Each year, over 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs, with one in five requiring medical attention. People most affected are senior citizens, children, postal workers, and utility workers.

“We brought in a national expert in fall 2015 to train our co-op and municipal member employees on ways to prevent dog bites and attacks, but this is also information they can take home to their friends, families and neighbors,” said Joe McElroy, MECA Safety program director. In 2016, MECA Safety will also host a program on handling irate members, with the same instructor.

“Trainer Hector Hernandez is also creating a program for us that will help our Safety program members handle an attack from an irate member,” McElroy says. The program will focus on “de-escalation strategies” and how to defend against a physical attack. The idea will be presented initially at the next safety coordinators’ workshop and then offered as part of the 2016 Safety program to both field and office employees.

Hernandez, a 47-year-old Michiganian, has over 20 years of experience in dog bite prevention. He is a former Marine and law enforcement officer who is also an author, speaker, and police K-9 instructor.

“Even though I’m an expert on dogs, I absolutely still get scared in certain situations,” said Hernandez, who has suffered five “serious” dog bites, the last one in September 2015. “I have a passion for both training dogs and training people about dogs.”

“To pull a dog off a person, grab it by its back legs and pull it away,” Hernandez recommends. “Then, depending on the dog, you may have to strike it in the spine.” If it’s your own dog, he said, grab it by the neck and try to lift it straight up.

But each situation is different, he cautions. “I know from first-hand experience you have to read their body language and be ready with a plan in case a dog feels provoked,” he said, and offers additional tips:

  1. Always have a plan in the back of your mind in case a dog attacks.
  2. Always maintain eye contact with an aggressive dog.
  3. To get away from an aggressive dog, slowly back up while maintaining eye contact.
  4. Give firm “common commands,” to the dog, like “No. Go Home. Sit.”

Dogs can feel threatened if a person invades their personal space and that’s what can provoke an attack, he said. Visit DogEncounters.com to find more tips and details about his work.