Every year, nearly 5 million Americans get bit by a dog. According to the CDC, more than 800,000 of them require medical attention for their injuries. There’s never a surefire way to tell whether an unfamiliar dog will attack you, but there are a few warning signs of an impending dog attack. It is even harder for those who don’t own a dog to predict what a dog may do. Even if you don’t have a dog, it is crucial that you know the behavioral signs of an impending attack so that you can avoid it. If you see any of these signs, you should back away slowly and leave the area before you become part of these statistics.

Dogs attack for a variety of reasons; they may be scared, surprised, or agitated. Dogs can even get too worked up playing, and end up biting their owners. Aggressive dogs that are about to attack may growl, snarl, or bark. In many cases, the teeth will be bared, and the tail will be standing straight up. However, even if a dog isn’t showing these outward signs, it does not mean the dog is not agitated. Some dogs may not show any signs of being provoked until the attack itself.

If a dog is in its own yard, but no owner is present, watch for territorial tendencies. Many mail carriers and delivery drivers are well aware of the danger of overprotective dogs. Avoid going into the dog’s yard without the owner, and warn your children to stay away from the dog. Even if no “beware of dog” sign is displayed, the dog could still attack.

Many dogs will react to the presence of unfamiliar dogs, cats, or other animals. In fact, this can cause aggression for several months after the pets are introduced. Statistics show that 20 percent of serious dog attacks happen after a major household change. This situation can make dogs anxious even when away from home. Avoid provoking dogs during this time. Also avoid interrupting dogs anytime they are sleeping or eating.

The more dogs you see approaching you, the more dangerous the situation may become. The more dogs in the pack, the greater the danger of an attack. Even normally calm dogs can become violent in a pack, because the pack mentality is so strong. Over a third of all dog attacks involve multiple dogs. If the dogs are fighting among themselves, do not get in the middle of the pack.

Dogs who have already bitten or injured another person or animal may be at a higher risk for subsequent attacks. In fact, these dogs may be labeled “dangerous dogs,” and you should stay away unless you know them well. Breed and gender can play a role in aggressiveness. Male dogs that have not been neutered tend to be more dangerous than other dogs. Pit Bulls, Chow, Akita, and Rottweiler breeds are typically considered the most dangerous, although the temperament can vary greatly from dog to dog.

What should you do if you think a dog is going to attack? Maintain a safe distance, even if the dog is leashed. Slowly back away, while trying to put a solitary object such as a mailbox or bench between you and the dog. Don’t bother trying to outrun a dog; you will lose. In order to avoid potential dog attacks, carry pepper spray, a telescopic stun gun, an ultrasonic dog whistle, or another self defense device.

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