The use of dogs to protect home and hearth goes back far into prehistory. In the unpleasantness since 9/11, special operations forces are fielding dogs in a number of innovative and sometimes classified ways. It is not surprising that bad guys are using large dogs to protect their drugs, their cribs and their deals. Pitbulls have become a status symbol among the thug class. They talk among themselves about methods to abuse these animals to make them more dangerous. You need to know how to handle them.

In the SF Advanced Land Reconnaissance Course, we got to wear a protective suit and take a dog hit. My dog was a Belgian Malinois and weighed about 65 pounds. It hit me at a run and bit the sleeve so hard that the sheet metal bent into my arm. There was no doubt that I would have lost all use of that arm for a while. They told us other countries taught dogs to go for the groin, not the arm. At that precise moment, I decided to plan for and avoid attack dogs.

I have seen two pitbulls shot, both while charging. A guy with an M-4 was standing in front of a closed interior door. As the breacher opened the door, 120 pounds of teeth and halitosis tried to blast through it. 5.56 had the right of way, two rounds hit the dog center mass and one stopped in the door as the breacher slammed it pushing the body back out of the doorway. The dog lay down, went to sleep and didn’t make a sound. Another 100 pounder ran past a guy in a courtyard, then turned and charged him. Two 3 round bursts from an MP-5 dropped him in his tracks. He shuddered and exhaled his last breath. Both were hit in the body and went down, but this seems to be uncommon. These guys had less than a second to avoid a bite.

If you are able to plan and prepare, a CO2 fire extinguisher will blind and confuse the bravest and best trained dog. Flash bangs will frighten and deafen dogs, but there is an old SWAT story about the dog who picked up the bang and brought it back to the officer who threw it. I read it on the internet, it must be true.

A dog attack can be controlled:

  • If you panic and try to run, a dog will try to run you down.
  • There are times when running is the best option.
  • If the dog is a block away and you’re standing close to your car, there’s nothing wrong with jumping in to avoid getting bit or having to shoot.
  • Sometimes, you may not have the option of retreating. You may have to stand and fight.

Realize you’re not dealing with a friendly puppy dog. Man’s best friend is a wonderful creature, but it’s also a predatory animal. When a dog attacks, it is applying millions of years of predator instinct. Ever seen a wolf take down a deer on the nature channel? It’s like that. To avoid serious injury or death you must understand and respect that instinct.

When confronted by a dog:

  • Never turn your back on a predator in close quarters.
  • If you turn and run, you look like prey.
  • Face the animal squarely and bend your knees to lower your center of gravity.
  • Start yelling. (Screaming like a girl works just as well)
  • An attacking dog expects you to turn and run.
  • When you face it and act aggressively, you may scare it off.
  • Unfortunately, a trained or determined animal will not be swayed by this tactic.

Avoid cornering the animal:

  • Whether the dog is a trained attack dog or a suddenly irritated and aggressive family pet, be careful about cornering or trapping it.
  • Always give an animal a way out or a way to retreat.
  • Trapping a dog in a corner and leaving him with no other option but to fight his way out is a sure way to get bitten.

If you do if you corner a dog:

  • If you find you have trapped a dog in a corner, keep facing the dog and slowly start to back away, giving it an escape route.
  • This will work on most dogs that are not committed to the attack but are instead reacting out of fear.
  • A determined animal who is on the attack and committed to the bite is another story.
  • It’s made up it’s mind to attack and is actively charging you.
  • It won’t back down.

OC Spray:

  • A determined dog can only be deterred with force.
  • This means you must decide between OC spray and deadly force.
  • OC is sometimes a viable option, But its execution can be tricky and its results can be unpredictable.
  • If you do use OC on a dog, it is imperative that you leave it an escape route.
  • If you don’t then you will get bitten as the dog tries to fight his way past you.
  • Remember, even a dog that wasn’t committed to the attack will fight to get away from you and the effects of the OC when trapped.
  •  Keep in mind that just as OC spray does not work on all humans, it won’t work on all dogs.
  • Dogs that have committed to an attack and trained or conditioned dogs won’t be fazed by pepper spray any more than a human PCP user.
  • Worse, even if a dog is susceptible to the pain of OC, it can cover a lot of ground before the spray has time to take effect.

Prepare for the attack

  • Face the animal squarely in a low-center-of-gravity stance with your knees slightly bent and your non-shooting arm extended.
  • Most dogs will bite the body part that’s closest to them unless they have been trained to do otherwise.
  • Even then, training has a hard time overriding the animal’s instinct.
  • By presenting the dog with your non-shooting arm to bite, you can take control of the attack.

Taking the bite:

  • Dogs are meat eaters and their instinct is to grab its prey with a bite, pulling it down, and tearing out its throat.
  • That’s exactly what an attack dog will try to do to you.
  • Your survival depends on using the dog’s instinct against it.

Prepare to counter attack:

  • When you are braced, draw your pistol and prepare yourself for the counterattack.
  • Make sure you have a safe background for shooting before you fire any rounds toward the charging animal.
  • If you don’t have a safe background to shoot the dog as it’s charging you, you will have to take the bite.

What to do when bitten

  • Once the animal clamps down on your arm, you can turn to try and maneuver it into a better position for shooting.
  • Just make sure you stay on your feet.
  • In the case of a larger dog such as 130-pound Rottweiler, it will be very difficult for you to maneuver the animal.
  • A dog has four legs and runs every day. A large dog is a strong dog, so it will be difficult to handle and turn.

Watch: Release The Dogs of War

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You may have to use the ground as a back stop

  • When you don’t have a safe background for shooting and cannot maneuver the animal, then you can shoot in a downward position using the ground as a safe backstop.
  • Once the dog latches onto your non-shooting arm, raise your weapon up over the top of the dog and fire into it from a downward position angled out away from your self, using the ground as your backstop.
  • Try to aim for the dog’s shoulder.
  • This will allow you to hit some of its major organs and blood vessels.
  • At the least you’ll break it’s shoulder, which will lessen the dog’s mobility and slow it down to give you a better shot.


  • You might think that a headshot is the way to go in this situation, but that can be a very bad option.
  • A large dog’s skull is very thick and curved. A bullet may not penetrte or glance off.
  • The dog’s head is latched onto your arm by it’s teeth.
  • The dog’s head is going to be thrashing about in its attempt to drag you down, so there’s a good chance you’ll miss or your weapon will be knocked around.
  • In addition, as you raise the weapon toward the animal’s head, there is a chance it will let go of your non-shooting arm and latch onto your shooting arm or hand.
  • Finally, just as with human targets, a dog’s head is smaller than its body and harder to hit.


A little preparation goes a long way. You have taken the first step by understanding the way dog’s attack and visualizing your response. You can set up your own “pit bull drill” next time you are at the range. 

The pit bull drill:

  • Use a two-litter soda or milk bottle filled with water and capped.
  • A piece of cord is tied around the neck of the bottle.
  • You now have a target that approximates the chest cavity area of a pit bull.
  • Place the bottle down range approximately 25 to 35 feet with the other end of the cord running between the shooter’s feet.
  • The cord is pulled by another person, causing the bottle to come toward the shooter.
  • Don’t draw your weapon until the bottle starts to move.
  • When given the command the volunteer will quickly pull on the cord, which will move the bottle towards you even faster.
  • Shoot until you strike the bottle, releasing the water.
  • The exercise is not over until the bottle is empty, or the firearms instructor stops the exercise.
  • For safety reasons, stop pulling the bottle when it gets to about three feet out from the shooter.
  • Insert a stake in the ground three feet in front of the shooter with the cord passing through it.
  • That way, the bottle cannot be pulled past this point.
  • The shooter will keep his handgun pointed down range at all times.

When stopping an Attacking Dog:

  • Lower your center of gravity by bending your knees.
  • Yell at the dog.
  • Spray it with OC.
  • If you can do it safely, shoot the dog before it bites you.
  • When you can’t shoot the dog before it bites, control the attack by making the dog bite your weak arm.
  • Do everything you can to stay on your feet.
  • Shoot the dog in the chest or shoulder until it releases you.

Some of the information in this post is based on information from “Countering Canine Attacks” a May, 2003 article published in Police Magazine by Michael Rayburn, the owner/lead instructor of Rayburn Law Enforcement Training, Saratoga Springs, NY