How to Deal with a Dog Attack on the Run

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Encountering an aggressive, off-leash dog on the run is many a runner’s worst nightmare. Because apart from the odd can of pepper spray, very few runners carry items that can actually deter an angry pooch. Which makes us all the more vulnerable. So what exactly should you do in the event of a dog attack? Should you run? Should you shout? Let’s have a look at what the experts recommend.

Why do dogs attack runners?

According to Dr Deborah Hofler, veteranarian in Valley Center, CA, a dog instinctively wants to pursue its prey. Which is why a passing runner can seem so inviting. Dr Hofler adds that dogs are also sensitive to human emotions. They tend to back off when they sense resistance or confidence and attack when they sense weakness or fear.

How to avoid a dog attack

The best way to handle a dog attack is, of course, to avoid it in the first place. Here are a few simple steps you can take to decrease the chances of finding yourself face-to-face with an aggressive dog:

  • Know your route. Spend some time finding and mapping out a few routes in your neighborhood that are runner-friendly and free of unfenced dogs and properties.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings. Throughout your run, keep a close lookout for dogs that are on the loose.
  • Leave the distractions at home. Ditch the headphones and music, especially when you’re running in an unfamiliar area.
  • Change course. If you do spot a dog on the loose up ahead, take a turnoff before it sees you.
  • Head to a dog-free reserve or park. If stray dogs are a problem in your area, it might be a good idea to drive to a nearby dog-free park or reserve for your weekly running fix.

What to do if a dog chases you

But, as we all know, it isn’t always possible to avoid a dog attack altogether. And therefore it’s vital to know how to handle the situation correctly if chased by an off-leash dog. The golden rule is to stay calm, however difficult it may be. Being calm and in control throws a dog off and slows it down, while panicked yelling and kicking has exactly the opposite effect.

Secondly, Tricia Case, owner of Trailblazing Tails, Inc., recommends that a runner differentiates between a fearful dog and an aggressive dog when being chased. According to Case, an anxious, fearful dog will most often bite from behind, where they feel more secure. For such a dog, it’s best to look them in the eye and sternly say something like “No! Bad dog!”. Which should activate their fear and cause them to retrieve.

An aggressive dog, on the other hand, should be handled quite differently. Case advises to never look an aggressive dog in the eyes. Instead, one should try to discourage their prey drive by stopping in one’s tracks, planting your feet firmly on the ground and folding your arms across your chest. This should cause the dog to lose interest, since you’re no longer acting like its prey.

After taking the actions mentioned above, wait until the dog loses interest, and then quietly move to a safe area.

Roo Yori, a dog trainer who specializes in pit bull rehabilitation, recommends not to run from an aggressive or attacking dog. This will simply make things worse by activating the dog’s prey instinct. Plus the chances are pretty slim that you’ll be able to outrun a chasing dog.

It is also not advisable to turn your back to an attacking dog. This might be interpreted as a sign of weakness, cuing the dog to continue its onslaught.

What to do if you do get bitten

But what if the dog doesn’t lose interest and instead continues its attack? If there is time, get the dog to attack something that isn’t you. For example, if you’re wearing a running jacket, get your arm out of one of the sleeves and put that sleeve in the dog’s face. If the dog goes for it, let it pull the jacket off you and then slowly move out of the area. The dog will think that it got a piece of you, which may distract it long enough to enable you to get away.

Should it not, and proceed to knock you over, Yori advises to curl up in a ball and cover your head, neck and face. Also make your hands into fists to protect your fingers. Refraining from flailing will most likely cause the dog to loose interest and move away.

Once the dog does lose interest, or is removed by its owner, it is vital to seek correct medical attention as soon as possible.

Remember that serious dog attacks are not an everyday occurrence. So there is no need to be fearful every time you lace up and head out for a run. Also keep in mind that dog owners, and not dogs themselves, are the culprits when it comes to dog attacks. Every dog owner is responsible for ensuring that his or her dog is a good member of the community. However, in the unlikely event of a dog attack happening, it’s vital that you know how to handle it correctly. So take some time and familiarize yourself with the ways in which to avoid and handle a dog attack. You never know when you might need it!

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