Dear Julie,

I was recently hired as an Animal Control Officer in a very active community with a high number of guardian breeds registered.  The one call I dread is the aggressive dog running at large, it makes my blood run cold and I worry about being attacked.  I’ve heard from other Officers that the K9 Self Defense course you teach is what I need to boost my confidence, I plan to register for the fall date but in the mean time, could you please give me some tips on how to approach an aggressive dog safely?


Doesn’t Want To Get Bitten

Dear Doesn’t Want To Get Bitten,

My first piece of advice on approaching an aggressive dog is; DON’T!  The environment could be under perfect control (which it never is), you can think that you have accounted for every variable in the approach such as; speed, angle, body language, etc. and still have the situation go sideways.  When a dog is demonstrating ‘aggressive’ behaviour but not making contact, they are in fact, demonstrating distance increasing signals.  Distance increasing signals are essentially the dog’s way of telling you to leave them alone.  The simple fact that you are the one closing the social distance, while the dog is clearly communicating that they are not ready, can be enough to stress the dog to the point of reaction.

As Animal Control, you don’t have the option of respecting the dog’s wishes.  It is your job to ensure the safety of the animal and public, by detaining him / her until owners can be found, which puts you right in the line of fire.  Professional Animal Control Officers are ethically and morally obligated to apprehend and restrain a dog using the least amount of force possible to reduce potential injury to the animal.  Using techniques that decrease the level of stress the dog is experiencing will help minimize the level of force required to apprehend the dog safely.

Your number one priority, before K9 Self Defense, is to learn how to read canine body language.  Knowing how to gauge a dog’s stress levels is the FIRST and most crucial step in canine handling.  The least stressful method of apprehending a dog is to encourage them to approach you in a controlled, positive manner.  The 3 key components in encouraging a dog to approach you are:

  1. Appear calm and non-threatening.
  2. Find the item that will motivate the dog to approach in a positive manner.
  3. Patience.

In addition to your medical supplies, and restraint equipment, your tool box should contain a variety of smelly food and toy options that can be used to change the emotional state of the dog.  Sometimes changing the dog’s emotional state can literally be as easy as bouncing a tennis ball on the ground, other times you need to choose methods with more subtle movement. Strategies you could implement include;

  • Angle your body to keep the dog in your 2 or 10 o’clock position, relax your shoulders and divert your gaze to avoid direct eye contact.
  • Speak to the dog in a calm, friendly tone of voice to de-escalate their emotional state.
  • Try using common phrases that may be associated with positive emotions.  For example: Do you want to go for a car ride? Want a cookie? Go for a walk? Play? etc.
  • Give commands that may be familiar to the dog such as; sit, stay, back up, etc.
  • Toss objects that the dog might find enjoyable such as; treats, food, toys, sticks, crinkly water bottle, etc. towards them.
  • Toss objects that the dog might find interesting away from you, to shift the dog’s focus, such as; work bag, lunch, purse, hat, etc.
  • If there are multiple dogs, focus your attempts towards the dog closest to your location while keeping the second dog in your peripheral vision.

For more information on seminars and workshops on aggressive dog handling please visit the Corporate Training page of our website at