straydog

5 Non-Violent Tricks to Deal with Stray Dogs

Stray dogs are so prevalent throughout the world that sooner or later, you’ll come face to face with a stray or two. 99% of the time strays will avoid confrontation with humans, but from time to time a dog might act confrontational, which can lead to a harrowing experience if you’re not familiar with dog behavior.

This happened to me a few times, especially in Thailand where most people are kind to strays and urban dog packs can thrive. These encounters led me to research this article. Foremost in my mind was finding a way to avoid confrontation without harming the dogs. Many people who offered advice suggested I run at them screaming or use mace. I may not be a fan of the dogs who bark at me, but I see no reason to harm an animal, especially when I’m the foreign intruder on their home turf.

Here are the results of my research, which I’ve applied successfully a few times.

1. Stay calm and walk away. Don’t run.

This is the simplest, most important thing to remember. If a stray dog is barking at you from a distance, it’s most likely warning you to stay off its territory. It will stand at the edge of its territory and bark to warn you against entering it. As long as you remain calm and walk away from the dog, you should have no problem.

Cesar of The Dog Whisperer explains it better than I can.

(Caveat: I know that Cesar Millan’s approach to dogs is highly problematic, but the video offers sensible advice on reading stray dog behavior.)

Whatever you do, do not run away; dogs are likely to instinctively give chase, and there’s no way you’ll outrun them on a short sprint. This is the reason you see dogs chasing cars and motorbikes, not to mention, much to my annoyance, runners. Dogs who run you down are likely to bite your legs to make you stop.

For my fellow runners out there, be weary of dogs chasing you while you run. Dogs who are unused to runners might think you’re fleeing and might instinctively run you down. The only trick I’ve found is to stop and walk, then start running again when you’re further away. Sucks for your pace, but it beats a bite in the calf.

2. Avoid confrontation with packs.

While you can always bluster your way through an encounter with a lone dog, dog packs are bad news. The dogs’ confidence is multiplied when they have their buddies around, and they know real well how to coordinate to take a threat down. What’s worse, dog packs don’t always signal their aggressive intent by barking; I’ve seen dogs in pack quietly flank a perceived threat without a sound.

If a dog pack is just lying about sleeping or acting friendly, you’re most likely OK. But trust your instincts on this; if a pack feels threatening even if no one is barking, don’t chance it. Walk away and find another way around even if it’s a long one.

An interesting note on dog behavior is that a dog who wags its tail is not necessarily friendly. Dogs wag their tail when they’re excited, and a dog who’s about to bite you will definitely feel excitement at the upcoming confrontation. As a matter of fact, many barking dogs wag their tails even though it’s clear they’re not being friendly.

3. Send calming signals.

This was the biggest “gotcha” for me as I learned about dog behavior. There are simple ways you can signal to a dog that you have peaceful intent. By performing these, you’re telling the dog that you mean it no harm, and you’ll avoid triggering its aggression. Remember that the majority of lone dogs are afraid of humans. By telling them in their own language that you’re not here to attack them, they’re likely to back down.

Some useful calming signals I often use:

  • Yawning;
  • Licking your lips;
  • Avoiding eye contact;
  • Standing sideways to the dog;
  • Letting them approach and sniff you (but don’t raise your hand; they might be surprised and bite).
Likewise, avoid acting dominant with dogs. This goes against the suggestion of many people, but just like with humans, if you escalate aggression, there’s always a risk that the other will follow suit. Remember, the goal here is to get away unscathed, not prove you’re more dominant than some stray.

Some aggressive behaviors to avoid:

  • Staring them down;
  • Yelling;
  • Flailing your arms;
  • Walking or running towards them.

Here’s a great video on the topic of calming signals:

4. Ask locals for help.

Locals are a great help when dealing with stray dogs. As a matter of fact, you’re unlikely to have any real trouble as long as locals are nearby. The dogs will know them, and the people will know how to deal with the local strays. I’ve had a few hairy encounters with dogs in Thai temples (where whole packs thrive on the monks’ generosity), and monks saved my hide a few times. If no locals are around and you don’t know what to do to avoid injury, just yell for help.

5. Feign picking up rocks.

Having cautioned you against aggressive behavior, let me now recommend something which the dogs will assuredly perceive as an aggression. Use this as a last resort if the above fails. Crouch and feign picking up a small rock. For some reason, this is a gesture that dogs all around the world have learned to recognize as a source of impending pain, which unfortunately says a lot about the abuse they often receive.

I’ve never had to use this one since I’ve learned about calming signals. But before I knew how to defuse a situation, I had to resort to this trick a few times, and it worked every time. It did make the dogs more aggressive, but they kept a respectful distance.

What to do if you get attacked?

If a dog attack looks unavoidable, use an object–a backpack, a stick, even your shirt wrapped around your forearm if time allows–to fend off an attack. Don’t try to hit the dog as it is likely to dodge and move within range. If attacked, use your forearm to shield your head and face at all costs. To escape the area, walk backwards from the attacking dog, looking at the dog indirectly.

After the encounter, get to a hospital as quickly as you can. If your rabies shots are not up to date, you’ll need to get a shot because many stray dogs carry rabies, which can be deadly. You’ll also need those bites treated against infection.

Mind you, if you do the above, a direct, physical confrontation is unlikely. It sure never happened to me, but truth be told, there have been times I have been worried it might.

Have you had encounters with stray dogs? Do you have advice on how to deal with strays? Please leave a comment below!

(Featured image source)

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

22 comments

  1. Will definitely share this with my husband dogs are his biggest enemies walking around the way we do you run into a lot of them :)

  2. I have never been afraid of dogs, and in fact love them, and all animals. I travel frequently and have spent a lot of time in Santa Marta, Colombia. I had spent months there the year before and loved the strays and even named the ones near our apartment. Last year I returned and had an incident. Near a secluded beach I was walking back to the car with a friend when a pack of 4 dogs who had been there before and were seemingly docile, awoke and became aggressive. My friend made it out ahead of me but for some reason the pack got territorial and started to become aggressive. I stayed calm and did all of the right things but they were agitated. Barking and lunging, I ended up getting bitten on my left leg multiple times by 2 of the 4. The bites were bad but not terrible. I started yelling for help to a couple of guys down the road. They shouted and the dogs stopped. They helped me scrub the bite wounds with a bar of soap and a bucket of water, which helps stop infection spread. Went to the hospital and got rabies vaccine and antibiotic. Opted out of stitches and went with butterfly sutures. I’ve heard this help from trapping infection if the wound isn’t gaping.

    I’m not nervous so much of dogs here in the States, but when traveling I’m cautious with strays, especially in packs.
    My learning lesson was, stay calm, don’t threaten, and even if you get bitten, you can get treatment and end up with a few scars. If possible, scrub with soap and water ASAP and head to the clinic or hospital. Trust locals to help. Lastly, the whole thing lasted maybe 45 seconds but I’ve been trying to get past it for over a year. Don’t hate dogs, just realize their behaviors and be cautious when traveling. But for no reason let them stop you from your adventures!

  3. This is a really interesting entry. I’m not really scared of dogs, but when there is a risk of rabies it’s quite wise to be!

    • Indeed. I think “wary” is the right word… I like to give strays the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes they’ll just go off and it’s good to know there are ways of defusing the situation!

  4. Emilie Castellano

    Thanks for this article. I am living in Thailand and in the last 3 weeks have been chased by barking dogs 3 times. I was never scared of dogs before the first incident but now I am terrified! I do my best to keep calm and have so far avoided being bitten, although one almost got me. I will try to use the calming signals next time and see if it makes a difference!

    • Hi Emilie! Good luck… I know the feeling. I was never scared of dogs, but a few close encounters with strays in Thailand is what prompted me to write this article. I definitely saw an improvement since I learned the tricks I shared here… I sincerely hope it works for you!

  5. i have also q problem with a stray dog.i can’t avoid it and go back because the next road has a pack of ten dogs so i prefer the lone dog.I’ve though to give it some hum or treats.would it work so i can gain his trust?

  6. I am living in a small village in the north-east, and there are many stray dogs. Was walking through the village the other day when a pack of 8 dogs sprang up from the roadside behind me and started to charge at me barking. I stopped immediately and turned around, and facing sideways looked at the leader straight in the eye. The dog immediately stopped in its tracks and stopped barking, and all the other dogs stopped behind their leader and stopped barking too. I looked at them for about 5 seconds, then calmly turned around and carried on walking. They wandered off in the other direction. Just whatever you do… DON’T RUN!!

    • Wow, you reacted very calmly, lucky you… I’m told looking at dogs (especially the alpha) straight in the eye is a challenge, but at the same time, strays are generally pretty scared of humans, so it’s a good thing this one backed down… Glad to hear it!
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  7. When I was hiking alone in the forest, on a mountain, I stopped to admire a landscape and when I wanted to walk on, a pack of 6 to 10 dogs blocked my way. They kept silent and looked at me. Staying as calm as possible I slowly walked back avoiding eye-contact. However they then started to bark and come towards me, walking then running. I thought if I let them come to me they’ll attack me and kill me or leave me unable to go away. So I panicked and ran. Obviously they ran after me. I was running downhill a pretty steep slope, with trees, roots and rocks on the ground, I slipped and fell many times, I’m lucky that didn’t get badly injured by that ! Then I turned right into a steeeper area with more trees and low branches and after that I could hear their barking far on my left, so they had stopped following me, probably because of the difficult terrain and because I no longer threatened their territory. The sound of their barking in the distance helped me avoid them on my way back.

    -Since packs are more likely to attack and more harmful than a single dog, and since they followed me, I guess running was a better option than letting them come close (though climbing on a tree woud have been an even better option, if possible). What do you think ?
    – Everybody says you just can’t run away from a running dog. Is it possible that the slope and low branches dissuaded them to follow me ? Or did they just decide I no longer threatened their territory ?

    • Hi! Yikes, I’m glad to hear you escaped fairly unharmed! That sounds like a terrifying ordeal.

      I’m really not sure what was your best course of action in this case. The fact that they were looking at your calmly THEN rushed you makes it sound like they really meant you harm. Dogs in packs are the scary ones, like I said… They’re hard to predict because they might feel emboldened to take you on because the numbers are on their side.

      I’m not an expert, but my guess is that you ran out of their territory. Running away triggers their chase instinct so they can chase you out of their territory for a while, but you probably made it far enough that they decided to turn back.

      Thanks for sharing this story!

  8. thanks for this useful information brother
    God bless u and all your family amin

  9. i tried what you’ve told us here and i go fishing in a spot nobody can enter because of wild dogs because yr help..lately i tried to feed them..from my food and they eat but they never come close or consider me friend i guess..but they bark like duty when they see me..then i keep walking with inclination like moving half circle to reach my target but it works..from days i heard some fishermen talking about poisoning those family of wild dogs..and we argued about it long time..finally i had to say..if any of this dogs hurt.. i,ll take it personal and revenge from them . because they r innocent creatures living in peace..we go to them not them come to us..so we have to respect them and follow them rules of surviving
    i guess civilization toke us long way away from our nature.

    • Interesting! I’m really glad you could deal with them peacefully!

      I’ve always thought just like you… Yes, dogs can be an inconvenience, but we’re often the ones who bother their environment, not the other way around! So why would I act in a violent way with them? I’d rather learn to deal with them peacefully…

      Dogs are territorial by nature, so they probably bark for that reason. But if they don’t cause trouble, it sounds like they’re tolerating your presence and will definitely adjust!

      Cheers!

  10. I shifted to India last month. I need to return home from office late at night. The dogs in the lane never barked at me. But tonight, all of them started barking vehemently. I held on to my nerves and slowly walked past them. They followed me upto some distance..barking at their might. Am confused. They see me every night returning home. But what happenef to them tonight? Is it a good idea to whistle lovingly at some stray dogs which are mad at me?

    Regards.

    • Hmm, that must have been stressful! Who knows what got them riled up… Maybe they had already encountered another dog that made them feel territorial. I don’t know if whistling in itself is a good idea, but being calm and non threatening in general is great, and it’s probably what kept the situation here under control!

      Thanks for sharing!

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