With more people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking a walk with your family and your dog is a popular pastime.

However, more people and dogs wandering your neighborhood can lead to more dogs running loose and more confrontations with pets – and a greater likelihood of getting bitten by a dog. So, what should you do if an unleashed dog, or a dog that managed to break away from its owner, approaches you?

Knowledge of dog behavior can help you avoid a bite

For those following current guidelines for social distancing, the recommendation to avoid interacting with a strange dog is a given.

But if you see a dog approaching you, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says it is best to understand a dog’s body language to determine your response. Dogs have certain behaviors that can indicate if they feel threatened:

  • An aggressive dog likely will try to make itself look bigger, with its ears up and forward and its hackles raised, meaning the fur is standing up or puffed out on its back and tail. There are also well-known signs such as the dog baring its teeth, growling, lunging or barking.
  • Anxious or scared dog will try to make themselves look smaller by shrinking to the ground. The dog may flatten its ears back and yawn or have its tail between its legs. It can turn to aggression if you continue to approach it and it is unable to retreat.

If a dog is showing these behaviors, do not approach it. If it approaches you or your child, here are some actions you can take:

  • Do not run or scream; instead, stand very still and avoid eye contact with the dog.
  • If the dog attacks, try to offer it an item you have on your person, such as a jacket or bag, to bite.
  • If a dog runs up to you and knocks you down, curl into a ball with your hands behind your neck to protect your neck and ears.

These tips are especially important for children, who are the most frequent victims of dog bites.