Feral dogs appear to be dangerous. Should I be running if I come across one, or should I stand fast and defend myself? They are a social animal, so they will be in a pack almost all the times.
Wild dogs can indeed be dangerous, and packs can be extremely dangerous. You do not want to take on a pack of dogs if you can at all avoid it, and running is often a particularly bad idea.
I suggest starting with the basics: try to keep the dog calm and don't try to intimidate it. This means:
- Don't make direct eye contact, and remember that sunglasses look like large unblinking eyes.
- Don't smile (it bares your teeth, which can be similarly threatening).
- Don't approach it, and don't make sudden moves or shout at them.
- Do keep an eye on it, and you can try calmly talking.
Above all, don't "act like food". Turning your back, acting afraid, or trying to run away will show weakness and probably trigger their prey drive. Your job is to act bored until they aren't interested in you, then to slowly back away.
If they are still acting aggressive and you have the time, prepare for an attack. Quickly see if there's anything you can use as a weapon. If you have a jacket, wrap it around your weaker forearm. If you have a pack, ready it to fend them off. Yelling for help may be a good idea, in case others are nearby. In an attack, two things are very important:
- Protect your face and neck.
- Do not let yourself be taken to the ground*.
A dog can move quickly, and trying to hit the dog will likely be counterproductive (unless you happen to have a bat or stick). Instead, try to keep something between you and it, even if it's just your forearm. Here is where things start to get ugly. If it latches onto your arm, remember that you still have your other arm and both legs. Be careful to keep your balance, and don't worry about trying to free your arm immediately; the one bright spot is that its mouth is otherwise occupied. Instead, focus on attacking the dog. This is an excellent time to deploy pepper spray or a knife. Absent that, shoving a stick or even your arm down its throat may be appropriate, or strikes to its throat and eyes. (At this point, you are way beyond a newspaper swat to the nose, and there's a good chance you may need to kill it. Hopefully there's a good chance you outweigh it.)
*If you do get taken to the ground, protect your neck and roll around quickly. Letting the dog get a solid bite on your arm (see above) will be better than letting it get hold of your throat.
When dealing with a pack you're in significant danger. A defensible location and weapons will be very helpful. I suggest a fighting retreat; turn your back and they'll take you down, and they'll probably try to flank you as well.
Finally, if you survive an attack there's a good chance rabies may be in play, so get yourself to a hospital immediately.
To the question of whether you should run from a pack of dogs that may be aggressive, the answer is an unqualified NO!. As to what you should do, the answer is a bit more complicated. In the vast majority of cases, dogs won't attack you without provocation. As always, assume the best but prepare for the worst.
Prevention is better than having to deal with an attack.
Carry a sturdy hiking stick. A good, thick wooden staff is better than trekking poles, but poles are better than nothing.
Consider carrying pepper spray/mace/bear spray. Very few healthy dogs will pursue a confrontation after being pepper sprayed. Another option, although they are less common and a bit harder to find, are Bear Bangers. Bear bangers are basically just fireworks that can be launched from a handheld, pen-like launcher. They make a loud screeching sound, then a loud bang, and they emit a bright flash, smoke, and sparks. The idea is to bewilder and frighten wild animals before they get close enough to hurt you.
Have a good, sturdy knife handy. If it folds, make sure it has a sturdy locking mechanism so it doesn't close on your fingers when you try to use it. A 3-4 inch blade is sufficient, but of course, a machete is even better. However, very few people are in the habit of carrying machetes on pleasure hikes.
Know the area. Are there wild dogs here? (As a follow up, if there are wild dogs, why haven't you called animal control?) Are there safe places to get away from a potential confrontation? Many things will fit this purpose - an easy-to-climb tree, rock, antenna, lookout tower, etc, that dogs can't climb; an unlocked car; an unlocked business, home, or cabin; even the back of a pickup truck will do.
Silly as it might sound, it isn't necessarily a bad idea to carry dog treats, if you are sure that wild dogs are present in the are where you will be hiking. The best way to turn a threatening dog into a non-threat is to give him something to eat while you make yourself scarce.
Carry a means of communication that will definitely work - once you get up a tree, the dogs can't get you, but what if they decide to wait you out? It's not likely to happen, but it is possible. In most places, a charged cell phone will suffice. If you're hiking in an area with poor reception, a satellite phone or emergency radio (know the local emergency channels/frequencies), or, as a last resort, a signal whistle or distress beacon.
If you bring dog treats, they can go in your backpack, but the phone, mace, and knife should be on your person at all times - on your belt or in your pockets.
As always, let other people - people who aren't in your hiking party - know where you're going, when you will get there, and when you expect to get back home. If no one knows you're missing, no one will look for you.
Know the warning signs:
Don't confuse a curious or playful dog with a dangerous one.
Most dogs are not aggressive, but, rather, just curious or defending what they perceive as their territory. Thus, to avoid unnecessary conflict, it is important to be able to tell if a dog is just playing or is being truly aggressive. While some breeds have been singled out as being particularly vicious, any mid-size and large dog breed can be dangerous, so do not ignore warning signs because you think a certain breed is harmless or friendly. Watch for common signs of aggression (and non-aggression):
Growling, snarling, and baring teeth are obvious displays of aggression and should be treated as such.
An angry dog may show the whites of his eyes, especially if these aren't normally visible.
Pulled-back ears laying flat against the head are a telltale sign of aggression, whereas normal floppy or elevated ears usually signal a dog's nonchalance.
If the dog approaches you with its body relaxed and with a sloping curve in its midsection, the dog is probably not going to attack.
A dog whose body is tense, straight and stiff (head, shoulders and hips aligned) could mean business.
A loping gait means the dog is playful and checking you out. An even, steady run means the dog may be dangerous.
Once a confrontation begins:
You might say that the best approach consists of the following steps: Stay Calm, Ignore, Placate, Intimidate, Repel, Fight Back, and Last Resort (for this section, I am borrowing much from these two articles. Use each step in turn if possible, and if any step works, that's the time to back away (see "exit strategies", below). If any step fails to have the desired effect, move on to the next one.
Stay Calm. Don't panic. There is some truth to the old adage that dogs can smell fear. Unless you are a few feet from a safe haven (e.g., an unlocked car, house, business, easy-to-climb tree), don't try to get away, and above all else, don't run. Running will trigger the predatory instinct in the dogs, and virtually guarantee an attack.
Ignore. Put your hands at your sides. Extending your arms could be perceived as threatening, and it opens them up to a bite. Roll your hands into fists to protect your fingers. Put your side to the dogs, not your face or back, but keep the dogs in your peripheral vision. It should be seen by the animals as an "I'm neither scared of you nor hostile to you; you just don't matter to me" signal. They may approach you, even sniffing you. Let them. Don't react. The best case scenario is that they'll turn out to be friendly and seek positive attention, or at least decide you're neither a meal nor a threat and simply walk away. If this doesn't have the desired effect, move onto placation.
Placate. Don't immediately engage the dogs with hostility. Try to distract them first. Offer them something else to focus on. If you have treats, use them now. If you don't, try, almost anything else - a water bottle, backpack, whatever. Pick up a small stick, if you have nothing better - if the dogs know people, they might take this as an invitation to play. If so, you just found yourself a pack of friends. If not, throwing stick might stil distract them. If you lose your backpack to the dogs, remember - however much it sucks to have your possessions torn up by dogs, it's still better than having them tear you up. If it doesn't work, intimidate.
Intimidate. Keep in mind, although this is now your best option, it could very easily escalate the problem. Things are getting serious. Face the dogs, but avoid eye contact. Say something like "BACK OFF!" in a firm, deep, confident voice. If this fails, try to repel them.
Repel. If the dogs persist in signs of overt aggression - growling, snarling, baring teeth, etc - now is the time to deploy the "ranged weapons" - mace/pepper spray/bear spray. This is probably going to end the confrontation in a hurry. If it doesn't immediately set the dogs to flight, spray again. Target all the dogs that are showing aggressive behavior, but pay special attention to the boldest, most active animal(s).
Fight Back. If they attack, fight back. Do not instigate the fight. Only resort to violence if they do so first. Now you can - and should - start to yell, hopefully in a loud, deep, commanding voice. This might intimidate the dogs, and if it doesn't, it will hopefully attract the attention of anyone in the area. Don't scream or shriek, as this will probably just make things worse.
Abandon any sense of mercy or compassion, because your life is on the line. They're trying to KILL YOU, so you have to kill them first, or hurt them bad enough to make them retreat. Feel bad about it later. It might be unpleasant, and as a dog lover myself, it pains me to write this as my sweet yellow lab lays sleeping beside me on the couch. But you are fighting for your life, and a dead dog is better than a dead you.
Try to spot the most active, dominant animal, and focus on it. It might be the literal "leader of the pack", and if you hurt it enough to scare it, the effect should spread through the entire pack pretty quickly. Convince the alpha to retreat, and - at least in theory - the rest of the dogs will follow their leader.
Weapons. You're a homo Sapien. You evolved to use tools and weapons, and this ability is the main reason your species is so dominant. Use it to your advantage. Try to fight by hitting the dogs with your weapons. Start with the stick. Swing for the back of the head. It should stun the dogs. If you lose the stick (or didn't bring one), use the knife. Stab, stab, stab. If you lose the knife, or didn't bring one, grab a good sized rock or stick and start smacking skulls. If no rocks or sticks are available, you're stuck with close quarters, unarmed fighting.
Hand to paw. You still have some advantages.
A. You can kick and punch. Kick throats, punch the backs of heads. Do both to sensitive noses. This is your method of choice with a large number of dogs, because it keeps the greatest possible distance between them and your vitals. Against a large pack, stay on your feet as long as possible,
B. You can't bite as well as they can, but you're bigger and stronger, and you have all the leverage and flexibility. Dogs suck at wrestling. If you can do so relatively safely, use your weight to your advantage by crushing the dog with your bulk. Come down on their chests with both knees, as hard as you can. Do it hard enough and you'll kill the dog, or at least wound it so badly that it is no longer a threat. Obviously, the fewer dogs you started out against, the safer this technique will be. With a large pack engaged in a fight, it might put you in greater danger by making your vitals more accessible.
Last Resort. If you are overwhelmed and unable to stay on your feet, do what your instincts should be telling you to do: duck and cover. On the ground, pull your knees tight to your chest. Tuck your head down, chin to chest. Lock your elbows outside your knees, with your fingers interlaced behind your neck. Now roll onto your knees, so your face iand stomach are both protected by your limbs and facing the ground. Stay quiet. Don't move or scream. You're trying to keep teeth away from your soft spots - face, throat, neck, belly, and groin. Your back, arms, and legs are there to take the brunt of the damage. You are hoping that the dogs will quickly lose interest, and/or that help will arrive before it's too late.
If and when you see an opportunity to get away - the dogs are calming down, losing interest, or being scared off - follow these steps (obviously, if you're already being attacked and get an opening to climb a nearby tree or something - without having to run more than a few steps - you should take it):
Back away slowly for as long as possible. No eye contact or sudden movements. Stay calm and try to appear confident.
Once you are a safe distance away, turn around and walk slowly towards the nearest safe area that doesn't require you to pass by the dogs.
If you're hurt, get to the doctor.
Call animal control or law enforcement.
Cesar Milan, "The Dog Whisperer", has some tips as well. Some of them are very reasonable, but others strike me as potentially exacerbating the situation. He seems to assume that you will have your own dog with you, and he furthermore appears to believe that this is usually a good thing, but I see a lot of room for it to cause much more serious problems - your dog may provoke a fight out of a desire to protect you, and once the fight begins, you're basically stuck there, unable to get away - unless you're willing to abandon your own dog to be torn to pieces by the wild dogs.
Fighting aggressive dogs: This article takes a slightly over-aggressive approach, but has some interesting pointers for the worst case scenario.
I'd say the only circumstances where you could try to run is when a safe place is near (your car, some kind of shelter, a tree you can climb etc.), the dogs are already alert and running to you (otherwise you could just walk to the shelter without them noticing), and you can realistically make it to the shelter before the dogs do. Remember that dogs car run 2-3 times as fast as you can.
Running away from the dogs into nowhere is a stupid idea:
- you're provoking them to chase you by running
- you cannot outrun them in the long run
- you're turning your back to them
Running towards the shelter when dogs are already near is also not advisable, you'll have better chances walking towards the shelter while still facing the dogs. Facing is very important, as the dogs will see that you're taller than them and ready to fight back, which will intimidate them to some degree and give you more time.
So far all of the answers are assuming the wild dogs are actively hunting you or at least seriously considering attacking you. This might be due to the part of your question where you say:
... or should I stand fast and defend myself?
If the dogs appear to be actively hunting you then a controlled exit to a safe area as suggested by Dmitry Grigoryev is a good plan. If an attack is truly imminent, and you can't get to safety, then the advice offered by requiem is great for trying to deescalate the situation and survive the attack if deescalating the dogs doesn't work.
However I interpreted this question more as saying: "I see a wild/feral dog. Should I be nervous?"
That is a totally reasonable question. If that is what you're asking then I would say, generally you should be cautious and aware of the dog(s) but not nervous. You probably aren't going to be harassed by wild/feral dogs unless something else is going on. Personally I've seen wild dogs numerous times while out hiking and/or hunting1. Most of the time we just look at each other and go our separate ways. I've also encountered feral dogs while traveling in third world countries. These feral dogs caused my wife to get nervous at times, but we were never in any real danger of the dogs attacking us IMO. Honestly fleas were more of a concern with feral/street dogs that I've encountered than the dog attacking.
As such the appropriate response to the feral dogs and the wild dogs that I've encountered has always been to watch for signs that they are acting unusually aggressive, while carrying on business as normal. If the wild/feral dog is acting markedly aggressive then I would highly recommend requiem's answer for defense, if Dmitry's option of avoiding the fight via a safe shelter isn't viable.
1: This has been in the United States where coyotes/wolves have been hunted historically so it might not translate perfectly to regions of the world where wild dogs haven't learned to fear humans, if such a place exists.
I have couple tips for such situation:
Try to stand sideways to the dog if it is possible - I've heard about that in some National Geographic program - it's pretty neutral stand for dogs. In the same time try retreat very slowly
Try to climb somewhere dog can't reach You (if it is possible)
Don't be afraid; in most cases You're bigger and stronger and the dog is the one who's afraid in such situation and they can feel that You're scared
If any of those tips fail, then:
Try to pretend be bigger than You're actually are - take Your arms up, try growling and shouting to scare opponents
Use tools - backpack, pipe, trash anything that can be a separator between You and a dog; anything that You can use as a weapon or a shield
If confrontation will be inevitable:
don't be afraid to kick and punch - You're fighting with wild animal who probably want to kill You - You have to be faster,
target into sensitive points: nose, eyes (if dog will bite You and don't want to let go - put fingers into its eyes), reproductive organs, try to break its leg bones
Firstly wild dogs are not harmful if you are not doing any foolish in front of it.
SERIOUS BITES ARE RELATIVELY RARE, AND NO PARTICULAR BREED is more likely to be responsible for serious bites 1
This maybe bit scary, but sometimes doing nothing and just standing still can save your life. Animals focus on you more when you running.
Most importantly, the person should never run. A human cannot outrun a dog and, as already noted, many dogs respond to people, animals, and objects that are running or moving quickly by chasing, catching, and even biting. This is play for the dog, not fear or hostility, but serious injury can result. This impulse explains why bicyclists, joggers, skateboarders, and skaters are often involved in problematic encounters with dogs, whether as a result of bites or, more commonly, falls.
There are 2 types of dog aggression you are concerned about here:
- Territorial agression: Most common situation, you are coming through a place they consider their turf. You ignored the "obvious" piss smell and are trespassing. They are not attacking you so much as defending and they are somewhat afraid but there is strength in numbers.
Do not run, that makes you a prey and they will come after you. The easiest way to deal with it is to back off slowly and they will let you go.
Unfortunately, sometimes going around isn't an option. An advice I was given by a good dog trainer was to ignore them and just keep walking.
I have been in that exact situation with 1-2 dogs many times and on 3 occasions with semi-wild dogs packs. With a few dogs, I have tried to just keep walking and it seemed to work reasonably except a few times where my nerves go the better of me and I started charging on them, causing them to back off a bit
With the dog packs (10-30 dogs), I didn't want to end up having to start fighting with several dogs already close, so I opted for a more aggressive approach. Can't say that my approach is the right one but it worked for me and I didn't get bitten - I was pretty scared though.
I kept walking forward giving them as much space as possible. They came snarling and started surrounding me. I quickly found who the pack's alpha was. I made myself as threatening as possible, raised my arms and marched on the alpha as if I was the one attacking. The alpha backed off and started circling, giving himself some space and all the other dogs held off to see how it was going to play out. I held my spot a few seconds and walked away. Of course the alpha was circling back and coming closer along with the rest, so I turned around and threatened the alpha again moving towards him a couple meters. He held his ground a bit longer then ran in a circle and I resumed my walk, slowly but surely getting through the area. Each confrontation getting a bit harder, but after several such confrontations, I ended up through on the other edge of their turf and going away, which is what they wanted in the first place: no intruder. Every one of my movement was slow as I didn't want to actually start a fight.
The main point here to keep in mind is that there is a very clear territory they are protecting and your goal is to get out of it without triggering predatory response.
In all cases, do not run away, and if you chose to walk down a dog, do NOT corner him. You want him to be able to create distance, or he will end up having to fight.
It's a stressful situation and it helps to remember that you are 2-3 times as big as they are. Sure, they have teeth and are a lot more athletic than most humans, but they don't know how weak you really are and they are scared, so you can effectively threaten them.
- Predatory aggression: They are hunting for a meal and you look like one. That's very unlikely unless you are running and show you are afraid.
I have never been in that situation and I think you are up *** creek if a pack of wild dogs decides you look tasty. That said, I think your best course of action is to identify the alpha and attack. Don't behave like a prey and they might turn tail if they feel they are hunted.
Obviously having weapons will help (spray, sticks, etc.) because you are in a fight.
You can't run from them, but...
- They can't climb to a tree. You can.
- They can't jump over a fence. You can.
- They can't even break a single glass window.
- Many of them fears if they see anything in your hands. They don't have any idea if this object is really dangerous or painful, or not.
- A dog see a human as a leader and a source of very happy things (warm, food, etc). It is imprinted into them since around 8000 years. It is a very-very last resort if a dog see a human as food. (Which is exactly opposite, as the bears do - for them, we are just moving food, just as a deer.)
Between stray dog and stray dog there is a large difference:
- Most of them born in a human family, and learned as a small puppy, that humans are very, very important to get food, and they are also very strong leaders. After that, on a point of his life, he was thrown out, and although he survived it, he won't ever forget the "golden era" of his life. Such dogs won't ever attack you. They eat cats, mouse, shit, deers, and similar things.
- A little bit of them didn't ever see a human. These dogs are practically unsocializable and need to be shot (or euthanized), because you are really food for them.
- Move your hands and legs, and show them, how will you kick them, or beat them, if they come near. Imitate that you kick them, beat them, throw painful things to them. They understand the human body language very well (often better as we understand eachothers), but don't have any idea if you can realize the threat or not. It is much more efficient if they really see something in your hand, best if it is long, as a staff.
Most dog doesn't live too long free, because hunters have free license to kill any dog without an owner. Thus, the really stray dog, which hasn't ever seen human, is rare. There is another reason: even for completely feral dogs, knowing the human behavior is an important thing for the survival, but these knowledge can be get only with humans. Stray mother dogs can't explain this to their pups - the capability to transfer complex thoughts between eachother was one of the reasons of the human civilization.
This is why most stray dogs are from the zeroth generation, and you can use it against them (and this is why they aren't really dangerous, except if they are in a flock and have hunger).
Most things already have been said above.
What I can add is that if you find a tree, a dog can stay there for very long time.
A (domestic) dog we had once sat an entire day under a tree because of a cat.
I'm sure in a real situation you're not going to search for a 'comfortable' tree, but the most nearest tree, but it might be useful if possible to go to a tree where you can cut off a branch to use as weapon. So having a knife in your pockets is always a good idea.
Very good advice! I have had good experience targeting the second in a pack - feral human or dog. Alpha is Alpha for a reason. If you kill or severely injure the second (which may be easier) packs react to this and will retreat. Remember an injured animal is soon a dead animal so they try to avoid this. Your mileage will differ.