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George Mitchell: This column may one day save your life

Would you know how to survive a dog attack?
Would you know how to survive a dog attack?

I am a dog lover, always have been, always will be.

I’m also, though, aware that dogs can be dangerous, deadly even. Sadly, dogs can and do attack, often for apparently no reason. Well, no reason to us humans anyway, but for dogs, it’s usually because they feel scared, or it’s a territorial thing.

What to do if you are unfortunate enough to encounter such a problem?

I don’t mean a little yelpy thing that nips at your heals on the pavement. I don’t even mean a larger dog on a lead that barks at you as you pass by. I mean a snarling dog, on its own, without any human. A stray if you like.

That said, it won’t do you any harm to be vigilant of all dogs you meet.

The obvious signs of aggression are snarling and especially baring of the teeth. Also pay attention to the head and ears. An erect head in direct line with the body can mean a dog is considering an attack.

Fortunately, there is much you can do if you find yourself in such a situation. Even more importantly, there are things you should most definitely not do.

First up, and yes I know it is easier said than done, but do not panic. Stand completely still and under no circumstances should you look the dog in the eye, for it will take that as a challenge. Also, don’t smile, as the dog can interpret that as you baring your teeth in aggression.

The number one golden rule regarding what to do if a dog runs up to you, barking and snarling? You must fight the natural urge that you will have, which is to run. You simply must not run.

You must always resist the urge to run.

If you do, it will trigger the dog’s natural instinct to chase. It will see you as prey. It will chase you, it will catch you and attack. You will never outrun a dog.

Believe me, not running and staying put when an angry dog comes up to you is one of the scariest decisions you will ever make. But it is vital you make it. You must stay put, glued to the spot.

Position yourself side on to the dog, as this will convey that you are not a threat. Be passive and put your head down and slightly to the side, tuck your hands in and stay quiet. Nine times out of 10, the dog after realising you are not a threat, will simply walk away. You must then also slowly walk away, always resisting the urge to run.

But what if being passive and or ignoring him doesn’t work and it’s obvious he is going to attack? Then you need to act and act fast.

Although dogs can jump, they can’t climb, so try to get yourself up somewhere high. A fence, on to a car, a wall, anything in fact.

If you cannot instantly get to somewhere of safety, then you have to make yourself bigger than the dog. Raise your arms above your head and shout, roar as loudly and powerfully as you can, still avoiding eye contact if at all possible. But don’t scream, as this can again make the dog think of you as scared prey. Make your voice as loud and deep as you can.

Try to get yourself up somewhere high as the dog will not be able to climb up after you.

Throw something at the dog; it could be a bag you are carrying, stones on the ground, or anything lying around. Try to put distance between you and the dog, use any object you can. If you have nothing at hand and the dog does not back off, then you have to encounter its number one weapon, its bite.

You want to avoid at all costs ending up on the ground, but if you do, you must protect your most vulnerable parts, ie your face, neck and groin. Lash out with your legs and feet and try to kick its most vulnerable parts, which of course are the same as yours.

As terrifying as the above seems, the chances of it happening are slim – especially if you don’t run in the first place.

I’ve had two bad dog experiences and have long wanted to write about them. The first incident was 10 years ago and I handled it well.

I was walking in a forest in a town south-east of Moscow. Suddenly a pack of stray dogs spotted me through the trees and came running at me, barking and snarling.

It may have been fate, but only weeks prior I’d read an article on what to do and not do. I shudder to think that would have happened if I hadn’t read that article. I would have probably run.

I was terrified. The dogs numbered at least 10. They were angry and aggressive. The urge to run was immense. My brain was screaming at me to run, yet I remembered the advice and did not run. I stood rooted to the ground, rolled my fingers into a ball, arms by my side and put my head down and did not look at them.

That decision to stay put went against all my instincts. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made. I am not embarrassed to say, I have never been so scared in my entire life.

George was terrified when he encountered a pack of stray dogs in Russia.

The dogs came right up to me, and obviously decided I was no threat. They stopped snarling almost immediately, had a sniff around and promptly left. I cannot explain the relief that washed over me, my heart was banging in my chest.

It could have gone either way. If the pack had attacked me, I was done for.

I was lucky, beyond lucky in fact. I’m just so grateful I did not run that day, for they would have mauled me for sure.

As I write this, I recall, when I finally walked away and out of that forest, that tears were running down my face.

Fast forward to last autumn when I found myself in a situation I did not handle well at all.

I was in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica. In the middle of the dividing bridge stands a patrol of NATO troops. On and around the bridge, stray dogs are often to be found.

I’d just spent the day on the Serbian side and was making my way back to the south, via the infamous bridge, where I stopped and took more photos. Suddenly a scruffy middle-sized dog came walking aggressively towards me. It had spotted me from way off and for whatever reason was not happy. Twenty feet away it started to bark and snarl. No one else was around.

I did not run and stood side on with my head down. It came up to me and it snapped near my legs, I was convinced it was going to bite, so I raised my arms and shouted at it to go away. It backed off.

George advises to stay well clear of stray dogs when overseas.

I should have left it at that and walked off myself, but I didn’t and much to my own surprise I angrily swung my camera in its direction. The dog took this as an invitation to fight, curled up its lips and snarled like a vicious wild animal.

Other sleepy dogs in the vicinity started to cotton on and I knew I was in trouble. I backed off, the dog still came at me. I stopped, then tried to back off again, it kept coming, itching to sink its teeth into me.

I desperately looked around for help and thankfully a solider who had been observing everything, got out of his armoured vehicle and, obviously used to these dogs, calmed the situation. The dog seemed to respect him and instantly became docile.

He told me to back off and walk away, so I did, but the dog, who by now really hated me, came at me again. This went on for a good five minutes until I managed to make it away.

Dogs have good memories and I never went near the bridge during my last two days in Mitrovica.

I know I could and should have handled that situation better. But why had the dog come for me in the first place? According to my solider, it was territorial. I was walking in the middle of the dividing bridge where on one else does, and the dog thought it was his territory.

Thank you to that NATO soldier. He may well have saved my life. I dread to think what would have happened if that patrol had not been so close by.

Had it not been for the intervention of a NATO soldier, George could have been in serious trouble.

If you are ever unfortunate enough to encounter a snarling aggressive dog, please remember the golden rule: despite how much your brain is screaming at you to run – don’t.

This column may one day save your life.

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