Imagine running along your favorite route, headphones in, get-psyched music pumping, and you’re just hitting your groove.
Then, out of the blue, you spot something out of the corner of your eye.
A dog is hurtling towards you, foam flying and teeth bared.
This is an excellent way to hit a new PR, but it’s really not the most fun way to run! Have you ever had this experience?
Do you know what to do if a dog chases you while running or on a ride?
We’ve compiled all the best tips and tricks for you to keep in mind when out and about. They may sound strange or silly, but you don’t want to be caught unaware!
Try these out, and here’s to staying safe out there on the road!
Why Do Dogs Bark at People?
Some of us are dog people. Others really aren’t. Either way, if an angry canine comes at you while you’re on a training run or ride, you don’t really want to stick around to try and give it cuddles.
Dogs bark at people for a variety of reasons. If they’re in a great mood, it could be curiosity, playfulness, or just saying hi.
But if they’re barking in a threatening manner, there could be bigger things at play. The pup may be afraid, especially if you’re on a bicycle or running hard, singing away with your earphones in, or huffing with effort.
If their owner, another dog, or a puppy is around, they could be in protective mode. Or, if you’re running past their home, it could be a territorial thing – they’re just warning you to stay away from their home and family.
In most of these cases, the dog isn’t necessarily planning on chewing on you. Most of the time, they just want you to get out of their space.
When Will a Dog Chase a Runner or Cyclist?
If a dog feels like you pose a severe threat to them or their owner, they may go for you.
On the other hand, you may be unlucky enough to encounter a dog who’s just had a bad day. Yes, just like us humans, dogs can be in a bad mood!
In other cases, the pup just gets over-excited or overstimulated and you become a giant squirrel in its eyes. Running releases frustration (so does the thrill of the chase), so the pup might be letting off some steam.
How to Avoid or Get Away from a Loose and Barking Dog
If you encounter a dog in a yard or on a leash, they may bark incessantly, but chances are they’re not going to be a threat.
But if you come across a dog that’s not leashed, outside of a yard, and gunning for you, what do you do?
Here are some ideas to keep in mind. Some are things you’ll need to remember to do in the moment, and others are steps you can take to prevent it from getting to a dangerous point in the first place.
1. Change Posture Immediately
If the dog isn’t actually attacking you but just threatening, changing to a submissive posture could help you make it out of the situation safely.
Slow your movement, avoid making eye contact, and move sideways so you don’t seem to be taking the dog on. Then, get out of there!
It’s extremely important to take note of the dog’s actions here, though. If it’s barking in a threatening manner but not actually coming close enough to nip you, then a submissive posture could work.
BUT… If the dog is aggressive enough to be coming at you with the intent to bite, then submitting won’t work. You may only have split seconds to figure out which one it is, but it could be a good idea to start with intimidation.
Make yourself as big as possible by facing the dog head-on. This will also allow you to watch its every move. Don’t make eye contact, though – keep your eyes in the general vicinity so you can see what it’s doing, but looking into its eyes can be perceived as a direct threat.
Make noise! Be more threatening than the dog, to keep it from coming closer. While you’re offering up this posture, keeping the dog at a short distance, back off until you can make a safe exit.
2. Back Up
Try to keep an eye ahead and not just on the road in front of your feet. If you see a dog ahead, even if they look calm, try to avoid them as much as possible.
If you can’t avoid the dog completely, try to put some distance between you and the pup so you aren’t running too near to it. Most dogs aren’t aggressive enough to run a distance and attack a runner or rider, so the more distance you can place between you and the pooch, the better.
If you do happen to come across a dog suddenly, it may be best to stop running. Running away can trigger the “chase” instinct!
Don’t make eye contact, back away, and take care not to trip over anything as you move. Once you’re far enough away from the dog, you can resume your running.
3. Yell for Help
Yelling can actually be extremely helpful.
One, it may give the dog a fright and make it back off. Two, it can alert others around you who may be able to help if the situation gets worse. Three, if the dog’s owner is nearby, they should notice what’s happening and get their dog under control.
If there’s no owner in sight, try yelling owner-like commands that could get the dog to stop. “Get down”, “Get back”, “Down”, or “Stop” are a few that could work.
f you hit on one that the dog’s owner says to it, it could be enough to get it to back away.
If the dog isn’t actively coming on to attack you, try freezing in place. If you stop running, the dog may lose the inclination to follow you, because the fun of the chase is no longer there!
Generally, if you don’t give the dog a reason to be barking or chasing you, it will back off and find something else to do.
Alternatively, you can climb on top of something nearby to get away from the dog until it gets bored of you and leaves.
5. Bike Shield
If you’re riding instead of running, get off the bike and use it as a shield between yourself and the dog. That way, you can keep moving by walking, while the bike effectively protects you from harm.
Keep in mind that if you’re training with clipless pedals and cleats, a dog bark or attack could have even worse consequences. If you’re startled by a barking dog and lose your focus, you can’t just put your foot down to steady yourself.
If a dog runs at you and bites, you can’t put a foot out to try and push it away while still riding. And if you fall while the dog is chasing or attacking, you’re in an extremely vulnerable position.
If you see a dog up ahead, it may be a good idea to disengage a cleat and ride past slowly. That way, the dog has less chance of being startled by the bike, and you have a free foot in case some stuff goes down.
6. Fake an Attack
Similar to making yourself as large as possible and making noise to intimidate, you can always fake throwing a rock or pretend to throw your helmet or water bottle at the dog.
If the dog feels more threatened than they can handle up close, they may back off and leave you alone.
But it’s extremely important to judge the dog’s behavior here. If you pretend to throw a stone and they get more aggressive, then obviously switch to a different tactic.
7. Throw Water
Whether you’re running or cycling, you’ll have water with you. If you’d rather not fake throwing something or throw something that could hurt the pup, you can splash them with water.
This won’t hurt them, but dogs typically don’t like getting wet and will back off a little. If you’re near the end of your water supply, you can splash them once and then just continue to wave the water bottle around and threaten to splash again.
8. Choose Your Weapons in Case of an Attack
If you’re worried about dog attacks or you happen to live in a neighborhood with a lot of dogs, you can prepare yourself beforehand. Self-defense devices like pepper spray, a baton, or an air horn can effectively ward off dogs.
Keep in mind that pepper spray can cause damage to a dog’s eyes and throat, which may land you in some hot water if an owner decides to lay charges against you for injuring their dog.
The same goes for a baton. Ultimately, your goal should NOT be to hurt the dog – just hold them off until you can vacate their space.
An air horn is a good choice. It’s often enough to startle a dog and get them out of attack mode. Be careful not to accidentally set it off while you’re running or riding, though!
If you have no space to carry something or you forget and you’re faced with a dangerous situation, find something around you to use to defend yourself. A branch, a stick, an old shoe… Whatever is within reach.
9. Avoid Distractions
As much as we all love listening to motivating music, keeping the headphones off can help keep you aware of what’s going on around you so you can avoid trouble before it happens.
If you can’t bear the thought of running or riding without your music, you can invest in a set of bone conduction headphones. These give you excellent sound quality without having something blocking your ears.
10. Read the Dog First
Be aware and take note of the dog’s body language before making a move.
If it’s barking but it’s kind of frolicking around at the same time, chances are it’s in a playful mood and thinks you may be fun to play with. Floppy ears and a relaxed body equal a happy dog.
If the dog is running towards you with a steady, fast gait that looks like he means business, that’s probably an accurate assessment. Be cautious and don’t take your eyes off the dog until you’re either far away or you can be sure it’s friendly.
Signs of aggression include loud growling or snarling, baring of the teeth, ears lying flat against the head, a tense, stiff body, neck, and head, and the whites of its eyes showing.
11. After a Dog Bite or Attack
If you do happen to be attacked or bitten by a dog, resist the temptation to follow it so you can find its owner. Get away as fast as you can, because the dog won’t hesitate to bite again if it feels threatened.
Call 911 or animal control. Even if the dog got spooked and bit out of fright, they’ll need to investigate. Try to remember as much as you can about the dog – what breed it was, what color it was, how big it was, and so on.
Also, take note of if it was wearing a collar. If it came out of a particular yard or property, make a mental note and let animal control know when they arrive on the scene.
If you’re planning on submitting insurance claims or filing charges against the owner, make sure to document everything.
Photograph your injuries, record any confrontations that may happen with the owner (although we recommend not getting into it with them), and make copies of any police or animal control reports.
If you sustain a severe dog bite or an injury trying to get away from a dog, it’s best to go to the ER and get checked out by a doctor. Dog bites that break the skin need cleaning and it’s highly likely that you’ll need a tetanus shot and possibly stitches.
On the other hand, if it’s just a surface scratch, you can wash it thoroughly, apply a topical cream with antibacterial properties, and keep a close eye on it as the days go. If it becomes swollen, red, or painful, then a trip to the doctor would be a good plan.