My left hand and arm have scars now that they didn’t have before August. The scars are probably permanent, barring surgery. My right hand is less damaged– that’s the one that held on when it seemed like all might be lost. More importantly, my dog is not scarred. She is fine.

One day a pit bull attacked her. While it’s true that pit bulls do not have locking jaws, the reason that myth came into existence is because the pit bull does not redirect. What this means is that if a pit bull bites something, it is highly unlikely to let go - for any reason.

The pit bull clamped its teeth down on my dog and started to shake hard. My dog started screaming. Not barking, not whining, screaming. I envisioned that any attempt to do the thing I knew I was supposed to do in a dog fight (grab the attacking dog's rear legs and move in a fast circle backwards until you can get help) would result in my dog being torn up. The pit was not going to let go. That much I knew from prior observtion of dog fights at the dog park. This time I was on my own. 

I jumped on top of the pit bull and started punching it in the muzzle. I punched it so hard that it split open the skin on the knuckles of both hands, and still the dog would not let go or redirect to me. I jammed my left hand into its lower jaw, and my right hand into the upper jaw, and I pulled, while pushing up as hard as I could with my legs. I was barely, barely able to get its mouth open – but my dog was able to get away. That was when I sustained the bites to my own hands and arms, as the pit snapped and snarled and tried go after my dog again. It twisted out from under me, and lunged for her. I managed to jam several fingers of my right hand into its ear, and pulled it back to me, rolling up to my knees. I sat on it again. I snapped my own dog’s leash off, and threaded the bottom into the handle in an improvised slip/choke lead so I could get the pit under control. Once I had it on a tight slip, it was no longer able to do much of anything. 


Ok, so that concludes my story on what NOT to do in a pit bull attack. That was just what happened

Yes, we survived it, but I was operating on pure instinct and an overwhelming need to protect my dog. The naked truth is that I was just incredibly lucky that the outcome wasn't much, much worse. I had not been trained to handle that situation. Most instructions on how to break up a dog fight that you’ll find on the internet assume that there are two humans present and able to intervene, or that the dog in question will accept a redirect.

Instructions on how to break up a fight in which a pit bull is involved usually suggest that you use a break stick (a tool that levers the mouth open), but you might not carry one of those at all times. Pit bulls cannot be distracted, redirected, enticed, or stopped by much of anything. Shooting them doesn’t even stop them, as police raiding homes with aggressive pit bulls or responding to a pit attack on a human have discovered on more than one occasion.

There are only two things that you can be very certain are going to work – if you don’t have any weapons, you can’t get to anything that could be improvised into a weapon, and you only have what’s in your pockets and your body.


  1. A stun gun. I now carry one in my pocket at all times, especially while walking my dog. The electric shock will basically reboot the dog, including a very short blank screen period - giving you a few seconds to get away.  The dog may also lose interest after being rebooted, but it will probably come after you again, so be prepared.

  2. Go for the eyes. This is not going to occur to you if you are a decent human being unless you’ve heard it somewhere before, causing it to be available as an option as you react to an attack. It never occurred to me to do this, even though I had no compunctions about punching the pit bull in the face a LOT. Press your thumbs as hard as possible to the outside corner of the eyes. This will cause intense, intense pain. Dig in. And just go ahead and pop those suckers right out. If it comes down to a choice between an aggressive pit bull who is attacking (a child, a person, another dog, etc.) getting to keep its eyes, and saving the victim of the attack from death or horrible disfigurement – the right choice is pretty clear.  


The other thing that didn’t occur to me was whipping off my shirt to make an improvised arm cushion to take some of the force of the bites I was sure to get. Much like going for the eyes (an uncivilized, barbaric, brutal, and potentially necessary act), ending up half-naked doesn’t really matter. Results matter.

This only applies to attacks by dogs that refuse to redirect their aggression to you if you intervene when they are attacking someone else. The vast majority of dogs will leave their original target (child, dog, etc.) and attack you instead if you give it a solid hit - assuming they don't run away when you intervene.  Dogs that were originally bred for fighting will very rarely redirect once they have chosen a target, and the most common of these at this point in time is the pit bull. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen a Kangal dog.

For what it’s worth, I don’t blame the dogs. I blame the humans. But you have to deal with the dog when it attacks, not with the social and cultural context which created it.  

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