running for you, or trying to bite you, then use bricks. Usually places having stray dogs also have bricks/Stones, make sure target the dog in the head with as much force you can and then run away.
  4. If you have knife then use it or if pepper spray then better, the aim is to knockdown the dog so that you can run away.
  5. Also if the dog is not seriously injured and still following you then it is better to jump into someone else's home/shop by climbing/jumping doors if need be.
  6. In case dog killing is not allowed in your country then as suggested by other, always take High Intensity LED Lights, Pepper spray in your pocket.

I've had several experiences with aggressive dogs, usually while going for a run. It is impractical to carry a staff or cane while running and I'm even less interested in carrying a weapon.

Types of dogs that I've encountered:

  1. Aggressive dogs off of the leash (i.e. careless owner lets dog off of leash because their dog 'never' bites).

  2. Stray dogs (i.e. do not have owner).

With the aggressive dogs (item 1), I do several things:

  • Stop and turn to face them so they don't get an opportunity to bite me.
  • Yell aggressively at them. Make yourself big and intimidating. You want them (and their owner) to think that their dog is in danger. This will get the owner to get their crap together.
  • Slowly back away.
  • (Haven't had to do this yet) Kick dog in head.

With stray dogs (item 2), usually encountered in the woods, they generally seem skittish and yelling or throwing something at them keeps them back. Once again be cautious and don't turn your back to them.

I think knife would only be practical if the dog is biting you and won't let go. It is far better to avoid getting bit in the first place. I think kicking would keep it further from biting your face and neck then using a knife would.

NOTE : Do not do any of this, unless the dog is actually being aggressive to you and you think you may be attacked. E.G. off-of-leash and nipping/barking/growling at you from a few feet away. When I encounter a dog off of its leash, but not behaving aggressively, I just leave it alone. I keep my eye on it and go my merry way. There is no need to start trouble.

A Note on prevention: If you are jogging / running and you are passing someone with a dog, announce yourself! I do this for everyone (including those without dogs). I say loudly "Passing left" to give the dog owner a chance to react and pull their dog close. I've been bit by a dog on a leash when I was passing because it was startled.


I'm a knife nut, and I can tell you with 100% certainty that a knife is one of the worst weapons you could have as a first defense against animals with natural weaponry - dogs, bears, lions, etc... - in general.

The biggest issues with it are reach and presence. A knife just simply doesn't have the length to keep you out of harms way. In order to stab or cut a dog, you have to get close enough for it to bite you. That's not where you want to be. A knife also just isn't scary to an animal because they don't understand what it is at all. I've owned a dog that would literally carry knives around by there handles and chew on them. He was totally unaware of any danger the knife posed at all. You really won't be able to scare an animal off with a knife in anyway that you could have scared them off without one.

So, as a recap, a knife won't keep you safe from wild animals, and it won't help you scare them away. With that understood, a knife is extremely effective when it comes to actually killing said animals once they've already attacked you. If you're looking for a weapon of last resort against wild animals in general, certain knives aren't a bad choice. Keep in mind that using a knife as a weapon of last resort against animals in this context 100% ensures that you've already been bitten and are suffering pretty bad injuries.

A knife should never be your first choice for self defense against animals. It just doesn't do any of the things you want it to do as a first choice weapon. It is technically possible to "poke" at a dog with a knife by throwing out some jabs, but you won't really have the reach to make that matter.

A long stick is far superior to a knife for defending yourself against wild dogs. The stick gives you reach. the stick makes you much bigger and therefore scarier. You can bang the stick on random stuff to make yourself much louder without having to worry about damaging yourself or the knife. Most importantly, a stick lets you defend yourself with a much smaller chance of being injured than a knife does.


You haven't said what country you are talking about. Don't try this in Britain - you will end up in jail. In fact don't bring a knife to Britain.

Selling, buying and carrying knives The maximum penalty for an adult carrying a knife is 4 years in prison and an unlimited fine. You’ll get a prison sentence if you’re convicted of carrying a knife more than once. https://www.gov.uk/buying-carrying-knives

Most dogs have an owner. They are used to being told what to do by humans. Know the local words for "sit" and "go home". Say one or other of these firmly (not angrily or shouting). If in doubt say phrases in your own language but with conviction.

Running will cause any dog to chase - Even a small dog can run faster than Usain Bolt so don't do it unless there is a gate or similar very nearby that you can get behind.

Shouting and waving your arms or acting in a threatening manner will frighten a timid dog but it may cause an aggressive dog to attack.

There is only one way to deal with a dog and that is to maintain a calm demeanour and upright posture. Do not try to use dog-language (e.g. by growling - this will cause it to become more aggressive) speak to it as a disapproving human and assume that it will obey.

If a dog actually attacks and is biting you then you have no option - you have to defend yourself. However do so in a calculated way. Control it by grabbing its collar and twisting so as to choke it. If there is no collar grab by the scruff. Then kick or hit in a soft/vulnerable spot. Poke in the eyes, kick in the windpipe, etc.


If you get to this last stage then you are already getting hurt so don't sue me if it goes wrong! It was going to anyway!


A knife is a perfectly effective weapon against stray dogs, provided that you are skilled in its use. However it's not something that you can just pick up and expect to be proficient with. You need to know how to keep your footing, how to avoid being bitten, enough dog anatomy to be able to disable one quickly, be in good enough physical condition to use all that knowledge...

A knife is always a useful thing to have with you, but if at all possible you'll find that the various types of mace formulated for discouraging dogs are far easier to use. Save the knife as a backup for in case your can of mace runs dry and the dogpack is still thinking you look tasty. A gun would be better in that case, but I rather assume you wouldn't be asking about a knife if that were an option, and even if it is, have the knife for when there are more dogs than you have bullets and start with the mace if you can since it's gentler on everyone and everything involved.

If a knife really is your only option, you'll want a set of heavy leather vambraces to go with it. These protect your forearms so you're less likely to be injured if you misjudge your attack and the dog clamps its teeth down on your arm. Armoring the rest of yourself wouldn't hurt either, but forearms, shins, and neck are the most important when dealing with dogs since they don't generally have the ability to puncture your torso.

Also consider finding a dog you can practice with. Most dogs love to wrestle. That's how they play with each other. The hard part is making sure you have a clear set of signals so it doesn't get confused and think it's ok to wrestle with other people who won't appreciate it. But like with fighting humans, the only way to learn how to effectively fight a dog is to do a bit of fighting with a dog.

In short, a knife is not a magic wand that will scare a dog away. If it's your only option it's better than nothing, but you need to put the time and effort into learning how to use it if you want it to give you anything more than a false sense of security.


As pointed out by others, YES, a knife CAN be effective. But, in al practicality, the question should be, what is the most effective way to avoid problems with stray dogs? The answer depends on lots of factors, but you should consider not going by food, but by car. This is the same solution to avoid beggars in an american city...

As for the problem analysis, the biggest problem is perhaps not being bitten, however "creepy" you might find, but getting infected with rabies. Bites can be easily stitched, but rabies is a really dangerous disease. In lots of countries, stray dogs are NOT vaccinated. In lots of outdoor places you may, after a bite, not be able to get treatment within 24 hours in a major hospital, where they give you expensive and horrible medicins as a precaution against rabies, without which you may (or may not) die. This is why you should consider getting vaccinated against rabies when going to most countries that are not super rich, where you plan to do a lot of outdoor activities.

Using a knife might as well be the MOST STUPID way of defending yourself against a dog. Others pointed out that wielding a knife will not impress a dog, as a dog does not have the intelligence to understand that such a little piece of shiny metal could be of any danger to him until you actually stab the dog which will cause lots of blood drops flying around, with a high risk of infection, not to speak of staining and ruining your nice outdoor apparel. Blood stains are difficult to wash. Even when stabbed, an aggressive dog will not give up. You will have to kill it. Stabbing the dog also means going really close, so you will end up being scratched and bitten anyway as the dog tries to attack or defend, whatever you name it.

Also, be aware that you can also contract rabies by petting those cute stray dogs, cats, squirrels, etc. And also by being coughed or spit at, i.e. even without being bitten.

Good Luck

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    In other words... Q: How to hike safely? A: Don't hike, use car.
    – gaazkam
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 20:19

A knife is probably better than nothing, as most have said, a stick might work better.

In case you don't have anything (I can imagine you don't want to walk continuously with a stick and you could unexpectedly face a dog).

Whenever you get caught by a dog and he is near, two good things to do are: poke in their eyes, or hit as hard as you can on their nose (it is very sensitive). Of course both are near their teeth so watch out.

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