Defending Against Dogs: A Process Server’s Guide
- April 08
- by ServeNow Staff
Who let the dogs out? When it’s your defendant, you better know what to do. Guard dogs big and small are a normal part of the process serving profession and, unfortunately, they’re not always friendly. Here are some tips to protect yourself from the fierce K9s defending the people you serve.
Sometimes there’s a sign that proclaims “Beware of dog!” but sometimes there isn’t. When you enter a fenced in area, keep in mind that a dog and its teeth could appear at any time. If there’s evidence that an animal might be around, whether it’s chewed up toys or a well worn yard, make a noise before entering the gate and see if a dog runs around the corner. Be sure that the gate is secure and you have proper means to retreat if a threatening dog appears. It is also a best practice to have your car nearby and wear dependable shoes that allow for a quick exit (heels may not be the best choice). If a dog does appear, assess the situation. Some dogs are friendly, some are not, but most are protective of their owner.
If a dog is barking and growling, that is a sure sign that you are unwelcome. However, if you spot a sleeping dog, still remain cautious. Startled dogs may turn aggressive quickly.
Batten the Hatches
If you drive up to a location and a dog is just outside your window, daring you to get out of your car, it’s ok not to risk it. Instead of trying to enter onto the property, you could stay in your car and honk the horn a couple times. If the defendant doesn’t come out to investigate or call off the dog, return to the house later or call the local police department for their help.
There are still steps to take if you don’t have the advantage of waiting in your car and a dog displays signs of aggression. First, avoid eye contact. Eye contact is often taken as a threat by animals, so be sure to look away from the dog, and even completely ignore the dog while standing still. When avoiding eye contact, be sure to always know where the dog is so you can take further action if needed.
If the dogs doesn’t back off, slowly move behind an object that acts as a barrier. Be sure to continue to ignore the dog completely, not even trying to verbally reassure it or scream, as that may irritate it further.
There are definitely benefits to legally carrying a gun while serving, but it’s also alright if that’s not your cup of tea. If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, lethal force may be the best option, but there are other alternatives as well.
Consider equipping yourself with other options that can keep both you and the pooch safe. Pepper spray works, just make sure you can get to it quickly and point it in the right direction. There are even dog-safe pepper spray options.
Utilizing a bag/purse as a barrier can create an object for the dog to bite rather than yourself and could give you time to escape. If total escape is not an option, look for higher ground that a dog would have a hard time accessing. One of the best options, however, is a taser or stun gun because most dogs get scared off simply by the sound of it turning on.
It is best to note that hitting or pepper spraying a dog when they are not actively attacking has the potential to start an attack. It is also mean so don’t do it.
If you don’t want the dog to chew on you, bring something else for it to chew on. Arm yourself with a bag of dog treats or, if you want to really distract the beast, a bone. Just remember to not let the dog take some of your fingers along with the treat.
Bring your own dog. This option comes with its own challenges as the dog has to be very well trained and obedient in order to go on serves with you. The downside is potentially intimidating the defendant with your dog glaring them down, so it may be best to leave them in the car unless the location has obvious threats. They can be great for self-defense with an added bonus of being a loyal and emotionally supportive sidekick, but be sure to always keep them on a leash in public.
If all else fails, don’t hesitate to turn tail and get away. Don’t try to reason with a dog that’s already running towards you or growling with its ears back and hackles raised. There’s no dignity in putting yourself in harm’s way just to serve papers.
If the worst ensues and you can’t escape, position yourself in a ball with your hands covering the back of your neck. You want to protect any vulnerabilities and your internal organs. If you are able, cover the dogs eyes with any available fabric such as your shirt (once removed from your body) so you have an opportunity to run away.
In all seriousness, mean dogs can do a lot of damage so always err on the side of caution and trust your gut. Dog attacks have serious effects and have resulted in deaths. Even if you don’t know for sure if the dog will attack, it’s better to stay safe than to act tough. Keep in mind that process servers also have the perfect opportunity to witness animal abuse while pounding the pavement. If you see a neglected animal, be sure to report what you see to your local animal welfare agency or the police. Finally, if you experience an aggressive animal or the trauma of an animal attack, be sure to post the house and the event on Erin’s List so fellow process servers are aware.
Have you experienced some tough dog on your serves? Share your stories or any additional tips you might have in the comments below. Stay safe out there!
Read more about Process Server Safety:
- Promoting Assault Awareness and Protective Regulations for Servers (PAAPRS)
- Erin's List: Process Server Safety Tool
- Process Server Assault Prevention Training
- Dangerous Precedent for Process Server Assault in Florida
- Dangers of Process Serving Hit Home in Texas
- Maryland Focus: Process Server Assault
- Assault on Process Server in New York Will Be a Class D Felony Starting Nov 1
- Process Server Assault Legislation by State
- Process Servers and Assault
- Test Your Process Server Assault Prevention Knowledge
- Tips For Preventing Process Server Assault
- What Association Leaders Say About Process Server Assault