As temperatures rise and daylight hours start to stretch out, more people are out on the trails, in the parks and on the roads exercising. With those people often come their furry friends.
This past weekend on my long run in the Albuquerque Bosque, I had a recent stand off with an aggressive dog and his nonchalant owner. As I approached the pair, I coughed to alert the owner of my presence, and the unleashed dog turned to me and stopped. The owner gestured and called the dog over to the side of the path, a command the dog disregarded. I slowed as I got closer, and as the dog began to bark and step toward me, I came to a halt. As the dog lunged toward me, I extended my fist downward and spoke “NO!” and “BACK!” repeatedly in as firm and deep a voice as I could manage, eventually making eye contact with the owner and asking him to please leash his dog. The owner was able to eventually grab the dog by the collar and leash him, with a, “He’s just playing, he doesn’t usually bark at people…” For me, however, this was not fun or playing. Shaking, (I was freaked out!) I continued on my run, heart pounding and trying to get over the chills I had after this encounter.
I have a dog of my own, who often runs with me. I love taking Risa the Wonderdog on my runs, as I am inspired by her energy and her clear enjoyment of being out on a run. I do, however, have a healthy respect for other people who may not enjoy her exuberance, and for other dogs (and their owners) with whom Risa (and I) might not play nice.
As I don’t intend to stop running–and I certainly don’t intend to stop running in the Bosque – here are a few tips for running safely and smartly with dogs.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Take time to notice other people and their animals. Does the little lady have her Chihuahua on a leash? Is that leash one of the extendable ones (aka, unpredictable, ever-changing tripping death trap leashes?) that little Fluffy will drag right across in front of your ankles and then pounce upon you when you crash to the ground??
- Notice the dog’s behavior. If you do come across an unleashed dog while out on a run, pay attention to his behavior. Most dogs are generally curious about newcomers, and may approach you to simply check who you are and then return to more interesting things like searching for rabbits or birds. However, be aware of the dogs’ behavior as it approaches, and keep an eye out for growling, barking, or a strong, steady, fast loping approach – these generally tend to indicate more than just an off-hand curiousity and you should be on your guard.
- Pay attention to the owner’s behavior. If the owner is panicked, calling the dog frantically or rushing to control the dog, be on your guard and aware that this dog is not likely to be friendly. If the owner is not paying attention to the dog, and you are uncomfortable, try to gain the owners attention. Remember that most owners see their dog as wonderful, friendly pooch, and may act defensively if a passerby seems concerned about their pet. Try to remain polite and communicate your concerns or desires (leash, please!) to the owner, while being aware of the dogs’ behavior.
- Be calm. If the dog appears to be acting defensive, territorial or aggressive, try to remain calm. Dog’s can sense panic or fear, and may act aggressively toward or try to dominate what they see as a prey object.
- Don’t run! Running away with your back to the animal is never a good idea. This not only makes you unable to see what the dog is doing, but trigger instincts to chase within the dog. You won’t be able to outrun a dog! Instead, stop and speak whatever words come to mind in a commanding voice (“No,” “Down,” “Go Home!”). Try to back away from the dog. If you have pepper spray, you probably want to have it in hand, ready to use in case of aggression.
- Don’t be over-threatening. Don’t make eye contact, and try to stand at an angle from the dog. Avoid sudden movements.
- Hold your ground! In some instances, after a brief period of aggression, the dog(s) will lose interest and may leave of their own accord.
- Protect your vital areas. In this case, I’m talking about face, throat and chest. Keep your hands in fists to protect your fingers.
- Control the dog. If the owner is present, ask or demand that they control and leash their dog. In areas where off-leash dogs are welcome (wilderness, dog parks), ask the owner to control their dog until you can leave safely.
- Fight back. In the event that the dog does attack you and you cannot shake the dog off, put your entire body weight and energy into fighting back. Focus on using your knees and elbows as force points. Try to focus on inflicting damage on their weak areas – eyes, nose, throat and the more breakable limbs and ribs – while staying out of biting range.
- Pepper spray? If you carry pepper spray, this is the time to use it. Be aware that pepper spray is dangerous, not only to the dog but also to you and anyone you are with, especially children. Be sure you are acquainted with whatever kind of pepper spray or mace you are carrying, how to dispense the liquid (mid-attack is not the time to be worrying about whether you flip a top or twist to activate…), and if possible, have practiced with your chemical dispenser. Pepper spray is effective against attackers as it induces coughing, choking, and nausea, as well as dilating the eye capillaries resulting in temporary blindness. Wind and rain affect the efficacy of pepper spray.
- Lift their legs. If the animal has bitten and locked on to another person or animal, lift their hind legs, preventing them from being able to pull and leverage their weight into the ripping bite.
- Multiple dogs? If you are attacked by a pack of dogs, try to inflict damage to eyes, nose and limbs.
- Leave the scene and get help. If you are fleeing a dog attack and are injured, get to a safe location, call for medical attention if necessary, and certainly call animal control and/or the local police department to report the incident.
As a dog owner (and proponent for dog-person exercise!) a few tips for those of us who love to take our friends with us:
- If there’s a leash law, pay attention to it.
- If there are small children about, be extra aware of your dogs’ behavior. My 60-lb, very curious, child-loving golden retriever is terrifying to (not to mention, bigger than) most 3-year olds. There is nothing more she would like than to dive-bomb into the pee-wee soccer practice at the park, scattering shrieking kiddos like bowling pins. Enter my leash.
- If you have an extendable leash, pay attention to other pedestrians and cyclists around you. Your dogs’ free rein means those runner have to try to skip over/duck under/dodge the leash.
- If your dog is aggressive toward other people’s dogs, you are responsible for controlling your dog. Not “most of the time,” not in his “usual” behavior, not “at home” where there are no other dogs/people/hot dog trucks/distractions. You must control your dog in your current situation.
- Clean up after your dog. Yup, that means bagging the poo and disposing of the baggy in a trash can.
- Remember to bring water for your dog, not just yourself, especially as temperatures rise.
- Here are some more tips for starting to run with your dog.
The potential for animal attacks is always present, but I hope that the fear of potential attack does not hold you back from enjoying your exercise in the great outdoors. Also, be aware that having a dog to keep you company can really motivate you to exercise and can help you feel safe while out there. Keep in mind that other animals (coyotes, mountain lions, and bears, oh my!) are also present in areas used by trail runners and hikers, but attack by wild animal is very rare.
Hope this helps!