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How to Protect Yourself From a Loose Dog

Most pets are friendly, but what do you do if a dog gets aggressive while you're out? Here's what to do if a dog chases you on a run.

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They may be man’s best friend, but dogs aren’t always so friendly—especially to runners and cyclists. Encounters with loose dogs happen all the time, be it while jogging on country roads where the yards aren’t fenced in or trail running in an area where owners think the leash laws don’t apply to their pups. It’s a risky situation—at best, the dog just wants a belly rub, and at worst, they’re aggressive. But how do you know which pup you’ve encountered? That’s the scary part—you simply don’t, says Ron Berman, a canine behavioral consultant and forensic dog expert.

“Every situation is different,” explains Berman. “What diffuses one dog’s aggression could intensify another. Runners can encounter loose or aggressive dogs anywhere.”

Even the most passionate animal lover can find themselves panicked when they encounter a loose dog on the offensive. Do you run? Freeze? Back away slowly? Talk calmly? Yell? Say nothing at all? In a situation where every second counts, it’s important to know what to do to reduce the risk of an animal attack. Here’s what to do if a dog chases you on a run, plus tips for preventing it in the first place.

What to Do If a Dog Chases You

1. Stop, Drop, and Roll

This easy-to-remember maxim comes from K. Dwayne Hearst of the Law Enforcement Training Institute: “Stop your movement, drop your gaze, and roll your body sideways so it’s in a diagonal posture away from the canine, rather than facing it straight on.”

Standing straight up toward the canine and making eye contact can be seen as a challenge to the dog, but dropping your gaze and turning slightly will decrease your physical stature, making you look less formidable.

2. Back Away

It’s important that you not continue in the direction of the animal, as most dogs will protect their territorial boundaries. “When seeing a loose dog while running, the best thing is to increase the distance between you,” says Berman. “Most dogs are not aggressive enough to attack a runner, and will stop at a certain point.” But don’t run away, as that may trigger the chase response. Instead, back away slowly without making direct eye contact. Be aware of your footing so you don’t trip and fall.

3. Freeze

If the dog follows you at a distance while you back away, then hold your ground. “Freeze and act like a tree,” says Hearst. “The canine will probably bark, bluff-charge, and possibly jump at you, but by receiving no response, many will meander off within a few minutes.” If that still doesn’t work, sternly yell “Get back!” several times while attempting to back away once more.

4. If There’s an Attack, Choose Your Strategy

At this point, it’s all about survival, says Hearst. “If you’re still standing, kick at the canine forcefully but not recklessly. Move to a wall where you can sustain your balance and ward off the attacking canine. If you’re taken to the ground, gouge the eyes or grab the back of the neck.” You can also use tools on hand, like a stick or rock on the ground, or even a water bottle. This can defuse the situation until the dog gives up or someone else can step in to help.

If the dog is large enough to push you over, Berman says shift to protection mode: “One good strategy is to curl up in a ball, protecting your head and neck. Lie still and play dead. Most dogs will calm down in this scenario, as you are no longer a threat and may just leave the scene.”

5. Don’t Give Chase

After a dog bite or attack, you may be tempted to follow the dog so you can confront its owner. Avoid this impulse, as it may threaten the dog, leading to another attack.

6. Call 911

In addition to sending paramedics if necessary, your emergency response service can dispatch the police and animal control, who can start the process of tracking down the dog and its owner (if there is one). Be prepared to give as much detail about the attack as possible: “Try to remember as much as you can: breed, size, color of the dog. What color was the dog’s collar? Also, if you noticed where the dog came from, what house, building or property did it come out of?”

7. Get Documentation

If an owner is identified, officials will likely contact you with additional information, including whether or not the dog has an up-to-date vaccination record for rabies. Hearst also recommends photographing any injuries for court records and/or insurance claims.

8. Get Medical Attention

Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may need to go to your doctor or the hospital for treatment. For a surface wound, like a scratch, wash thoroughly with water, apply an antibacterial cream, and keep a close eye on it—if it becomes very red, sore, or inflamed, see a doctor. If a bite broke the skin, however, definitely go to a doctor—you might need stitches, antibiotics, or injections to protect you from tetanus or rabies.

Prevention Tips

The number-one way to prevent dog attacks is for the owner to train their dogs not to do it in the first place, and to always make sure their dog is secure in the house, the yard, or on a leash. If you’ve encountered a threatening dog on your run route, attempt to reach the owner before or after the encounter. For an ongoing problem, call animal control. 

However, not all owners are responsible ones, and dog attacks, though rare, do happen. That’s why Hearst recommends carrying a small safety device, like a portable baton, airhorn, or even a small umbrella.

Berman also says it’s important to be aware of your surroundings: “Many victims of dog attacks were wearing headphones and did not hear the dog until it was right on them. It’s best not to be on the phone or looking at your cell phone. You need all of your senses to be available to pick up a possible threat while there is still time to hopefully avoid it.”

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