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Last Modified: June 1, 2023

Defenses in a Dog Fight: Your Rights When a Dog Attacks

Published on March 18, 2014 • Last updated June 1, 2023 by Ken Christensen
Topics: Dog Bites & Attacks

dog bites

If you run, bike, or even walk on the sidewalk with any frequency, then you have likely encountered the following scenario:

You are going along when all of a sudden you see a dog charging toward you. Even if you are on a bike, you may not be able to outrun it, and so you are not sure how to react.

This happened, fairly recently, to a friend of mine. But, he said, that when he turned around he saw that the dog was barely bigger than his foot. He turned to run away, but the dog kept yapping at his heels, and afraid that the dog might bite him, he turned around to kick the dog away. Before he could follow through, though, the dog flinched and ran away. Then he asked me the question:

What it I did kick the dog? Could I get in trouble for injuring someone’s pet even though I feel threatened?

How to React

First, let’s talk about what to do before you reach the point of aggressively engaging the dog.

BBC News, The Daily Puppy, and WikiHow offer some great suggestions.

  1. Don’t panic. There’s some truth to the adage that dogs and other animals can sense fear. If you become agitated and scream, you may make the dog feel more confident in his attack, or you may appear threatening to the dog. Neither of these is a good situation.
  2. Stand still and don’t make eye contact. Running from the dog often awakens its predatory instincts and may cause it to fully engage you. This also might occur if you look the dog in the eye and cause it to feel threatened. The best thing to do is to put your hands in your pocket and stand still, slightly angled away from the dog.
  3. Give it something else to bite. If you have access to a water bottle or a stick or something else, giving this to the dog may distract him long enough for you to ease away.
  4. Command it to go home. If nothing else works, turn toward the dog and command it to go home in a loud and authoritative voice. Sometimes the dog will submit and leave.

What to do if these methods don’t work and the dog lunges

The following is the general law for defending yourself against a dog that is attacking you. It is lawful for a person to repel an attack by a dog:

[O]ne is ‘privileged to destroy an animal for the purpose of defending himself or third persons against harm threatened by the animal, (a) if its actions led him to know or reasonably believe that the animal would inflict such harm and (b) the destruction was reasonable in view of the gravity of the harm threatened and (c) the person reasonably believed the harm could be prevented only by immediate destruction of the animal. (Devincenzi v. Faulkner (1959) 174 Cal.App.2d 250, 254-5.)

The law of self-defense permits aggression only for the purpose of meeting aggression. It does not permit revenge killing. “It is not the dog’s predatory habits, nor his past transgressions, nor his reputation, however bad, but the doctrine of self-defense, whether of person or property, that gives the right to kill.” (State v. Smith (1911) 156 N.C. 628, 72 S.E. 321.) There is no legal justification that will protect a person for killing or injuring a dog that bit him or her at a prior time if the dog presented no threat at the time of the killing or injuring. (Found at, for more detailed codes regarding your area of residence, please consult your state’s laws and codes.)

So How Do I Fight Back?

If you are in accordance with the law above, you are fully permitted by law to repel the attack. The three sources who offered the tips above about how also show how to repel the attack.

  1. Don’t hit the dog in the head: Dogs have thick skulls and this will only anger them.
  2. Yell for help
  3. Grab a stick. If you can get a stick or something long, force it into the dog’s jaw and push it into the dog’s mouth.  This will loosen the dog’s grip and will hopefully cause it to gag and release you.
  4. Go for the eyes: Going for the dog’s eyes can repel the dog and temporarily impair its vision.

Dog Bite Facing ForwardDo You Have More Questions?

If you or someone you know has been involved in a dog bite incident, please contact us and let us help you to receive the compensation needed to get you back on your feet. We will provide you with our free book, The Utah Dog Bite & Attack Handbook, and we will provide you with the advice you need most.


Photo “dog bites arm” copyright to Filipe Saraiva


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