What To Do If You're Chased By A Stray Dog During Your Run

Hello heifers! I wanted to talk about an incident I experienced recently while running.  I struggle to self-motivate as it relates to getting up and going for a run, solo.  I just do.  I'm not one of those awesome people who runs alone.  I don't enjoy the sounds of my own huffing and puffing for miles on end.  Even with music turned up loud (which is a safety no-no anyway)... it's just no fun.  I have 3 jokes total, and I already know the punchline to each, so I can't even entertain myself for a mile.

So, recently when a friend asked me to go for an early morning run, I figured, "what the heck!" I LOVE that pre-dawn hour of amazing silence, stars, moonlight, and solitude (as long as I'm with a friend, because who wants to be alone in the dark, anyway?) (ok half of you reading want to run alone in the dark, but whatevs, let me have my moment here!)

Anyhooooo.... there we were.  We arrived to the park, 13 base layers on (because let's face it, Phoenix is freezing in the winter, it's FREEZING.  And by freezing I mean 42'). 

As it goes, I'm pretty triple type A. (I know, you're shocked).  Compose yourself and let's move on, mkay?  I'm triple type A.  My "on time" is always 20 minutes early, even when I TRY to be 'on time.' My skin crawls. I just CAN'T physically seem to show up any less than 20 minutes early. I think it's genetic. My dad is like that too. There's worse things, right? I hope.  So I arrive to the park REAAAAAAALLY early. Like, the roosters just went to BED and haven't even woken up yet to sing their farm-animal harmonies yet).

I obviously have my headlights on, and I see a big white Pit Bull (no, not the singer, trust me I'd be all over that dawg) trot up in front of my headlights.  She was clearly post-partum, ready to feed some hungry puppies, and she was emaciated.  So skinny it hurt my heart.  Now, here's the thing. I love dogs. I love ALL dogs, regardless of breed.  I don't discriminate.  Their breed obviously has a bad reputation because so many awful people bred these dogs as fighters. That is awful and breaks my heart.

That being said - I was also attacked by a Standard Poodle once, about 9ish years ago.  This was a family dog, the beloved pet Scooby or whatever his name was (I lovingly call him CUJO when I reference the story).... but poor little Scooby never attacked anyone else in his entire life (why me, Scooby, why me? I didn't even LOOK at you let alone touch you or threaten you) But ..... moving on.

So I love dogs. I have two huge doggies of my own and if you follow me on twitter you see pics of my dogs every night, especially the internet's favorite dog, #SpazPuppy.

 

#SpazPuppy.  He's a hot mess. But we love him.

#SpazPuppy.  He's a hot mess. But we love him.

My friend arrives at the park, and I point out to her this dog, right in front of my car.  She looks harmless enough (the dog.  I mean, my friend looks harmless too, I promise, and she doesn't bite, ever)... so we got out of our cars and began a little walk.

The dog began to follow us.  And by follow us, I mean chase after us. Now, remember, I just told y'all, I was attacked (ATTACKED) by a dog a few years ago.  I'm NOT afraid of dogs but I don't like being chased by a stray, either.  Anytime. Ever.  Even a stray kid at the mall. If you are a stray anything - please don't follow me and please definitely don't CHASE me.  

The dog was running after us and JUMPED up on my friend. Now at this point, I was about to lose my ever-loving mind. I was legit afraid.  Her tail was up and wagging, sure. But she is an animal and has animal instincts. When someone runs AWAY from a dog, they chase you. Simple as that. Because that's what dogs do. It's their jam.

I asked my friend, "what should we do?" and her answer was to keep going.  So we kept going. I didn't enjoy that. I didn't think that was a good idea, especially after the dog JUMPED on her. I envisioned my life before me, and my obituary reading "killed by dog, even though she knew better..."  I wish we hadn't kept going, because in my heart I was afraid. 

We kept running and eventually the dog did stop chasing us, after about a mile.  I was extremely nervous the whole time and can neither confirm nor deny that I made my friend hold my hand and run with me (even though she's a better runner).

All that, above, to get to my point.  I want to talk about SAFETY while running. What do you do if you encounter a stray dog during your run? Normally I'd say it's no big deal. But this was different.  This dog chased us for a mile.  Was she hungry? Probably. Was she domesticated? Who knows.  She had no collar.  Was she going to eat us? Maybe, if we ran slower (speaking of which... congratulate me on my PR for that mile) ... 

Here's a few tips from "The Way of Slow Travel" that I think hit the nail on the head.

 

5 Non-Violent Tricks to Deal with Stray Dogs

Stray dogs are so prevalent throughout the world that sooner or later, you’ll come face to face with a stray or two. 99% of the time strays will avoid confrontation with humans, but from time to time a dog might act confrontational, which can lead to a harrowing experience if you’re not familiar with dog behavior.

1. Stay calm and walk away. Don’t run.

This is the simplest, most important thing to remember. If a stray dog is barking at you from a distance, it’s most likely warning you to stay off its territory. It will stand at the edge of its territory and bark to warn you against entering it. As long as you remain calm and walk away from the dog, you should have no problem.

Whatever you do, do not run away; dogs are likely to instinctively give chase, and there’s no way you’ll outrun them on a short sprint. This is the reason you see dogs chasing cars and motorbikes, not to mention, much to my annoyance, runners. Dogs who run you down are likely to bite your legs to make you stop.

For my fellow runners out there, be wary of dogs chasing you while you run. Dogs who are unused to runners might think you’re fleeing and might instinctively run you down. The only trick I’ve found is to stop and walk, then start running again when you’re further away. Sucks for your pace, but it beats a bite in the calf.

2. Avoid confrontation with packs.

While you can always bluster your way through an encounter with a lone dog, dog packs are bad news. The dogs’ confidence is multiplied when they have their buddies around, and they know real well how to coordinate to take a threat down. What’s worse, dog packs don’t always signal their aggressive intent by barking; I’ve seen dogs in pack quietly flank a perceived threat without a sound.

If a dog pack is just lying about sleeping or acting friendly, you’re most likely OK. But trust your instincts on this; if a pack feels threatening even if no one is barking, don’t chance it. Walk away and find another way around even if it’s a long one.

An interesting note on dog behavior is that a dog who wags its tail is not necessarily friendly. Dogs wag their tail when they’re excited, and a dog who’s about to bite you will definitely feel excitement at the upcoming confrontation. As a matter of fact, many barking dogs wag their tails even though it’s clear they’re not being friendly.

3. Send calming signals.

This was the biggest “gotcha” for me as I learned about dog behavior. There are simple ways you can signal to a dog that you have peaceful intent. By performing these, you’re telling the dog that you mean it no harm, and you’ll avoid triggering its aggression. Remember that the majority of lone dogs are afraid of humans. By telling them in their own language that you’re not here to attack them, they’re likely to back down.

Some useful calming signals I often use:

  • Yawning;
  • Licking your lips;
  • Avoiding eye contact;
  • Standing sideways to the dog;
  • Letting them approach and sniff you (but don’t raise your hand; they might be surprised and bite).

Likewise, avoid acting dominant with dogs. This goes against the suggestion of many people, but just like with humans, if you escalate aggression, there’s always a risk that the other will follow suit. Remember, the goal here is to get away unscathed, not prove you’re more dominant than some stray.

 

Some aggressive behaviors to avoid:

  • Staring them down;
  • Yelling;
  • Flailing your arms;
  • Walking or running towards them.

 

4. Ask locals for help.

Locals are a great help when dealing with stray dogs. As a matter of fact, you’re unlikely to have any real trouble as long as locals are nearby. The dogs will know them, and the people will know how to deal with the local strays. If no locals are around and you don’t know what to do to avoid injury, just yell for help.

5. Feign picking up rocks.

Having cautioned you against aggressive behavior, let me now recommend something which the dogs will assuredly perceive as an aggression. Use this as a last resort if the above fails. Crouch and feign picking up a small rock. For some reason, this is a gesture that dogs all around the world have learned to recognize as a source of impending pain, which unfortunately says a lot about the abuse they often receive.

I’ve never had to use this one since I’ve learned about calming signals. But before I knew how to defuse a situation, I had to resort to this trick a few times, and it worked every time. It did make the dogs more aggressive, but they kept a respectful distance.

What to do if you get attacked?

If a dog attack looks unavoidable, use an object–a backpack, a stick, even your shirt wrapped around your forearm if time allows–to fend off an attack. Don’t try to hit the dog as it is likely to dodge and move within range. If attacked, use your forearm to shield your head and face at all costs. To escape the area, walk backwards from the attacking dog, looking at the dog indirectly.

After the encounter, get to a hospital as quickly as you can. If your rabies shots are not up to date, you’ll need to get a shot because many stray dogs carry rabies, which can be deadly. You’ll also need those bites treated against infection.

Mind you, if you do the above, a direct, physical confrontation is unlikely. It sure never happened to me, but truth be told, there have been times I have been worried it might.

 

Hindsight, y'all.  It's 20/20. We should NOT have run from the stray dog.  But we did and thankfully we were ok and she didn't attack us. But it could have had an uglier ending. 

So please, use this example as a warning, and if you're followed by a stray, employ some of the tactics above to keep yourself safe.  We got lucky, and I don't want anyone ever to get hurt out there on the running trails.

Run happy, and run safe, heifers!

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