dog attack

Dealing with attacks by wild animals

by survival expert James Mandeville

Dog attack and defence. reader rating=4.5 stars
June 2017.

Grizzly Bear

General advice

How well equipped are humans to stand up to an attacking wild animal? It's an interesting debate. We lack long incisors, tusks, horns, thick hides and claws - all the built-in weapons that are advantageous for close combat in the animal kingdom. We cannot run as far or as fast as most mainstream predators, nor are our reflexes as good and our bodies are not as flexible. Also, most of us weigh less than an attacking predator and we are not as strong physically. Nor are we naturally at home in the wild habitat of these animals. Historically, the majority of humans attacked by wild animals in the apex predator category have died a horrible death. There are, however, a select few who have overcome the odds, fought, won and lived to tell the tale. They either killed the animal or injured it enough to escape. How they succeeded is immensely valuable learning for others to try if attacked.

We are not without some advantages the wild animal does not have to the same degree. For example, our brainpower, a reluctance to die, the ability to improvise and use weapons and other humans may come to the aid of a person under attack and jointly defeat an attacking wild animal. We can carry weapons to equal up the score - spears, bow and arrows, guns, knives, pepper sprays, etc.

Reading all you can about animal attacks gives you knowledge; in the case of wild animal attacks, learning from what survivors of attacks tried in the past is important, so we know what may work if the worst ever happens to us. We need to know quite a lot, because animal behaviour changes over time and wild animals are unpredictable. So what worked for one person, may not work for another in a different set of circumstances, and we may need to improvise; this can require split-second decision making.


While knowledge is immensely valuable, we are still left with the other half of the equation, which is the actual battle. If you ever find yourself in a situation where there is no option but to fight a wild animal (or domestic dog, for that matter), it helps to know the animal's strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately, all animals have both physical and psychological weaknesses, whatever size they are, and you need to know how to exploit these in a stand-up fight. You also need to realize that in a stand-up fight you will most likely sustain some bad injuries.

If you have never fought any creature, human or animal, the other problem most people have is that they do not know how they would fare if faced with a sudden attack. Some people may freeze, others may panic and run. Not being used to sudden fierce attacks, we lack the instinctive, immediate responses, which prey animals use every day of the week as a natural survival mechanism. If a ferocious wild animal of any size rushed at you without warning, how quickly could you think and act? My bet is, not very quickly! And, assuming your legs didn't turn to jelly and your brain to mush, would your response be the correct one? If it is the correct response, you may survive; if it isn't, you won't.

Preventing an attack

If you are living out in the wild (the same basic rules apply it you live in an area that adjoins the territory of wild animals), it is important not to attract wild animals into your space.
  • Keep your living area clean. Thoroughly wash all cooking utensils after use. Seal uneaten food in airtight containers. If you are in bear country, store food in bear-proof canisters, or suspend food in a tree away from sleeping areas.

  • Burn or bury food scraps and refuge immediately. Never leave it around overnight.

  • Do not take food into a tent.

  • Do not sleep in the same clothes you cooked dinner in. In fact, don't even take those clothes into a tent with you.
  • Remove pet food from the area. Pet food attracts predators.

  • Never feed wild animals such as deer, raccoons, squirrels, monkeys, etc. They can attract predatory animals into the area.

  • Light a camp fire and keep it burning all night long.

  • If there are thorn bushes in the area, cut off branches and build a barrier of thorns around your tent. This will deter most predators.

  • In areas where snakes could be a risk, do not set up a tent on grass, especially wet grass. If there is no option, burn off the grass in the area you intend to pitch a tent. If this is not possible, do not sleep in the tent, build an A-frame bed, use a basher slung from trees, or some other solution that allows you to sleep off the ground. If the ground around your tent is dry, rake it over with branches; most snakes do not travel over newly disturbed ground.

  • If there are scorpions in the area, do not leave any item of equipment or clothing outside. Turn boots over and hang them over sticks. Always shake out boots and give backpacks a good shaking before you use them. The best defence is to clear the whole area you are using, pile combustible material over it and burn the ground. Any creatures living under the surface will be annihilated.

  • Keep some sort of weapon handy in your tent and within reach wherever you are. This could be anything from a stout stick to a spear, from pepper spray to a knife or firearm.
A wild animal's physical weak points are: Nose/snout; eyes; neck; testicles; inside leg and joints and throat.
Hammer fist blows to the nose have been known to repel dogs and large cats, while gouging the eyes with your thumbs is always an extremely effective option. A blow to the testes causes great deal of pain to any animal. In the case of a female attacker, you'd be better off attacking the throat. Animals such as wolves, wild dogs and the cat family need to avoid injury at all costs or they cannot hunt. Attacking the legs of these animals may encourage them to retreat.

Psyching the animal out

Noise: Wild animals are very attuned to their habitat, any sudden, unusual noise, will frighten them. Making a sudden loud noise will deter many animals (even large creatures, like the elephant), but it is not one hundred per cent guaranteed to work. The more unusual the noise, the more effective it is, for example, the sound of metal against metal is not a noise a Savannah animal is used to hearing. If you have a firearm, and you have the time and shooting skill to kill an attacking animal dead in its tracks, then game over. If there is a great risk of just injuring the animal it is better to fire a few shots in the air in an attempt to scare off the animal. A wounded animal will be far more aggressive and dangerous. If it continues its attack, then you have no option but to shoot to kill.

Making yourself look larger:
Spreading out one's arms, holding up a large branch, waving a blanket, etc., has been known to deter attacks from some animals, such as lions, but would not impress an elephant, for example. Not all animals are scared by this technique; the larger predators are used to taking down prey far larger than they are. A good thing to try, is to make yourself look bigger, whilst making a loud noise at the same time. Behaving erratically, such as, waving your arms, yelling, jumping up and down, may scare some animals. Animals are less likely to see you as prey, because their prey is quite predictable. These techniques may not work if the animal is highly territorial and intent on seeing you off its territory. Also, in the mating season, a pumped-up male's natural aggression may win over any normal natural fear. A female animal with young will normally attack any animal she sees as a threat to her young ones.

Exhibiting aggressive behaviour:
Taking the fight to the enemy is a technique that can work with smaller cats, the dog family and non-predatory creatures. Advancing towards the animal, smacking a branch on the ground, banging a stick on a tree, throwing rocks at the animal, etc., may make the animal flee. Trying to be aggressive with a lion, however, will be met with aggression. There have been reports of this technique seeing off a leopard. It's a judgement call only you can make. Eye contact is often seen as a challenge in the animal world and may provoke an animal to attack.


The crunch:
Most wild animals do not see man as prey. Most animals give a warning that an intruder should leave, this can include noisy, mock attacks. The problem is often that humans read these warning-off signs incorrectly and do all the wrong things. A typical wrong thing to do is to turn and run. Almost any predator will respond by chasing and killing the fleeing person. Many wild animals are ambush predators. So, the first you know of the animal's intention to attack you is when the animal is right on top of you. If all efforts to ward off an aggressive animal have failed, or if the animal ambushed you, then there is no option but to fight for one's life.