What You Need to Know During a Dog Attack and How to Stop One Before it Starts

Both dog owners and those who approach canines can do their part to prevent dog attacks

Dog bites, fights and attacks are events that all pet owners have to be prepared for. No matter how well-trained and well-behaved your canine is, they can have unpredictable reactions.

After the recent dog attack on a New York City subway, PEOPLE talked to Colleen Demling, a dog behaviorist from Dogtopia, the nation’s largest dog daycare, boarding and spa facility, about what dog owners and all people can do to prevent dog attacks and how to stop them when they do start.

What are the best ways to prevent a dog attack?

It’s important to never touch someone else’s dog without asking. You may love dogs, but the dog may be nervous of people. A sudden approach or touch could trigger a reaction.

What can pet owners do to prevent dog attacks?

Prevention is number one. Once your dog is already biting a stranger, it is too late. Dogs rarely attack out of nowhere or without a prior history. Know your dog and if they will be successful in a situation. When in doubt leave them at home. If you think your dog would bite someone if they escape from your house, then set up the proper barrier to prevent the escape. Some ideas include a secondary gate at the front hallway, a front door that will swing shut on its own and a side gate with locks.

What are the signs that a dog may attack?

Watch for a stiff body. Happy dogs are relaxed as they move. A dog that is agitated will have more jerky movement or no movement at all. Don’t approach a dog that is tied to something. When a dog is tied, they can feel more vulnerable. If they are approached by a stranger, they may try to bite. When entering a property, announce yourself and wait for someone to come let you in. Never walk into a house or yard without the owner.

What should you do if a dog attacks you?

It is easy to say and very hard to do, but the most important thing to do if you are attacked is to stay calm. Panicking can only exasperate the situation. Protect yourself with anything you have, a purse, computer bag, backpack, etc. If you can reach a high surface, such as a tree trunk or the top of a car, that can also help. Do not turn your back on the dog, make eye contact or square off, as all of those things can escalate the attack.

What should you do if your dog attacks someone or another dog?

If your dog does attack someone else, stay calm. If you start screaming, your dog will likely attack more. Instead, quickly grab the back legs of your dog and pick them up in the air. Most dogs will quickly stop fighting if their hind end is in the air. If there is a hose nearby, spraying the dog with water can also help stop the attack.