Mom Goes Camping

How to Deal with Feral Dog Attacks while Traveling or Backpacking

feral dog attack

People always ask me if I’m scared of encountering a bear or snake while backpacking.  Nope.  You know what does scare the bejesus out of me?  Feral dogs.

Why? I’ve been bitten by a stray dog TWICE while traveling.  There are packs of wild dogs running rampant in many parts of Eastern Europe (where I live). I’ve also encountered them in South America. And, while I haven’t been to Asia yet, I’ve heard stories about the stray dogs in India and dogs in Thailand that pose a huge risk – even killing people in some situations.

You have every logical right to be scared of getting attacked by a dog! Just like you’d take steps to protect yourself from pickpockets and other risks, here’s what you should do to stay safe around feral dogs.

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While the Dog Is Still Far Away…

street dogs in India

Stay Calm

The most important advice for dealing with stray dogs is to stay calm.  If you freak out, then the dog will perceive that there is a threat and might attack you.

Well, it is hard to stay calm when you are terrified of dogs like I am!  What makes it even worse is that I know dogs can smell fear.  Ok – maybe not literally smell fear.  But they can sense when someone is scared, and that can make them even more aggressive.

How do I stay calm when I’m terrified?

I find that picking up a big stick or having dog spray helps me stay calm. I’ve never had to use either, possibly because they reduce my fears and make me less of a target for the dogs.

 

Go Around the Dogs!

Some friends laugh at me (especially the ones who grew up in villages), but whenever I see stray dogs, I go waayyyy around them.  I don’t want to encroach on the dogs’ territory.  If a dog is eating, then I will definitely cross the street.

But it isn’t always possible to go around the dogs.  Like the time I was hitchhiking from Serbia to Romania.  I’d just gone through the border (on foot).  There were about a dozen feral dogs in the road.

The dogs looked particularly pissed off.  So, even though I’d planned on walking to the nearest village for lunch, I didn’t even try to pass them.  Instead, I waited for a car to pass by and hitched a ride past the dogs.

 

Throw Stones or Not?

Many people recommend throwing stones at LONE stray dogs (throw the stones near the dog, you don’t actually hit the dog). While you throw, you loudly tell the dog to F-off.   I prefer cursing at them in Serbian because there are so many great swears in the language…but I doubt that language or what you say actually matters 😉

This tactic can get the dog out of your path.  Often, the dog will get out of your path if it just sees you bending over for a stone.

I’ve seen the stone-throwing method work many times.  Like when I was in Peru and a feral dog was barking its head off.  It was a tiny road with no way to go around the dog.  I was about to turn back when a local kid noticed my terror.  He calmly picked up a stone and hurled it at the dog. The dog moved out of the way quickly!

On the flip side, I would never throw stones at a PACK of feral dogs. They outnumber me.  And they know it. Being in a pack gives them added confidence, and they could respond to your aggressive stone-throwing with an aggressive attack.

*Note that some people say throwing stones at any dog is a terrible idea.  Even a lone dog could respond to the threat by attacking.  This isn’t my personal experience.  But every situation is different, and it is a split-second judgment call.

 

Pick Up a Big Stick

Instead of a stone, you can pick up a big stick.  Hold this over your head to scare the dog off.  The stick is also useful if the dog does start to attack you.  I’ve never had to actually use the stick on a dog, but a stick seems like a much better weapon than a stone in your hand!

 

Speak Nicely to the Dog

Instead of throwing stones at the stray dog, you can try talking to it.  As you get closer, start talking in that high-pitch voice people use with pets.  The dog will understand that you aren’t a threat and let you pass without incident.

Some people say this worked for them, even with snarling or charging dogs.  This probably works better with strays and not dogs which are truly feral though.   A feral dog won’t understand that you are a “friend” when you say “Hey cutie! Come here doggie!”

Again, this is a judgment call.  I doubt that talking nicely would work with a growling, aggressive dog. Nor would it likely work with a pack of dogs.

 

Give the Dog Food?

If a dog is barking aggressively at you, throwing cookies at it won’t help.  The dog won’t even realize they are cookies – it will react as though they were stones and either 1) get out of the way or 2) defend itself.

However, deeding a CALM feral dog can prevent it from attacking you (though it probably wouldn’t have attacked in the first place).

The issue with this method is that the dog will start to follow you around waiting for more food.

This is sometimes useful.  Several times my daughter and I encountered friendly stray village dogs while camping.  My daughter gave them some food and they stayed at our campsite for days.  My daughter got a playmate and we got a “protector” who also helped clean up dinner leftovers.

The bottom line? Only feed a stray dog if you want to befriend it for the long-run.

Most stray dogs are calm and won’t hurt you… but I still give them their space!

 

If the Feral Dog Is Close…

DO NOT RUN

The one thing you should absolutely not do if you see a feral dog is run.  Running triggers a predatory instinct in the dog.  It will start to chase you.  And probably bite the hell out of your calves in the process.

Even if you are getting attacked, do not run!  Instead, you’ll need to drop to the ground, curl in a ball,  and cover your neck.  A bite to your jugular can be fatal, and that’s where the dogs will aim for.

 

Become a Statue

There used to be a pack of feral dogs in my neighborhood.  I worked 3rd shift then and would come home at 5am.  The bus stop would be devoid of people at this time.  Several times as I exited the bus, I found myself surrounded by the pack of dogs.

The best tactic in these situations? Just stay as still as possible.  Put your hands at your sides. Remain motionless.  Don’t make eye contact.  If you have a stone or stick, keep it down so it isn’t perceived as a threat.

You might get sniffed, but the dogs will probably leave you alone since you are obviously not a threat.  The only reason to react is if they start to charge you.

 

Use a Firm Voice

If a dog is approaching you and is not aggressive (not growling or snarling), tell it to “Go away” in a firm voice.  Stay motionless while you do this.

 

What to Do if a LONE Feral Dog Charges You

Ideally, you know the signs of a dog attack.  This way you can react before they strike.   Look out for:

  • Raised hackles
  • Ears flat against head
  • Tension in the body

If you see these signs, then put something between you and the dog (like a backpack).  The dog will hopefully bite the backpack instead of you.

Should you strike the attacking dog?

Again, this is controversial.  Some recommend staying as still as possible if being attacked by a feral dog (though I imagine this would be very difficult!).  The reason being that striking the dog could make it more aggressive.

Instead of striking the dog, you are supposed to back off slowly.  If it attacks and gets you on the ground, you are supposed to curl up in a ball and use your hands to protect your neck.  The dog will eventually stop attacking.  Or so they say…

 

If Attacked by a PACK of Feral Dogs

When it’s a pack of feral dogs, there’s more of a consensus of what to do: You must fight back!

The pack will try to surround you.  The alpha dog will lead the attack from the front, while the more submissive dogs will try to get you from behind.

This is the time to start throwing stones at the dogs or swinging your stick at them. Aim for the alpha dogs.  If they back off, the rest of the pack will too.

Look for high ground (like the top of a car).  Creep towards this and get on top of it.  It will be easier to defend yourself and the dogs will retreat faster when you have the high ground.

 

Dog Attack Spray

If a feral dog or pack of dogs is attacking you, your best defense is going to be dog spray. You aim for the nose of the dog or alpha dog.

Dog spray is basically the same thing as human pepper spray.  The difference is that:

  • Dog spray only has up to 1% oleoresin capsicum (and thus is more humane)
  • The range is usually longer (around 12-15 feet vs. as little as 4 feet with human spray)
  • Has a stream spray pattern (whereas human pepper spray may be stream, fog, or foam)

I’ve never had to use spray on a feral dog.  But it is apparently very effective.  Like bears, dogs have very sensitive noses.  That’s why you don’t want to use human pepper spray on dogs – it can actually burn their noses permanently.

Even though you will probably never have to use it, simply having dog spray with you can make you feel more secure – which in turn makes you more calm around feral dogs and less likely to get attacked.

Here are your best options for dog pepper spray:

sabre dog spray

*Isn’t that Animal Cruelty?

“But throwing stones or pepper-spraying a dog is cruel!” you say? I too love animals, but I’m not about to let one attack me because years of mistreatment by humans has caused them to become starving and aggressive.

As one attack victim says, “You may think throwing a rock at a dog is unthinkable. I applaud your inexperience.”

 

When You Can’t Bring Pepper Spray

If the dog spray is under 3oz, you can usually bring it in your checked luggage.  But, if you are unable to bring pepper spray with you for whatever reason, I’ve heard of spray deodorant working.

Basically, you use the spray deodorant just like you would pepper spray on an attacking feral dog.  I don’t have personal experience with this.  But members of an online hitchhiking group I’m in say it works.

You could also try a fog horn to scare off the dogs.  But I’m not about to backpack or travel with a fog horn clipped to my belt! That might be a better solution for cyclists who get chased by feral dogs.

 

Have you ever been attacked by a stray/feral dog while traveling? What did you do? Let us know in the comments!


Some resources for this article include:

https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/45570/how-to-fend-off-a-pack-of-feral-dogs
https://lifehacker.com/how-to-survive-a-dog-attack-1786501561
https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-behavior/aggression/when-several-dogs-attack
https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/9674/should-i-run-if-i-see-wild-dogs

Image credits: “Feral Dogs at Indian Institute of Manage” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by cseeman
night” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Blinkofanaye
“” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Julia Manzerova

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About the author /


Diane Vukovic is an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast and couchsurfer. She loves finding ways to explain complex topics to her 9-year old daughter and hunting beetles with her 1-year old. Follow MomGoesCamping on Facebook and Twitter @MomGoesCamping to stay in touch!

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