Since going for walks is a major aspect of dog ownership, encountering a predator is a possible scenario for many dog owners.
Your dog can even encounter them in their own backyard.
Predators may be other humans, aggressive domestic dogs, or wild animals. In these scenarios, what do you do? Let’s discuss this so you can be prepared:
Self Defense Strategy
It is best to mentally prepare a strategy to defend your dog and yourself, as in the moment, it can be overwhelming and difficult to think of what to do if you are very frightened.
Having a plan to follow can make a difference in keeping yourself and your dog safe.
Your strategy will vary based on the attacker. Let’s discuss some strategies based on the most common predators in the United States:
Although a dog is a complication to someone who wants to harm another human, a dog is likely not a complete deterrent to a motivated individual—especially a small dog like a chihuahua.
Human predators may attempt to attack you or your dog, or attempt to steal your dog. To protect yourself against human predators:
- When possible, walk with a friend or group of friends.
- Try to walk when daylight is available.
- Avoid walking alone in secluded or less traveled areas.
- Sign up for a self-defense class.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Do not wear headphones or play on your cell phone, as doing so may cause you to miss something that could save you from an attack.
- If you do not have any humans to walk with, consider walking in shopping centers or downtown areas, as some restaurants or cafes may be open early, giving you an area to walk with more human activity, as well as security cameras that would capture any attacker.
If a domestic dog is coming at you and your dog on a walk, begin by trying to observe their body language. If a dog is running toward you quickly, it may be hard to observe the body language fast, so just try your best.
If the dog has loose and happy body language and goes into a play bow near your dog, they likely are not aggressive.
If their hackles are raised, they are growling, their body is tense, and they are focusing on your dog, this is cause for concern. Never assume that a wagging tail is a happy and friendly dog, as aggressive dogs also wag their tails.
If the dog is off leash your concern should increase, as if they are aggressive they are not under control.
To keep your dog safe, and to protect yourself from a bite or attack, you will want to maintain distance from the aggressive/off-leash dog. If you are near a fenced area, store, car, yard, or home, get inside as quickly as you can.
The urge to run will probably be your first instinct but know that it is a gamble. In some circumstances, running out of the dog’s “territory” may solve the issue.
However, more often than not, the aggressive dog will feel the urge to chase you and your dog if you run.
If you do not have the option to get away as previously described, look for something to use as cover. For example, get your dog to a car parked on the street so you don’t have to worry about watching your back.
If the dog followed you, circle around the car rather than stopping and standing still, because if your dog and the aggressive dog stop they will have the chance to focus on each other, increasing the risk of a fight breaking out.
The dog might discover a distraction and move on, but if they do not, do not stop circling the car or moving. Scream for help, and if no one comes, call the police for help.
If the dog actually begins attacking your dog, do what you can depending on your strength and the size of the dog. Kicking the dog, or using a stun gun or mace may help, but know that some dogs will focus on their victim and be incredibly hard to stop without help.
Coyotes are common in the United States and live everywhere, not just in the countryside. Even if you’ve never seen one, chances are, there are some nearby that you simply haven’t crossed paths with.
Some people even mistake coyotes for domestic dogs, as they can look like a shepherd mix. The quickest way to understand what type of animal you are seeing is to observe their gait. Coyotes move with a unique three-beat gait that domestic dogs do not.
Some urban coyotes may not be afraid of people, so they may pass closely by or even attempt to approach you. Never feed a coyote or act friendly towards them, as it will further reduce their fear of humans.
If you are seeing a coyote hanging around your yard, be sure to store trash indoors, to not feed pets outdoors, and “haze” the coyote to discourage them from frequenting the area by making loud, abrasive sounds and being assertive with them.
If a coyote begins to approach you and your dog on a walk, your first objective is to stay calm. Hold eye contact, and stand up tall.
If it is winter time unzip your coat to make yourself look bigger. Be loud, as noises may scare a coyote away.
Back away slowly, but do not turn around and run away. Get out of the area as quickly as you can, and get indoors or into a car if you are able to.
You should also know that coyotes often live in mated pairs, not packs like wolves, though sometimes they may gather as a pack. It is most common to see a single coyote or a pair of coyotes; it is rare to see a pack.
Coyotes are attracted to cats and often kill cats. Keep in mind that by leaving out food for neighborhood cats, you may also be attracting coyotes that may kill or maim them or your dog.
Remember that knowledge is power! To better understand these animals, I highly recommend reading Myths & Truths About Coyotes: What You Need to Know
Bears are another common predator in the United States. Though cute and cuddly in appearance, they can be vicious.
As tempting as it may be to take a picture, your priority must be to get yourself and your dog away from the bear.
Initially, consider if there are any higher-risk areas where a bear may be more likely to be present and avoid those areas. For example, a wooded campground where campers are grilling meat, or a rural neighborhood where pets are often fed outdoors.
It is in the best interests of your dog to be kept on a leash for many reasons, one of which is keeping them from biting off more than they can chew by chasing a bear. If your dog chases a bear and barks at it, the bear is likely to attack them.
If you encounter a bear on a walk, keep your dog close by your side; do not allow your dog to chase the bear. Avoid eye contact and give the bear as much space as you possibly can.
Avoid sudden movements and back away slowly; do not run. Try to get inside a building or a car.
If you encounter a bear cub, exercise extreme caution as their mama is likely nearby and will NOT be okay with you being near her cub. You will want to get out of the area as quickly and as calmly as possible.
If a bear attacks your dog, you simply will not be able to defend your dog. The bear will likely kill or maim you if you try to defend your dog, who will likely die anyway from the attack since they are smaller than you.
Your only options to attempt to save your dog are to scare the bear away from a distance with loud sounds, with a hose or gun, or charging the bear in a vehicle. Bear spray could be effective but can also harm your dog.
Consider watching I was Prey on Animal Planet to hear stories from bear attack survivors to learn how they got away.
Birds of Prey
These can be a real concern for small dogs like chihuahuas. They can be found pretty much everywhere, even in cities.
The safest thing to do is to always be with your dog, even when they are in the backyard. For extra protection, you can keep them on a long leash so if a bird is brave enough to pick your dog up with you there (it has been known to happen), you can pull your dog away before they take off with them.
If you think hawks and other birds of prey are in your area, hang some scare tape from your trees and fences. For some reason, this scares away most birds of prey.
To be prepared to keep your dog and yourself safe with these self-defense supplies:
- Always carry your cell phone to be able to call for help if necessary. If your dog walking shorts or pants do not have pockets, consider purchasing a dog walking bag
- to have your phone and any weapons you choose to carry with you.
- If you are comfortable with owning a firearm, consider taking firearm safety courses and obtaining a concealed carry permit. If you are uncomfortable owning a firearm, consider investing in a paintball gun or pellet gun to carry on walks to help save your dog if they are attacked by another animal.
- A stun gun can be an effective deterrent against an animal or a human attacker.*
- A spiked collar can defend your dog against a bite.
- Pet body armor by Coyote Vest can offer protection for your dog against an aggressive animal if they attempt to bite your dog.
*The most common comparable go-to self-defense product is pepper spray, also known as mace. However, the chance of using it against yourself is high.
It cannot be used in enclosed spaces, and if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, you can be disabled, further reducing your attack readiness.
What To Do If A Wild Animal Gets In Your Dog’s Space
If any wild animal interacts with your dog, whether or not a fight breaks out, contact your veterinarian for advice immediately.
Many diseases can be transmitted via saliva, so your veterinarian may recommend that your dog receive boosters of vaccines to be safe.
Walking your dog keeps both you and your dog healthy. It should be an enjoyable bonding experience and there is no reason not to partake in this fun activity as long as you are prepared to defend your dog and yourself on walks.
I’m an avid dog lover and I’ve had many dogs throughout my life. When I rescued my first Chihuahua, I was hooked on the breed.
I have had dogs all my life and have trained as a dog groomer. I also have been a kennel worker, worked in a pet hotel through PetSmart, and still am a pet sitter.
Read my full bio on my About page