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Faced With a Vicious Dog: Should You Shoot?


You’ve decided to take your toddler on a trip to the local park. The hiking trail provides a nearly half-mile loop through the woods, over a boardwalk near the bog and alongside a lazy river where ducks congregate to be fed. The trails are covered with gravel or wood mulch and the short section of boardwalk is broad and inviting with a nice railing along both sides.

It’s a beautiful late-summer afternoon as you don your walking shoes, strap the little one into the stroller and head off toward the park. As you always do, you strap on your fanny pack containing a small .380-caliber pistol, an extra house key and some first-aid gear. The streets are alive with traffic and pedestrians as you make your way to the park. The noise of the city surrounds you with a mix of happy laughter, passing vehicles and voices engaged in various conversations. As you enter the park, you see a wide range of people in the open area, all there with the same intent: relaxation and fun.

Oddly, the trailhead seems rather devoid of traffic. Maybe no one wants to walk the half-mile. Maybe, just maybe, you will have the trail to yourself and you can actually relax with your child in the relative solitude of the park. You start down the trail, walking briskly as your child babbles happily. About 200 yards along, you meet a woman passing you going the other direction, walking quickly. She is holding her right hand, wrapped in a bloody t-shirt, with her left hand.

“There’s a crazy dog down there,” says the woman. “The damned thing bit me. I couldn’t get it off my hand. I need a doctor.”

From Rescuer to Prey

You offer to help her, reaching for your fanny pack to get the gauze and tape you keep inside, but as she opens the shirt you can see the injuries to the hand might be beyond your abilities. It looks terrible and is bleeding profusely. Just as you move to help her wrap up the injured hand, you hear a low growl from behind you and turn to see a large, short-haired dog, bristling and walking stiff-legged toward you from only about 10 feet away.

You instantly realize your baby stroller is between you and the dog. As you grab the stroller and attempt to move your baby out of harm’s way, the dog lunges forward and bites your child’s foot and lower leg, shaking its head violently. Your baby shrieks. You scream at the dog and instinctively lash out with a kick to the ribs. The dog yelps but jumps back and instantly launches an attack at your leg, still somewhat outstretched from the initial strike.

Before you know it, the dog has sunk its teeth into your lower leg, and the searing pain shoots all the way to the bottom of your foot and up to your knee. The dog is shaking its head, throwing you off balance and to the ground. You kick with your other leg and the dog jumps back, but now begins circling and growling about 10 feet away. You can see and feel blood running down your leg. Your child is still shrieking.

Things to Think About

Can You Shoot This Vicious Dog?

Let’s go from the bottom up. You have suffered what could be a very serious injury. So has your child. Your mobility is limited. You have yet to be able to assess the extent of the injuries or provide first-aid because the dog is still a very real threat.

Even after being struck with two solid blows, the dog has not given up its attack. In fact, if you know anything about canine aggression, the circling behavior you are now seeing is an indication that the dog is looking for another opportunity to attack. This animal has shown no fear. On the contrary, three attacks on three different victims shows a pattern of aggression that could prove fatal if the wrong person crosses this animal’s path.

Clearly you need to stop this attack before you can turn your attention to administering first-aid or getting help. Right now, it may not even be safe to try to reach for a cellphone. Would you be able to fight off this dog with only one hand and a wounded leg? Could the other adult victim operate a phone despite her injuries? How long would it take for help to arrive if you called 911 right now?

Size Up the Shot

You are on the ground. The dog is moving, albeit slowly, but the angle is such that you will have to move with the dog to acquire the target. With your injured leg, your adrenal response, the crying child, your emotions, the pain you are enduring and the reality that another attack may be launched at any second, you have plenty to think about.

What about target isolation?

You are in a park. What is beyond your target? Have you paid attention to what is behind your target? Considering all that you have just endured in a very short time, are you confident you can make the shot with your short-barreled concealed carry pistol? How much have you trained with that little pistol? Have you focused on your marksmanship skills? What are the sights like? What is the trigger like? At just 3 yards, are you confident of making a good shot? What is a good shot?

What Are Your Options?

You actually have a couple of options. All of them come with risks. None is perfect.

If you consider taking the shot immediately, you are giving yourself more time to assess the wounds and administer first aid. You have no idea how badly your child is injured. There is certainly tissue damage, but what about nerve damage? Did the bite hit an artery? How bad is the bleeding? Until you can safely assess, you don’t have any answers. The only way to get those answers safely is to stop the threat posed by the dog. You can do that by driving the dog away, which has not worked to this point, or dispatching it.

But what if you miss? In your rush to provide care to your child and yourself, you could fire and miss. The gunshot may drive the dog away, but you are responsible for that bullet. You must be sure of your aim and capable in your ability to make an effective shot.

What is an effective shot? What angle is the dog presenting? Can you get a bullet into the chest cavity? Is the dog broadside or is the dog facing you? The target areas of each different angle are vastly different in size. A dog’s skull is small, and the bone is thick. Attempting a head shot might be unwise.

If you fired immediately and hit the dog, what will its reaction be? Will it drop instantly? Will it turn and run? Will it rush you in a fury? Can you get off an accurate second shot if you need to? The same considerations of target isolation apply to the subsequent shots as to the first shot.

What If You Wait to Shoot, Hoping to Get a Better Shot?

Every second you wait while the dog is circling is another second your child goes without medical help. Every second you wait also changes the angle, forces you to move and generally adds more variables to the situation. The dog may move to a better angle. The dog may move to a location that provides a better backdrop for the shot. The dog may launch another attack, covering the 10 feet between you more quickly than you can react.

What if the dog latches onto your gun hand? Will it be easier for you to hit a slowly circling target at 10 feet, or a rapidly moving target trying to close that gap as quickly as possible?

You will have to make these decisions under extreme stress while suffering horrible pain. It is better to consider them now.

Can You Legally Fire?

Based on the evidence presented here, you are clearly facing an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. That is typically the justification for the use of deadly force. The dog has repeatedly attacked people and shows no sign of fear or a willingness to back down. You should be able to articulate to investigating officers that you reasonably fear further harm.

But there may still be legal questions. If your state has a duty to retreat, does that duty apply to vicious dogs as well as vicious people? Are you required, in your state, to try other methods before using deadly force? You have already kicked the dog, but is that enough? The legal concept of “preclusion” requires that you reasonably believe no other method of defense will work before you use deadly force. Could someone argue that you had another option?

The Aftermath

Know this: People love dogs. Some people hate anyone who harms a dog for any reason. There are very likely people reading this story right now angry at the idea that anyone would shoot a dog for any reason. If you shoot a dog, you will be on the receiving end of some backlash. This will happen despite the fact that those lashing out don’t have all the facts that you had at the time of your decision. This should not have much influence on your decision. It is just something to think about.

Should You Shoot?

The dog has attacked two adults and your child. People are injured. The animal appears to show no fear and is ready to attack again. But you are in a park filled with other children and their parents. Your baby needs medical help. What would you do? Should you shoot?

About Kevin Michalowski

Kevin Michalowski is executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and a fully certified law enforcement officer working part time in rural Wisconsin. He is a USCCA- and NRA-Certified Trainer. Kevin has participated in training across the U.S. as both a student and an instructor in multiple disciplines. These specialties include pistol, rifle, shotgun, empty-hand defense and rapid response to the active shooter. Kevin is passionate about the concealed carry lifestyle, studying the legal, ethical and moral aspects of the use of force in self-defense. He is a graduate of the Force Science Institute Certification Course and has worked as a professional witness and consultant on matters concerning the judicious use of deadly force and deadly force decision-making.

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