Running And Dogs…At Times a Scary Combo

This was my best buddy Stu Grimson.  We tend to name dogs after hockey players.

This was my best buddy Stu Grimson. We tend to name dogs after hockey players.

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.

I'm sure we've all felt this!

I’m sure we’ve all felt this!

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.

Happy running.

28 thoughts on “Running And Dogs…At Times a Scary Combo

  1. Great post! I’m not a dog owner. I think they’re cute and sweet, but I don’t know anything about them. I just wish you could advise what I can do about the man-eating sized, evil geese that roam the park where I run! They are way scarier than any dog I’ve ever encountered.

  2. Yes those geese can be an aggressive bunch. I encounter them a lot in NYC too. I heard of one attacking a woman once so your fears are certainly just. I always try to clap my hands as I approach to get them to clear out. Good luck with the geese!

  3. Great post. I totally agree. It is always the people not the dog. I run with my dog most of the time and I have the same issues. I don’t want anyone’s dog running up to my dog at any point either. It is unacceptable. Dogs in public should always be leashed. I don’t believe people at all when they say their dog is friendly. How do they know mine is? Is just something I don’t feel that I should have to deal with on a run. I always roll my dogs leash in and keep her immediately next to my side and on the outside (so I am between her and a run ner) whenever I pass someone, and I urge others to do the same. Another option, though not as kind, when you are being chased is to squirt the dog with water if you are carrying it. That is one method to stop a dog fight, but obviously would be your last choice in this situation.

  4. Great tips! I know this feeling as last summer, I was followed by a dog off the leash. I get so frustrated with owners who don’t keep their dogs in a fenced-in area or on a leash. I would not want my dogs chasing after someone and getting lost, so why would anyone else want that?

  5. I was once attacked by a dog during a run. He ripped a hole in my shorts and shirt – VERY SCARY! What was worse (to me because I have a big heart for animals) is that, even though it was the owner’s fault for improper training, everyone who saw it wanted the dog put down. 😦

  6. Oh I’ve had many a run in with dogs on my runs and have written a few posts on it. Yes, you must stand your ground and yell at them in a deep loud voice. I’m a dog person, but a few times though I’ve had to kick them or throw something at them – even in front of their owners. It’s not worth getting bit.

  7. I love this post! I run with my dog sometimes, but she is a puppy and full of energy, so I make sure to be respectful when other runners are passing. I am on the lookout at all times, and when I see someone coming our way, I immediately go over to the grass area so that there is no way my dog will lunge at the runner. I know how frustrating it is when dog owners have no control of their dogs, so I make sure to not be this kind of owner when I am running with my dog!

    • Lauren, I wish everyone was as respectful with dogs. It is funny how being a runner makes you more aware and respectful of these things. Thanks for showing runners the right way to do it! Happy running with your dog!

  8. i was bitten by a pit bull this fall–his (child) owner was walking him on one of those retractable leashes. All my blinking lights freaked the dog out and he chomped on my leg near my knee. The poor kid (only about 12) was so upset. Luckily the dog did not latch on (and was only doing what he was supposed to do–protect his owner) and several passing cars stopped to help. But it was scary (and painful). I think if your dog is an aggressive breed, it would help if they were muzzled, too. You just never know what an animal is going to do.

  9. I run with my dog, keep him on the leash at all times. A very short leash, although he has a perfect “heel”, he also has a great weakness for ducks, he sees one and goes crazy. I wouldn’t want him to run off and cross a biker (happened to a friend, dog cross the bike lane, my friend fell, broke his clavicle and wrist). I know my dog is not perfect and still a puppy, highly unpredictable. I’d love to run with him off leash but it isn’t worth the headache. I set him free when we are in the country.
    Lord! This comment is getting long. Anyway, running with my dog means I stand twice the chance to get chased by a crazy dog who wants to play with mine, or a dog who wants to fight mine, or another dog owners who want pet my dog (even though we are running).
    This morning I tripped over a dog who ran towards us, I didn’t fall but it was a close call. I can’t blame the dog, owner wasn’t even paying attention, she was on the phone.

    Have a good weekend.

    Ps: never mind the typos, I’m doing this from my phone.

  10. Great post, as always! I, like your husband, never grew up with dogs, and so I am scared of MOST of them while out for a run. With that said, I am converting over–meaning . . . I am beginning to realize that most dogs are good souls, friendly, yet instinctual. I am now falling in love my my “stepdog” Scout of 1.5 years. He’s a great old soul. Thanks for the tips!

    • Most dogs really are just happy and loveable. I’m sure we look scary as we come running towards them or they think they are protecting their owners. Enjoy your stepdog. You will learn a lot from him!

  11. Running on back roads in Vermont and New Hampshire, dogs on leashes, or behind fences are the exception. Scares my wife pretty good. Though even the scary ones are friendly. The only ones who either don’t listen, or actually cause me any grief are the little yappy ones.

  12. Dogs are ‘occupational’ problem for runners, but as you say it is the owners not the dogs who are the problem, and it seems to be the same the world over. The advice about shouting ‘sit’ is perhaps worth a go, I’ll try to remember it next time I am confronted by a dog whose owner is reluctant to deal with it … My only recent problems in London have been professional dog owners, the dogs obviously don’t properly respond to them but they seem clueless about keeping them in control.

  13. Great post and good advice. An unleashed dog always makes me nervous and they are always out on the trails even though we have a leash law. I have had dogs jump on me but never been biten but my boyfriend has and by a leashed dog. I wish owners would be more mindful of runners – especially those who might be nervous around dogs.

  14. Can we please email this post to everyone in the world?? 😉 I LOVE dogs but it is scary to encounter dogs that you don’t know (when they are out of control). When I walk my dog, I never have my headphones in so that I can hear runners and cyclists coming up behind me. I do appreciate it when they say, “on your left” though. I was holding my dog on a tight leash (her body was only about an inch off of my leg) and a lady comes running from behind me, no warning, and passes really close to my dog. My dog didn’t do anything but turn her head a little to see, but this movement of a couple inches forced the runner to dodge a little bit. The runner seemed annoyed but I firmly believe it was her fault for not warning and for passing to close.

  15. I don’t know when my family made the switch to hockey names for the dogs. We used to go with names like Pooch and Tiger. I had a hard time yelling, “Come here Stu.” in the neighborhood for a long time. But he was a fantastic dog.

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