A blog by runners. For runners.

How to Protect Yourself From an Unfriendly Dog While Running

running and dogs

Runners, walkers, and bikers occasionally encounter dogs during a workout. It's important to keep in mind what you should do if ever in a dangerous situation.

There's been a few news stories floating around about people who were injured by dogs while running. We even had a WalkJogRun fan who told us they had a close call with a dog and was wondering what to do. We decided to ask an expert!

We interviewed Cathy Alinovi, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and asked her what should be done in these situations. She is a veterinarian in Pine Village, IN and an avid biker. Encounters with dogs is a common occurance where she lives in the country.

Carry a cell phone, not pepper spray

Many of you weren't sure whether carrying pepper spray was the right thing to do. According to Dr. Alinovi, it's better to not carry pepper spray. She says if you miss the dog, it can come at you very angry.

“My problem with pepper spray is I've seen people misuse it – or use it on a dog that didn't need it and turned the dog into a nut.”

Carrying a cell phone is smart because if you ever ended up in a dangerous situation, you could call for help.

What should you do if a dog follows you while running or biking

“The most important thing is do not run! Dogs are always faster and
can outrun a human. On a bicycle, sometimes, a good rider can sprint and
get away from a single dog. Slower riders can sometimes use surprise by
slowing down, the dog will slow down, then as hard as the rider can, crank
on the pedal and sprint away.”

“Some people try to squirt dogs in the face with a water bottle – this is
asking for an accident. Some people throw things at the dogs – again,
asking for an accident. My recommendation – keep your hands on the
handlebars, preferably near the brakes in case you have to make a sudden
stop, like if the dog darts in front of you.”

“Usually, dogs are interested in the chase – by stopping, you prevent the
chase. Other dogs will stop chasing at the end of their territory.”

Angry dogs

“Occasionally, you will encounter an angry dog – these are more difficult to
deal with. First, do not stare directly in the dog's eyes – this is a
challenge. Second, do not turn your back on the dog – then you can't see
the dog. Third, place something in between you and the dog – if riding a
bicycle – the bike itself is great to put in between you and the cranky dog.
Always carry a cell phone that is accessible so you can call for help.
Speak calmly, remain calm and talk to the dog to defuse the situation.
Breathe, deep breaths, stay calm, and relax. You would be amazed how the
dog will relax too!”

“The hardest part is knowing which situation the bicyclist/runner/walker is
facing. By remaining calm, the dog can be figured out. I've ridden with
riders scared of dogs who panicked and almost caused several other cyclists
to fall simply because a dog was sighted!”

Feral dogs or a pack

You may think that feral dogs are scarier because they don't have leashes, and look more rugged. According to Dr. Alinovi, they should be more afraid of you.

“Feral dogs alone should run away as they are more scared than people. A pack of dogs is a problem: that's where running away is very difficult as the pack can hunt quite well. We've had issues out here with 2-3 dogs attacking horses – a horse bled to death due to the attack. Sometimes, while remaining calm, you can yell at the pack to stop. Like: “Hey. Stop. Go home. Bad dog.” Packs can be much more dangerous and scary. Still the same rules though – don't panic, get something in between and call for help.”

Why unprovoked dogs attack

A few months ago we shared a horrific story about a man who was attacked by dogs while out running. We wanted to know why these things happen and although we learned about what to do in these situations from Dr. Alinovi, sometimes there's nothing you could have done.

“I suspect those were dogs that had been used in dog fights. While the man thought he did nothing – and he did nothing intentional – he was running and two dogs in a pack would have seen that as prey behavior. I love pit bulls, have one myself, but I have also worked with some rescue groups who have tried to save [pitbulls] who came out of dog fighting situations. These dogs needed serious amounts of rehabilitation – they have been bred to be prey aggressive. So, I suppose one other thing to consider is maybe not to run alone if you can't guarantee who will be around to help. In a big city, it might make sense to have a running buddy. And, I guarantee, pepper spray would not have slowed those pits down one bit.”

Have you ever been in a scary situation with dogs while running or biking? We'd love to hear your stories and what you did to keep yourself safe.