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Running Safety: Off-Leash Dogs

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As a self-proclaimed dog lover, I consider myself comfortable around any pooch that comes my way. Between belly rubs and smothering kisses, I can usually make an instant canine friend from even the most reluctant dog. This past weekend, my pack leader confidence was turned upside down as I ran into a growling, angry dog who definitely didn’t want to be my BFF.

My husband and I set out for our weekly long run in a nearby neighborhood known for its quiet, winding roads (the perfect place for a long run – or so we thought!). As we settled into a comfortable pace during the second mile of the run, I saw a blur bolting towards me from behind. Not knowing what it was, I quickly turned my head to see a growling dog sprinting in full force towards us as we continued to move forward. As the dog approached, I saw him bearing his teeth and heard his guttural growl. Panicked, I grabbed my husband’s arm and squeezed tightly as I closed my eyes and stopped running (don’t ask me why I closed my eyes – all I can say is fear completely took over). My husband immediately put himself between the dog and me and yelled, “Keep running, don’t stop!” He turned to the dog (still running) and screamed, “NO!” several times. I’m not sure what exactly happened next, but a switch flipped off in the dog and he lost interest in us, at which point he retreated and ran back towards his house.

With my spiked heart rate, I continued to run while processing the turn of events in my mind. As someone who prides herself on knowing what to do with any dog, I was sorely disappointed in my frantic reaction to the situation, and frankly confused over my inability to remain calm.

Since I’m not one to let a lesson pass me by, I returned home from that run and immediately sought advice from the dog expert who helped me train my own two dogs. Martin Deeley, co-founder of Florida Dog Trainer and internationally renowned dog trainer, sensed my trepidation and gave me the following tips to handle an off-leash, aggressive dog during a run.

RUNNING SAFETY: OFF LEASH DOGS

Be aware of your surroundings. Most dogs are not biters, even if they look like they are. Dogs that bark or growl loudly are typically noisemakers who just want to intimidate, but won’t actually attack. The dogs that may be more concerning are the quiet chasers, or groups of dogs. Be conscious of your ability to hear a dog approaching. Don’t wear headphones, or if you do – turn the volume low so that you can still hear surrounding noise.

No surprises. If you see a dog in the distance, do not surprise it. An unknown human entering a dog’s area can be seen as a threat. Remember dogs instinctively want to chase a moving animal – in this instance a runner. Slow down and walk slowly or simply stop running if you sense a threat. Do not attempt to make friends with the dog.

Project calm energy and stand your ground. Avoid direct eye contact with the dog – never stare at the dog. Try to project calm energy. Even cats who stand their ground and do not run can stop a dog attacking them. If the dog stops and growls or barks, wait and then move slowly away at an angle so you can keep an eye on the dog. Do not turn your back on the dog. Do not flail arms or legs.

Speak firm and loud. Though not always easy to determine, some dogs respond to shouting “NO!”  and “Go Home.” A loud voice can break their focus on charging ahead.

Consider carrying a noise maker. An attacking dog can sometimes be distracted by a loud noise. Think about carrying a pocket-sized air horn or a personal alarm. Runners might also be interested in the Pet Convincer Tool, which shoots a stream of air at the dog to cause distraction.

RELATED ARTICLE: RUNNING SAFETY TIPS

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Deeley recommends practicing calm energy even with dogs who are on a leash. As you run through an area where owners walk their leashed pups, practice the following:

Keep your distance. Do not run close by dogs on a leash as you cannot always predict an animal’s behavior.

Don’t mistake excitement for affection. Put space between you and an excited barking dog on a leash. It is not always easy to decipher the root cause of barking. Some barks precede aggression. It is best not to take a chance. Cross the road, or take a different route.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Though no one wants to be attacked by a dog, the truth is that it does happen. While the tips listed above might help stave off an attack, Deeley cautions runners to be prepared for the worst case scenario. If a dog comes in for an attack, try to put an object between you and the dog so as to entice it to bite the item rather than you. A water bottle, shirt or jacket are all possible options. If knocked to the ground, rolling into a ball and covering your head and neck with your arms can help you avoid serious injury. Lay as still as possible to avoid further enticement. When able, move slowly to regain ground and retreat from the dog to seek help.

Preparation is key. Thinking through a potential situation will help you keep your cool if ever presented with the experience. Stay safe out there run girls!

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Florida Dog Trainer Martin Deeley has been internationally renowned for over 35 years as a trainer, author and teacher. Originally from England, Martin and his wife offer Florida’s premier dog training experience. As a colleague of Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer), Martin acted as a consultant and training advisor for Milan’s book, Cesar’s Way. Find out more about Martin at floridadogtrainer.com.