How can you avoid a dog attack? Tips from a local trainer

Whether it's a household pet or an unfamiliar dog in the park, an unexpected attack can happen to anyone, but there are ways to mitigate your risk of serious injury. CNYcentral spoke with Jim Scheel, a local dog trainer, to learn some basic do's and don'ts about dog behavior that can help keep you and your pets safe and happy.

- What should you do if a dog approaches you aggressively?

Don't make eye contact. Eye contact is usually perceived as a challenge by dogs. If a dog is barking, snarling and/or charging toward you, look away from the dog while turning your body sideways. This is what a passive dog will do when challenged and is perceived as non-threatening. Avoid sudden movements and move away from the animal slowly. This will help to diffuse the situation and the dog will likely lose interest.

- What if you are attacked?

If a dog does attack, try to put something between yourself and the animal. Jump on a car, over a fence or get behind a door. Do whatever you can to separate yourself from the dog. Cover your throat and neck as an attacking animal with likely target it.

If a dog begins to attack another person or animal, grab it by its hind legs and lift up. This will usually distract the animal enough to stop the attack. They will also be more likely to release without further tearing, which can happen if a dog is grabbed by the collar or back of the neck. Once you've intervened, find something to put between yourself and the aggressive animal, as you could very well become the next target.

- How can you avoid negative interactions with a strange dog?

When meeting a dog for the first time, always check with the owner before attempting to touch the animal. Don't just assume that because it seems playful and happy with its family that it will react the same way to you.

- Remember: you are a stranger!

When you do approach a new dog, offer your hand palm up and keep your hands under its chin. This will allow the dog to see where your hands are.

Though tempting, reaching for the top of a dog's head can make the dog nervous and might result in a negative response. Instead, offer your hand where the dog can see it and the dog decide if they would like to greet you.

If a dog is alone, do not approach the animal. It could be lost or its owner has allowed it to wander too far from supervision. The dog could very likely feel nervous or scared and react aggressively toward a stranger as a result. Look around for an owner. If no one is in sight, call your local dog control office.

- Look and listen

While a dog can't speak English to you, it can let you know how it's feeling through visual and audio cues. A frightened animal might growl, bark or whimper. It might hunch up and tuck its tail or keep it flat, wagging it slowly. These are all important signs that a dog feels uncomfortable and could lash out. Owners should never punish a dog for growling or barking as it may keep them from providing a warning before an attack in the future.

Be respectful, give the dog space and allow its owner to intervene.

While training will teach dogs how to interact with people, these tips will help people understand how dogs are wired for interaction. Bearing them in mind will help keep everyone comfortable and safe.