I grew up my whole life with dogs and pretty much adore just about any breed. My husband on the other hand did not grow up with dogs.
When we first met he wasn’t much of a dog person and a random one coming towards him would invoke a bit of fear. This is why one morning I was rather shocked to turn around in the park and see him happily waiting as a decent sized dog came running up to him. He petted the dog and said hi to him and then as his owner came up to fetch his dog I realized why there was no fear in greeting this unleashed pup. My husband is a huge Sopranos fan and James Gandolfini was the owner of that dog. That’s a good way to introduce yourself to canines!
As much as I love dogs, it really is their owners who give them a bad name. I have been on countless runs where an owner doesn’t have a firm hold on a leash and the dog leaps up at me or the dog is simply off of it’s leash to start. I can’t blame the dogs, I really don’t think they mean to scare you and most of them really do have kind hearts. I wouldn’t be surprised if I look like a really big squirrel or a giant ball on legs just asking to be chased.
It drives me nuts when a dog lunges at me to hear the owner yell, “Don’t be scared, he likes people.” I get that you love your pet. I love my family dogs. But I know my family dogs and I know their personalities. I know that our dog Chelios is a giant ball of activity. He will run at you full on and just before he plows into you he will jump into the air and land at your side. I don’t expect you to know that and assume that if he did this to you, your heart would be in your throat.
I don’t know your dog and if I trusted every person who told me their dog was sweet, I’d have bite marks up and down my legs.
This is why I give a simple plea on behalf of runners everywhere to keep in mind that while most of us probably love dogs and think your dog is adorable, it is scary to run up to a dog not held tightly on a leash. When you let your dog jump up at us when we run by, it scares us A LOT. It scares some of us enough to react in a defensive way that might cause us harm or even your dog. By the way, those long expanding leashes are almost as dangerous as being off leash. I got tangled up in one as an anxious puppy barreled around me on an ice covered path.
For runners I do have a few ideas to help you if you are to encounter an off leash dog on your run. Keep in mind I am no Cesar Millan, but these are lessons I have learned or were passed down to me over the years growing up with dogs.
When my husband first met Chelios it was as if Chelly knew that he needed to make best friends with him and convert him to a canine lover. He is the first person the dog runs up to and jumps up and down around him, charging at him and dancing. There is no way anyone who didn’t know him wouldn’t be a bit freaked out as this big black dog comes happily charging at you.
The best thing to do is to be firm. Stand your ground. Speak loudly and firmly. Yell, “Down,” or “Sit.” Use a strong and demanding voice. Even if you feel afraid try your best to sound strong.
Last summer we were running down a rural dirt road and a dog came running up to us barking and charging. We were the only people around for at least a mile or two. My husband used these words and the dog at first ran circles around us, but soon he sat at our side and we were able to continue on our way.
If you are alone and a dog comes up to you, stop running. This happens to me countless times during the summer in our rural vacation area. Look straight ahead and keep walking. Try not to make eye contact with the dog and try to stay calm. I have been alone in rural areas and had a dog start following me. If you keep running they might chase you. By slowing down and just walking, you give no reason for the dog to continue to come after you.
A family friend taught her kids to, “Be a tree.” If a dog comes running up to you stop and put your hands down at your side and stand still. This works really well and I think this is a great thing to teach children who may feel uncomfortable around dogs.
Finally, if you are running in urban areas just be aware of your surroundings. If you see a dog ahead of you and the owner seems to be oblivious try to give a soft warning that you are coming. Simply saying, “Behind you,” can help avoid startling both dog and owner. Don’t expect the owner or dog to move aside, do it yourself. Just as I assume drivers will not give the right of way, I do the same thing when running. If it will keep a dog from lunging at you it will help keep your run safe.
And if an owner is respectful without your provoking and pulls the dog to the side or has them sit, make sure to acknowledge them too. Sometimes I say thanks and other times I even thank both of them, “Thanks guys!” I never mind some friendly dog interaction moments.