In 1945 in Hollywood I watched a film being made at Monogram Studios: "The Enchanted Forest." A scene had a police dog attacking a man who was wearing, unseen under his shirt, thick padding on the arm that he raised. The scene was shot three times, I think, and the actor, or stunt man, complained to me between takes, as I stood idly by, that his arm hurt like hell.
What interests me about the scene was how good an actor the dog was – if you can call it acting. When "cut" was shouted the dog was called off and immediately changed his mood. Dogs behave from instinct and also with social context in mind.
Years later while I was attending Junior College and living with my parents, they had a part German Shepard that my mother said had been abused by children when it was a pup. The dog was about a year old, and we became good friends. We went hiking together and we enjoyed rough play that included its persistence in hanging onto objects that I'd try to take from it. And I might wrestle the dog to the ground. No matter how rough our play, the dog remained affectionate. With me the dog was acting. He wasn't one day when a friend drove up and his young son stepped out of the car. I didn't see how the kid greeted the dog, but I heard the dog's sounds of rage that he never made with me. I had to pull the dog off the kid. The kid lost his ear, and my mother had to have the dog put down – a city ordinance perhaps – which I opposed.
Around these years a dog down the street charged and went for my ankle as I was walking by. I kicked the dog airborne and it went yipping into retreat toward its house. The dog never charged again, but it was loose and it did bark.
In 1965 I was on the UC Berkeley campus where a lot of dogs hung out in the plaza in front of the administration building – a place affectionately called Red Square. When there was tension among people in the plaza it would pass to the dogs – more dog sensitivity to social context.
When Diane Whipple was killed in front of her apartment door by two dogs in January 2001 in San Francisco, it reminded me of two things. Male dogs in pairs are more confident and more aggressive; and signaling fear encourages an attack. I'm sorry the dogs were able to get her on the ground. If they hadn't, she might have survived.
Around this time while walking across a soccer field, alone on the field except for a guy with a dog about fifty yards away, the dog started running toward me and barking. I continued walking as I had. The dog stopped next to me and was moving parallel with me. And when I turned slightly and spoke it riled him. That disturbed me, but I kept walking, pretending that the dog was insignificant, and the dog ran back to its owner, who was still screaming.
I decided that if a dog was big enough to attack me airborne like the dog in the scene shot at Monogram studios, I wouldn't allow the dog to knock me over. Rather than throw my arm up for protection as the actor did, I would shoot my arm out and parry him off to the right as I moved to the left. A dog in the air has no way to maneuver. Then, if possible and if necessary, with him on the ground I would attack with kicks. Proper military strategy is to hit hard and fast when the enemy is incapacitated, rather than giving it time to turn for another attack.
Two days ago I was walking in the park, and a man with two dogs on leashes and one dog not on a leash were walking toward me. The dog not a leash was a good-sized boxer. I kept walking and the dog started moving toward me and then broke into a full change with an expression of full ferocity. Perhaps the dog became confused by seeing absolutely no response as I continued to walk, except a slight turn of my head. I was in a lazy mood and didn't want to be bothered, but I would have responded if I had seen the dog headed for my ankle or going airborne. If I had turned to defend myself or had run it would have provided him with a reason to stay on target. The dog was running too fast to pull up short. A couple of yards in front of me, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it veering slightly to the right. The dog raced by me. Then it turned away from me, and obeyed its master's shouts.
I wish others my good fortune. A woman friend walking in this same park was attacked by a dog and had to go to the hospital.
Online I now see some advice:
Don't show your teeth by smiling or talking at an aggressive dog. The dog sees it as you baring your teeth for a fight. (Now I understand why the dog on the soccer field flared.)
Running away fires up the dog's prey instincts.
Maintain a non-threatening position as long as possible. This includes no eye-contact other than peripheral. Standing sideways to the dog and keeping the dog in your peripheral vision rather than facing the dog or dogs signals that you are not a threat.
Dogs are vulnerable to human defenses. Don't panic. If the dog is big enough to get airborne it can't maneuver in the air and you can parry and knock it down. Instead, most likely the dog will attack your legs. At the last moment of a dog's sustained charge or if the dog is actually at you in an attack, your attempt to be non-threatening no longer helps. Turn immediately and kick, kick, kick. Don't let the dog's impact knock you down and try to stop the dog from getting his teeth into your flesh. Don't be pacifistic. Continue hitting the dog's head with your fists rather than pulling away and tearing your flesh.
Small dogs are vulnerable to being picked up by a hind leg, swung around, its weight opposite your body weight, and tossed.
Dogs for us are like people. We can be fond of them and hate one or two momentarily. If attacked, your rage helps you defend yourself. And foo bad for the irresponsible dog owner.
Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.