Over the last few weeks, I have released a series of three articles on Ground-Work containing some of my general opinions and approaches to fighting on the ground. If you’ve read these articles, you will note that I strongly recommend that the ground should generally be avoided in a self-defence situation for several good reasons. I thought that I would share one of my experiences with you regarding a ground-fighting situation subsequent to my three-part series. I usually don’t share my personal experiences regarding real self-defence situations because they are seldom ‘clean’ and seldom do they go according to plan. They are typically messy, indecorous, unglamorous and some of them make for pretty boring reading because the situations were averted before coming to physical confrontation.

In this case, the action was decisive even though it certainly did not go according to plan.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I were taking our 1-year old son for a walk down our road. We live in a rural area, so our road is essentially a tarred country road with rural residential properties on each side and plenty of bushy areas which obscure views of the surrounding country. We had our dog, Ali, with us on a lead. Ali was adopted from the RSPCA. She is a German Shepherd cross. There is likely some dingo in her because she is quite small for a German Shepherd and lacks dew-claws on her feet. Ali is very much a part of our family, having gone through some tough times with us. She’s had both cruciate ligaments rebuilt, several paralysis tick episodes and a few cancerous growths removed from her jaw.

Exact details prior to the incident are a bit hazy to me now but I believe that I was pushing our son in his pram and my wife was leading Ali. As we were walking past a property that had just recently been occupied, a dog leapt out of the bushes on the opposite side of the road and immediately attacked Ali. The dog was an adult Malamute. My estimate of its size put its weight at around 40kg and considerably bigger than our dog. It had been hiding in the bushes. I could only assume its purpose was to ambush us. It made no warning growls or barking prior to attacking, it just attacked. It did not appear to be a territorial display.

As Ali scrambled to avoid the charge, her lead tangled around the wheels of the pram and incidentally around my own legs and I went to ground along with the pram. So there you have it. Despite everything I’ve said about avoiding ground in a self-defence situation, I could not avoid it in this instance. Ali and the Malamute rolled into the drainage ditch on the side of the road and Ali rolled onto her back in submission but the Malamute appeared to be intent on killing her, biting viciously into her throat.

This was a very bad situation for several reasons:

  1. My son’s pram was on its side potentially exposing him to attack by this dog.
  2. My wife and I were also potentially secondary targets of this unpredictable attack. I can only guess that the dog had some type of personality disorder because it was not behaving like a normal domestic dog. It was behaving more like a hunting animal, an ambush predator.
  3. We were partially on the main road which has an 80km/hour speed limit, exposing us to traffic hazards.
  4. Ali was possibly about to be killed by the Malamute.

For these reasons, I intervened in this case. My wife and I have several predetermined security protocols for dealing with dangerous situations. In this case, I immediately confronted the threat while my wife protected our son by getting him up and off the road. Typically as part of this protocol, she would also alert the authorities while I confront the threat but in this case, we were in an area which had no mobile reception so she could not fully complete the security protocol.

Since this event, I have done a bit of research on Malamutes and can understand why some of its behaviour was different. The Wikipedia article on Alaskan Malamutes states the following:

“Alaskan Malamutes are still in use as sled dogs for personal travel, hauling freight, or helping move light objects; some, however, are used for the recreational pursuit of sledding, also known as mushing, as well as for skijoringbikejoring, carting, and canicross. However, most Malamutes today are kept as family pets or as show or performance dogs in weight pullingdog agility, or packing. Malamutes are generally slower in long-distance dog sled racing against smaller and faster breeds, so their working usefulness is limited to freighting or traveling over long distances at a far slower rate than that required for racing. They can also help move heavy objects over shorter distances. An adult male Alaskan Malamute can pull around 500–1,500 kilograms (1,100–3,300 lb) of weight, depending on build and training.

The Malamute has a long genetic foundation of living in harsh environments, and many of its behaviors have adapted to survive in such environments.[citation needed] Independence, resourcefulness, high intelligence[6] and natural behaviors are common in the breed. Malamutes, like other Northern and sled dog breeds, can have a high prey drive, due to their origins and breeding. This may mean in some cases they will chase smaller animals, including other canines, as well as rabbits, squirrels, and cats; however, this has been difficult to document in detail beyond anecdotal, observational data and many Malamute owners have observed varying levels of prey drive between individual dogs. While Malamutes are, as a general rule, particularly amicable around people and can be taught to tolerate smaller pets, it is necessary to be mindful of them around smaller animals and small children.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Malamute
What we may have been seeing in this dog was the ‘high prey drive’ mentioned in the Wikipedia article perhaps intensified by some pre-existing personality disorder.

Since I was on the ground and time was of the essence, I did not attempt to regain my feet but instead rolled straight into the fight and grabbed the Malamute by the throat to haul it off Ali. The instant that I started dragging the dog off, it turned to attack me but I instinctively had it in a Chi-Na lock which is typically used to disarm knife-wielding opponents. This particular disarming technique is usually applied to someone’s wrist and is a one-handed Chi-Na technique which makes it useful if you have to use your other hand. Despite being designed for something completely different, it worked really effectively to keep the dog’s teeth away from me.

Once I had it by the throat, I dragged it a couple of metres away from my family. The only reason it wasn’t able to attack me at this point was because of my hold on it. If I had let go at this point, it would have immediately turned and attacked me. I managed to get into a half-crouching stance at this point. Now I had achieved a dominant position in the combat and I started striking the top of the dog’s head with my fist. I punched it three or four times before I felt something crack in the dog’s skull or neck and at this point, the fight went out of the dog. My physical bridge connection with the dog told me that its attitude had changed from aggression into fear and compliance. It just wanted to get away at this point so I released my hold on it. There was no longer any need for me to carry on because I had applied enough force to end the situation. I released my hold and it sprinted back onto its property and kept running until it disappeared behind the house.

I stood up and it was then that I noticed that the dog’s owner standing at his fence with a shocked and confused expression on his face. I think his mouth was hanging open. I stormed up to the owner since I was still flushed with adrenalin and exceedingly angry. I had some impolite things to say to him before telling him that the dog should be locked up. He was very apologetic, showed no resistance, accepted full responsibility and assured me that the dog would be confined in future so I took the incident no further with him (or with the authorities for that matter).

My wife then confirmed that both her and my son were fine and we went on our merry way. I suffered no injuries from the incident. Ali suffered some superficial punctures and scratches to the skin around her neck but was otherwise unscathed. Fortunately, I had reacted in time to prevent her from being killed.

In total, we estimate that the entire incident from the appearance of the dog to the point at which it fled lasted between 5 and 10 seconds. My memory of the actions in that time are certainly a lot more precise than the preceding moments due to the boost in concentration effected by an adrenalin surge but exact actions are hard to explain since they are driven primarily by subconscious evaluation and processing. I experienced the time-dilation effect of an adrenalin surge for the duration of the action as well.

I did not see that dog again although my wife may have seen it a few times confined in a fenced area of the yard. I probably did not kill it. In retrospect, due to the short period of time during which the event occurred, the dog’s owner may not have even had time to mentally process what was happening, let alone intervene before the event had already been resolved. I did not think of that when I had words with him. Perhaps I should have been more forgiving.

As a post-mortem of the event, there are a few things that went wrong, but by and large it was a picture-perfect intervention. The primary negative was my slow reaction at the beginning which resulted in my son and I falling to the ground. Although in my defence, the attack did occur from a very short distance away, which did not give me much reaction time. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

It was my training in ground fighting, ground movement and prone to standing transitions that ensured that I could effectively deal with the situation in this case. Check out my series on Ground Work for some of my opinions and suggestions on what you should be training on the ground.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia