Ep. 21 Should I Shoot? To Kill or Not To Kill A Dog


Editor’s Note: The following is a post from Sammy Reese, a former Marine Corps Artillery Officer and retired police officer from California. He is a part-time range master for the police department he retired from as well as a life-long martial artist and combatives coach.

Check out the last five episodes in this series:

I was recently asked two kind-of-similar questions about what gun should be acquired for defense against animals. The first was by a buddy who was heading out on a fly fishing trip in bear country. The other was a friend who was attacked by a dog while he was out running and wanted to get a small gun he could carry to protect himself from another attack.

What I will say about bear guns is don’t get one so powerful you are afraid to shoot it. On the flip side, don’t get one so small in caliber that you won’t be able to stop a determined bear. You will also have to learn what types of bears you might encounter while on your trip. Black bears are the smallest but are to be taken seriously and are definitely not in the same weight class as an interior grizzly. (The last thing I’ll say about handguns for bears is that my preference for bear defense is my .45-70 guide gun loaded with Buffalo Bore hard cast ammo or my Remington 870 loaded with slugs.)

“Should I shoot the charging pit bull that is about to maul me?” may sound like an easy decision to make, but it’s one that comes with almost as much post-incident drama and stress as using a handgun to defend yourself against a violent attack from a thug with a baseball bat. During my time working the streets and on SWAT, I had my share of being up close and personal with pissed-off pit bulls. Once, I had a brand-new pair of uniform pants ripped down by my ankle by a 2-pound Chihuahua, but that, as they say, is a story for another time. Before anyone starts typing the hate mail about me picking on pits, let me say I have a bunch of friends who have great pits of all shapes and sizes. Sadly, the dog of choice to make into a mean “protective” dog where I worked is the pit.

On a few occasions, dogs have had to be shot to defend an officer or a citizen. As a dog guy, it was always sad to see. My preference was to use OC spray or a fire extinguisher. In fact, I think I still have the record for most deployments of fire extinguishers without fires in my department. OC or pepper spray was like a force field when applied to the face of a pissed-off dog, and the extinguishers took the fight right out of them and off they went.

As a guy who used to run a lot, I always had a small canister of OC spray and a small revolver (NAA pug) loaded with snake shot and some .22 Mag solids just in case the OC didn’t work. Today my back won’t let me run as much, but I do walk and hike a lot and still carry the same gear in a chest rig made by the guys at Hill People Gear. If the less-lethal options don’t work and you make the decision to use a firearm to defend yourself, all the rules of deploying a firearm are in place, especially in populated neighborhoods. Don’t become so focused on the threat that you lose sight of what and who might be beyond the target.

For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

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  • Tom May 13, 2019, 10:27 am

    Where I live you’re more likely to get jail time and bad press for shooting a dog than you are for shooting a person.

  • Pat August 10, 2018, 9:59 am

    I accidentally hit one stray dog out of a pack that was following a woman who was standing by the highway. Two yahoos began chasing me in their truck, trying to force me off the road. At one point they stopped my car and one guy got out and struck it with his fist. Had there not been enough room to maneuver around him, I would have had to resort to my gun–against a fool who had a buddy to lie for him (I was alone). A dog can do a lot of damage to a modern, plastic car. Under local law, a dog is not supposed to be in the road. Another time a small stray ran in front of me, hit the curb and ran back under my tires. It was in a neighborhood where it was not advisable to get out of the car and walk around looking for a possible owner. Drove to the other side of town watching to see if I was being followed. Among a certain class of people, dangerous dogs are a status symbol. I’d like to see more stories about stopping power and deterrence against dog attacks. These are far more likely than assaults by humans, but just as dangerous. Dogs are not people. They do not posses reason, only instinct.

  • Scott August 10, 2018, 5:50 am

    Ammonia in a spray bottle or squirt gun works great.
    My grandfather was a postal carrier who did this
    and one squirt and they never came back!

  • Keith August 10, 2018, 4:42 am

    Scott, you are spot on. Armed or not there is no reason a 250 # man has to fear a 100# dog one on one. Two or more dogs is a different story. Stay calm & watch your 6.

  • lukeum June 8, 2018, 10:06 pm

    if ya love yer critter then keep em tied up not rocket science

  • Trakehner June 23, 2017, 6:52 pm

    -A dog is not a child.
    -I value my life and safety more than any dog (even my own).
    -If it comes down to shooting a dog or being hurt…I will shoot the dog until it is no longer a threat and the owner will not be told.
    -If your dog hurts me, he will die and you will be broke.
    -If a dog is on my property and is growling and threatening me…I will shoot it and the owner will not be told.
    -I have horses…and have killed neighbor dogs chasing and attacking my horses. Just because “Fluffy” is a wonderful dog around the house does not mean he doesn’t savage and kill animals when he’s in his pack or just having fun killing other pets.
    -SSS is the watchword for shooting dogs…shoot, shovel, shut up.

    • john October 28, 2017, 11:06 pm

      you pays your money and you takes your chances, buddy

    • George W June 21, 2019, 10:14 pm

      Finally a man with some sense. Let’s let the pretty dog maul us—yeah right. It attacks it gets shot. No stray bullets, Muzzle to flesh. I had a neighbor’s German Shepard jumping the fence and killing my chickens. Being a good citizen I called the Sheriff about it and he said, “Shoot it.” I did not get the chance. Jumped my other neighbor’s fence and I heard Blam! End of problem.

      Oh, BTW, I love dogs but keep them under control please!

  • Billybob December 4, 2016, 4:22 pm

    And people wounder why we have prison over crowding !

  • Tom October 28, 2016, 5:00 pm

    I can say this with some education on the subject…I spent 20+ years as a police officer and most of them as a K-9 Handler
    and Chief Trainer. Your between that rock and a hard place when it comes to shooting someone’s dog. If you have an
    alternative I would always go there…Pepper Gas…Bucket of Water anything because once you shoot that dog you have
    some explaining to do…personally myself..if I was armed and a dog was coming at me I would stand my ground and only
    shoot once the dog has laid into that new pair of pants…most dogs as a whole will stop when they get up to you if you stand
    still…NEVER TURN AND RUN…sounds bad to say “Take that bite”…BUT…I would not shoot until I actually felt his breath….dogs go down fast…its not like your trying to stop a grizzly bear..usually one shot and its over with…but the last
    thing you need to do is shoot some kids dog that is bluffing and has no record of biting anyone…I know its hard to stand
    there and take it…but you will be standing there taking a licking if you shot a dog and the press zero’s in on a little kid in
    his PJs crying because his best friend was just shot…..NOT GOOD….rather have them zero in on those new pants ripped.

  • Barry October 28, 2016, 10:13 am

    I had the same experience as did Ron. I tried to separate my dog from another and got bit by my dog. He is a sweet natured black lab (95lbs) and I was shocked at the level of pain from his bite.

  • Vito Mazzone September 25, 2016, 11:00 am

    First off, ALL dog encounters can go to extensive damage to your body. I have been bitten before and now take the offensive
    at any encounter. OC has never worked!! Pepper spray with highest concentration can be a good deterent but make sure you have enough oz. (4 oz is better than 1 oz.) A loud whistle or better yet a marine signal horn (Buy it at boating supply. is my first step while I’m stepping up to more lethal levels) Try the marine signal horn if you want to get their immediate attention.
    while giving a great display of dominance. Great non lethal approach. A common window spray bottle with a stream is a bit bulky but when you put water, dish soap and ammonia in it. (The bigger the threat… the greater concentration of ammonia.) You have another level of resistance. It’s a great bicycle accessory too! My neighbor’s stopped chasing cars and bicycles with one encounter. Smart dog. My walking stick is my highest level of force in town. I want to avoid the last step of power as I do not have a concealed weapons permit. Enjoy your hike.

  • Richard L September 24, 2016, 3:19 am

    Neighbor’s pit had my dog by the neck. Fired shotgun twice: once to finally let go and twice to go home. I fired into the ground, and yes the neighbor was pissed. But the cops gave me no trouble at all as I was protecting my property and it was fired in my yard and in a safe direction.

  • larry September 23, 2016, 8:31 pm

    There is almost never a reason to shoot a dog, unless you are getting attacked by multiple dogs simultaneously. I am convinced that some people shoot aggressive dogs because they get a rush from it and can justify it in their own minds. The legal consequences are nil unless an animal rights group gets involved. Please resist the temptation to shoot. The dog is just being a dog. I carry a collapsible baton in my back pocket when I go for a walk…very effective and inexpensive.

    • Mr. Sparkles September 24, 2016, 9:52 am

      “There is almost never a reason to shoot a dog, unless you are getting attacked by multiple dogs simultaneously”
      Not sure how you are coming up with the “multiple dogs” caveat. When attacked by a dog or any other adversary you use the same level of force that is being used on you. If he is using his most potent weapon, his teeth, I will use mine whether it is a knife, a stick, my fist or a 9mm. When attacked you win, period, end of discussion.

  • UncleNat September 23, 2016, 2:13 pm

    Shoot my dog and I’ll shoot you. F–k the consequences!

    • Chris September 23, 2016, 9:31 pm

      Dont let your dog attack people then, otherwise you might get shot as well.

    • Carl Dixon September 24, 2016, 6:59 pm

      If your dog attacks me I’ll shoot without question, and if you draw, well then we’re gunna have a gun fight. I wonder if you practice as much as me… On another note the multiple dog comment seems like a joke, if anything/one is endangering myself or my family, castle docterine.

      • Ed Hotmar September 26, 2016, 11:37 am

        You go to shoot my dog, you would never clear leather. You would do better to draw on me. I protect my dogs like I would my offspring. Hell, maybe moreso as my dogs have never disappointed me.

        • Fergus from Ayr October 7, 2016, 5:15 am

          If your dogs are attacking someone off your property, with your attitude I’m sure the dogs would be by your side at your funeral.

        • Bob Bacon November 29, 2016, 11:34 am

          That is a terrible and unreasonable attitude.

        • JT June 25, 2017, 5:34 pm

          I\’ve already cleared leather. I\’m not on your property correct??!!
          Your dog isn\’t leashed. Correct!?
          So your dog attacks me. I\’ve got my gun in hand. Come at me?
          You\’re next

  • American September 23, 2016, 12:26 pm

    People first. I have dogs GOOD dogs. No one wants a dog to bite them. Shoot a dog that attacks you or another person.Shoot to kill.I have NO problem with that.

    • Ron September 23, 2016, 2:11 pm

      BINGO Sir, I have been bitten by a dog BY ACCIDENT (trying to separate two dogs that were fighting). The amount of damage that is incurred even by a dog who realized “oh crap this isn’t who I was trying to bite” and stopped and let go immediately is amazing. Yes that was an ER visit for puncture wounds. Thankfully the bite did not hit any bones or shred any tendons or ligaments. A dog that wants to attack, forget it. A dog will turn a human into a rag doll in seconds and the pain of the bite is intense. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. My advice is to always try to carry a less lethal option like pepper spray, but if worse comes to worst, you cannot be judged for putting one down.

      • Aardvark September 23, 2016, 8:11 pm

        Unless it’s “UncleNat’s” dog. Geez. Your dog attacks me or my family members, I will sure as heck shoot it, and if you draw on me because of it, I will sure as heck shoot you too!

  • Scott September 23, 2016, 12:16 pm

    First, a plug for my my .460 Roland (.45 ACP on ‘roids on 1911 frame) that I built specifically for bear, both black and grizzly. I run an elk camp in the Bitterroot Mtns on the Idaho/Montana border. I often have to pack out elk quarters in excess of 100 lbs and the weight of a rifle plus carrying it is awkward, so I opted for the .460 Roland. Carrying dead, wonderfully smelly (to a bear) meat on your back in Grizzly country makes me a walking smorgasbord to a bear. I have had to draw it on several occasions, but have not had to fire, being able to bluff my way out. Previous writer is correct in his assessment of loud aggressive animals. If they are loud and being aggressive, it is because they are afraid. Unless you trigger an attack by attacking them or fleeing, they will continue to posture which allows you to de-escalate through incremental withdrawal. An animal intent on attack is silent and direct, without hesitation or posturing. It has been my experience that an animal (dog or wolf) intent on attack will hit you before you know its there and can draw. An animal that wants to take you will make the first move, which you generally don’t see coming and you’re reacting. In which case, blaze away because the die has been cast. Wolves, in human interactions, will not take on a man one on one (Unless you’re wounded or lame). But they will attack if there are two of them. If you see one wolf doing things to get your attention, he is not the problem. Check your six for the one that is maneuvering for from-behind-attack and get your back against a tree. The wolf packs coming out of Yellowstone that have been flooding the woods of the Pacific Northwest are not afraid of humans because they were protected in the National Park. I can attest that they now present more a threat to me in the woods than bear, Griz or Black.

  • Ricky Price September 23, 2016, 11:51 am

    I don’t have anything against people dogs, but no dog is going to bite me. That’s why I carry a Glock 43. 9mm.

    • jim September 23, 2016, 1:13 pm

      Last year my friend was walking his dog when an unleashed pit bull rushed him, he shot the dog from about a foot away with an LC9 9mm semi auto pistol using JHP ammo, hit the pit bull right between the eyes. the bullet shopped the attack but did not kill the dog. unfortunately, the dog was alive for almost an hour before his owner took him to the vet where he was put down. I carry a .45 with JHP ammo, had it been me that shot the dog, he would have died instantly. It really sucks to shoot a dog, but if one must, then make it a quick kill so that the dog doesn’t suffer. Get rid of your 9mm and buy a weapon of .357 or larger.

      • ShayneJ December 6, 2019, 7:06 am

        This is a good point. In Florida, there is no law against shooting an animal. If you have to in order to defend yourself, you will be referred under animal cruelty laws for prosecution. If you have to shoot an animal, kill it. Do not let it suffer!

  • Beverly Forrester September 23, 2016, 11:23 am

    Every situation varies and must be looked at with an eye for the details. I once went fishing with some friends on a well known stream. A big Germen Sherpherd, loose I might add, came down a hill from the owner’s house with visual clues that an attack was immanent. My friends bailed into their truck, locking the doors behind them leaving myself and another person outside in danger. Having no alternative I confronted the dog with a fishing pole snapping him repeatedly on the nose as he backed off. His owner, finally realizing his dog was missing, called him back yelling apologies from the top of the hill. We were safe and had quite the story to tell! That is not to say that my actions would work in every case. That’s why every situation is different.

  • rt66paul September 23, 2016, 9:56 am

    120 yeqrs ago in this country, there were no dog catchers and people let their dogs pack and run loose. A handgun that fired a .410 shell was designed for bicyclists that were getting attacked.

  • Will Drider September 16, 2016, 3:39 pm

    There are two scenarios we must look at. The first is simple being a dog (or animal) on its home turf and you are their as invited or officially. I say default to giving the animal the largest leway/benifit using LTL when time permits and no active attact is on going. Animal posturing is a test on you! You must judge the animal threat and likely outcome. Nobody wants to get dog bit (large or small) but I factor in the Media angle of “Officer shoots little fluffy a 5 year olds life playmate and loved famiy member”.

    Dogs (amimals) at large. Since the owner(s) have allowed the dog to escape their supervision and control, I see the bar of DF has been lowered. If there is only posturing and the animal is contained in the area, wait for animal control.
    I never used Chem agents on non-humans. If used on dogs do they run? Are they hostile to who they encounter? Can they run into traffic with the potential of causing a vehicle accident? Dogs with collars/tags is no guarantee that vaccinations are up to date! Are there behavior or physical signs of rabies?
    I know of a case where a Team encountered a aggressive Dobie in a house and could not clear it. Dor was tazed and went berserk and attacked and got a bit into a different Officer, dog was then shot once (5.56) through sholder which stopped it. Dog lived, officer got stiches and a few days off.
    I’ve got no problem shooting a aggressive or attacking dog but you need to make the call based on the current situation and assumptions of “what could go bad”.

    • Bob Bacon November 29, 2016, 11:40 am

      I sprayed a large rottweiler in the mouth and nose with a small can of pepper spray (like the kind sold at gas stations). It did not keep chasing my bike (we were going 25+ after a 35mph sprint) but it didn’t seem harmed. I guess it didn’t like spicy foods.

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