4 running dogs (boxers)
Photo by boxercab
Dogs and runners have a love/hate relationship (usually hate.) As a runner, we are invading their turf, putting their owners in danger, moving fast enough to look interesting and tasty, or just have some bright colors on that makes the dog think that we are a toy. There are a lot of reasons for a dog to chase us, and for the most part they are valid reasons. Sometimes the dog just wants to play with us, or to come over and say hi, and sometimes the dog wants to hunt and maim us.

I was recently asked what do you do when a dog is not on a leash, and it looks like it may want to chase you?

I have had mostly good luck following the steps below, but I will also be the first to admit that I have also been bitten before. I have not been bitten very many times, and I plan on continuing to follow these steps as being the least intrusive to my run, the least danger to both myself and to the dog, and from my own experience has the highest success rate.

What to do when a dog chases you:

  1. Stare down at the dog before he really starts making his move, even if you have to slow down and/or walk backwards.
  2. Make an effort to move away from his turf or his owner so that he doesn’t feel as threatened while you are asserting your dominance, which is what you are doing in step number 1. Move slowly; you want to discourage the dog from chasing you, and not give it a new game.
  3. Talk to the dog and try to calm it down. I will usually say, “Good puppy” or something like that in a soothing voice to try to calm the dog down and show that I am not a threat. It probably helps that I have a deep voice.
  4. If he makes a break for you, stop and bring your hands, arms and legs in towards your body. If you are a man, put your hands in front of your crotch so that the dog can not bite you there. You want your body to be in a straight line so that there is nothing hanging off of you for the dog to attack and grab hold of. Many dogs are just friendly want to play with you or check you out; I don’t assume that the dog going to bite me until it does, but I also do not want to make it easier for the dog to injure me.
  5. If you are bit by the dog, kick it in the head. If you can, try to kick it below its muzzle on its chin as that will cause the most pain while being the least likely to permanently injure the dog. The goal is to give it one good lick that will teach it not to bite runners in the future and hopefully confusing or hurting it enough to leave you alone in the present. Get away from the dog, and call the game warden or your local sheriff at the first possible convenience.
  6. Start moving away or continue your run depending upon whether the dog just wants to sniff you or is being playful or is still threatening to bite. Unless you were bit, do not move too fast until there is some distance between you and the dog. You can probably out run a dog over the long haul, but in a sprint you are all too likely to lose.

A dog running on a trail
Photo by James Charron
When I am confronted by a dog, I do not want to hurt it. If I am attacked, though, I will do what I have to in order to protect myself. It is not the dog’s fault if it attacks you; it is the dog’s owner’s fault. A dog should not be let to run loose in a settled area without supervision; in many places that is illegal.

If a dog chases you off of its property, then you should call the sheriff or game warden even if it does not bite you. The owner will probably get upset with you no matter what happens, but if they have been served a warning to keep their dog under control then there is a slim chance that they might actually put it on a leash or stand outside with it to keep it under control. This will make the dog less likely to hurt a runner or a passing child or anybody else, and it will also protect the dog from getting hurt by traffic.

If you are bit by a dog, and it breaks your skin, then you should probably go to the emergency room and make sure that you are up to date on any vaccinations and shots that you might need, as well as to patch up any tears that you can not treat yourself at home. Rabies is not the only thing that you would need to worry about, and in fact is probably unlikely, but the treatment right after you are bit is much less painful than the treatment that you would get if you gave yourself time to succumb to the infection.

What others do when a dog chases you:

My method is not the only way of dealing with dogs, and it may not even be the best method. Here are some other methods that people I know have tried to varying degrees of success:

  1. Run away as fast as possible. I am not a fan of this method, as it only encourages the dog to chase you. If you have enough of a lead, then you might be able to get far enough away that it will give up and go home, but I do not really trust my sprinting abilities that much.
  2. Carry mace or pepper spray. Mace or pepper spray can be useful not only against dogs but also against two-legged assailants. I do not like carrying anything more on a run then I have to, though, and 99% of the time I do not get chased. Another problem that weapons pose are that they can be used against you, and are really only useful if you want to hurt something. I prefer not to hurt the dog until it has definitively shown me that I am in danger.
  3. Throw an imaginary rock. I have never tried this, but I have heard a few people use this method. Maintain eye contact with the dog and reach down to the ground for a rock, even if there isn’t one there. Stand up, cock your arm, and make a throwing motion at the dog. Supposedly, this will usually scare the dog away. If it doesn’t, though, then you are only teaching the dog that he doesn’t have to be afraid of you, and may encourage him to attack you. I have never tried this, though.
  4. Yell, clap your hands, and stomp your feet. While I have on occasion yelled to make a noise and startle the dog, I have had less success compared to trying to use a soothing voice. The problem with clapping your hands or stomping your feet is that it provides a target for the animal and might encourage it to jump on you if it isn’t startled away.

My dog history

I have been chased by numerous dogs before. Sometimes, the dog will want to run with me, and even had one keep up for about 9 or 10 miles. I had to drive it home, since there was a river and a few bridges in between the end of our run and the dog’s home.

Usually, the dog is only trying to protect its home or its owner, and is satisfied when I leave them both in peace and move away. My run might slow down for the 20 seconds it takes to pass a driveway, but otherwise we both manage to get along just fine.

A dog running in a field
Photo by Lance McCord
Now and again, a dog will really want to play and be friendly, but it is hard to tell the difference sometimes between a dog tearing after you to play and dog chasing you to hunt. I have also been bitten by a dog before when it wanted to play, and it obviously was not trying to hurt me so I just let it be. He was just overly excited and his owner had slipped on the ice and lost control of him.

And a couple of times, I have been bit. When I lived in Connecticut, there was a dog that chased me any time that it was outside when I ran by. I was in my teens and it had not yet occurred to me that I could call the game warden to control the animal. After it had chased me perhaps 8 or 9 times, it managed to catch up to me once before I was far enough away from its house for it to lose interest, and it bit my leg. That was the first time (of only twice) that I have felt a need to kick the dog. It yelped and ran away, and it never bothered me again.

The second time I was attacked by a dog and felt a need to kick it, the dog bit at my hip through my winter running clothes and clawed at my legs. Thankfully, I had full length pants on. The owner threatened to call the police on me when I had the gall to kick his dog when the dog ran out of his yard, ran across the street, and attacked me. I told him to go ahead and kept moving, and then called the police a few minutes later when I got home.

That guy gave me the evil eye every time I ran by and he was outside after that, but he always grabbed his dog when he saw me coming. Unfortunately, I think he only controlled the dog when he saw me coming, because about a year and a half later the dog had to be put down when it attacked a kid on a bicycle. It was not the dog’s fault, but I guarantee that the dog’s owner still has not taken responsibility for what happened.

That was a lone occurrence, though, and the vast majority of my interactions with dogs while I have been running have been friendly or at least brief and uneventful. Most domesticated dogs will not attack you, especially if you do not give them a reason to.

Have you ever been chased or attacked by a dog? What have you done to protect yourself, and how effective was it? Do you have any good tips that I can add to my list above?