On The Run

Let’s Talk: Roaming Dogs While Running!

I’ve always stuck to main roads when running, mostly for safety reasons. But my recently completed challenge to #RunEveryStreet in my neighbourhood meant I had to weave through several small, unfamiliar streets. Early on, I realised I’d have to learn to deal with roaming dogs if I was to succeed. I’m using the word roaming (as opposed to strays) as most dogs were sitting outside their yards. Most were friendly, and those that ran up to me, retreated when I employed my safety protocol. Let’s look at what worked for me and Ditiro will add some pointers (from a veterinary perspective) on what to do in the unfortunate event that you’re attacked.

1/ Be Alert. When you run on familiar streets, you’ll usually know where the hot spots are and avoid them. But when you’re exploring new areas, you have to be very aware of your surroundings. As you turn into each street, quickly pan the area for any dogs so you’re not surprised by them and so you don’t inadvertently startle them. Spotting them from a distance means that if you’re scared to proceed, you can change your route. Of course this can be extremely annoying (especially if you had a clear plan) but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2/ Stay Calm. If you decide to proceed in its direction, stay calm. For me, staying calm became easier as the weeks progressed and I saw my safety protocol was working. Admittedly, my level of calm was often affected by the breed I encountered. The Tswana Breed (Africanis) is by nature quite predictable, well-mannered and mild-tempered, defending only its territory and nothing more. So I was always more relaxed seeing them. I was slightly more apprehensive when I spotted other breeds, Rottweilers and Jack Russell Terriers, being my least favourite.

3/ Slow Down And Stay Wide. As you get closer to the dog, immediately slow down, sometimes even to a walk, and move to the side and away from the dog’s territory. For me, all dogs sitting outside their gates, immediately stopped barking or charging once I slowed down and they saw me deliberately step away from their set boundary. I did the same with dogs who were further from their gates but these ones always seemed more intimidated by me than I was of them.

4/ Remove Your Mask. Some people advise you to remove sunglasses or hats when you encounter a dog as this can scare them. I didn’t find it necessary to do this but I always lowered my buff as I was approaching them. A masked face probably seems extremely dodgy to them!

5/ Watch Your Body Language. Staring at a dog can feel very threatening to it. So while you have to be aware of where it is and what it’s doing, don’t make direct eye contact. Also, don’t cower or come across as intimidating or combative. Maintain a relaxed, upright posture that shows confidence and authority, but also that you come in peace.

6/ Use A Firm Voice. Although some people prefer to use a friendly and cheerful voice with a term of endearment such as “Good Dog”, others say it’s best to use a strong, self-assured voice to say “Back”. And if you’re in Botswana or South Africa, there is one word that tends to work:

In the two months that I navigated small roads in my neighbourhood, encountering between 1 – 5 dogs per run, these steps worked for me. With time, I grew more confident in my approach and thankfully, I was never attacked. Mock charged at, yes – but not attacked. But what happens when you are attacked? Let’s see what Ditiro from the Gaborone Veterinary Clinic has to say.

Steps To Take If You Are Attacked By A Dog

  • If a scary dog comes at you, spray it with water if you have a bottle. You can also use pepper spray which is quite effective and doesn’t endanger the dog. Use a firm, assertive voice to shout “BACK!” as you do this. If the dog continues to charge DO NOT RUN! Stand still with your hands and arms against your sides. Present the side of your body to the dog and do not look at it. Try to maintain your balance. Most dogs will stop their attack at this point or at the very worst nip you as a stern warning. Once they retreat, proceed slowly from the scene.
  • Only extremely unruly dogs will continue to attack someone at this point. If you are unlucky enough to be attacked seriously and are pulled to the ground, stay as still as you can in a curled up position with your arms protecting your head and neck.
  • Once the attack is over (hopefully very soon after the dog realises that this is not a fight), assess your injuries and apply pressure to any wounds that are bleeding heavily. Phone for medical assistance if required.
  • If you can identify the owner, ask to see the dog’s vaccination record, specifically looking to see if it is up-to-date with its Rabies vaccination. Valid vaccination records are a legal requirement. If you don’t have access to the owner, or the certificate, then go to a health facility and start anti-rabies treatment immediately (if rabies exists in your country). Your wounds should be cleaned thoroughly and antibiotic treatment will likely be necessary.
  • Report the incident to the Authorities. Most jurisdictions, including Botswana, have laws preventing dogs from roaming and posing a threat to the public. It is the responsibility of the dog owner to ensure that their dogs are confined so as not to pose harm to the public and so that the dogs are also not at risk of being injured by cars or others.

Running with roaming dogs around can be extremely intimidating. Dog owners really need to do their part to ensure that dogs are kept in their yards, not just for the sake of runners, but also for kids who are playing out on the street or riding their bikes. It’s an unnecessary nuisance and I say this as a huge dog-lover. But I hope these tips help you when you encounter dogs while running and that you know what to do if you are attacked (which I hope never happens!).

Do you run where there are many roaming dogs? Have you ever been attacked by a dog whilst running? What tricks do you use to keep safe from dogs when running?

I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By MileCoach Debbie RunsConfessions of a Mother RunnerRuns with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.

24 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Roaming Dogs While Running!

  1. You will not believe how often I have to deal with this in the countryside in Switzerland! Every farm has a dog roaming around. These dogs are trained to guard the farm and will bark loudly as soon as anyone approaches.
    I’m scared to death of dogs but fortunately, I usually have Kai and other runners with me who instinctively apply your protocol. Really great tips, Shathiso!

    And I’ll remember the Voetsek!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So sorry you also have to deal with this Catrina! With time I’ve grown in confidence as the neighbourhood project had me encountering so many dogs per run! But it’s quite unnerving and really unnecessary for runners, pedestrians and children playing to have to deal with this. Especially that keeping dogs safe and confined is a legal requirement by owners.

      Haha, when you’re back in SA, Voetsek will be well understood by dogs!

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  2. I didn’t grow up with dogs, so I don’t have that “natural” fondness for them (but after Max joined our family, I’ve become more dog-tolerant LOL). Therefore, I’ve always been more leery of dogs when I’m walking or running. One time, I had a dog come running at me, barking like crazy. I stopped, and told him (or her?) “back!” but to no avail. The owner, sitting comfortably on his porch, assured me the dog was just being friendly and wouldn’t hurt a fly. Right! I slowly resumed my run, but the dog followed me (still barking) until the owner FINALLY came to get him.

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    1. That’s such terrible (and unacceptable) behaviour from the owner! Once when I opened my gate to drive in, one of my dogs ran out and barked at some random passer-by. I felt so embarrassed and even though I knew my dog wouldn’t hurt her, I hopped out of the car immediately.

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  3. We have pretty strict dog leash laws around here so no roaming dogs. I really don’t like it when people let their dogs lurch towards me while running. It can be really scary! When I ran in Aruba last winter, there were tons of dogs all around and I was certainly a little freaked out. Thanks for the tips

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  4. This is a great post, because we all have to deal with this at some point. Great to know how to handle it, whether you are just confronting an aggressive dog or actually attacked (luckily the latter has never actually happened to me.) Thanks for the info!

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  5. Luckily I haven’t come across any stray dogs on my runs but that is always one of my biggest fears! We do have strict leash laws in my city so usually dogs are on a leash when their owners are walking them – which is a good thing because sometimes those dogs can be aggressive when they see runners go by!

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    1. Many dogs here usually get left out when their owners leave for work which is so reckless and actually against the law. Ggrrr. Yes, I’ve also found that some dogs being walked can also be quite intimidating as you run by, LOL. Definitely glad they are on a leash!

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  6. When we lived in TX, off leash dogs were common but I hadn’t started running yet. Still I had one very friendly dog once literally come into my house with me at the end of a walk! Then we had 2 small dogs, and it wasn’t always easy — I used to carry Citronella spray with me, because it doesn’t harm the dog but most don’t like it (although there were some it didn’t deter). yes, I had more to use it on more than one occasion.

    Luckily the dogs usually were relatively friendly. It just gets extremely tricky when you have 2 dogs on a leash and a third dog trying to sniff them.

    I’m really impressed that you can run through all those dogs, Shathiso! Excellent tips. Thanks!

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    1. Haha! What an extremely friendly dog to even come into your house at the end of the walk!! We can’t walk our dogs on the neighbourhood roads (at least not easily) so we often drive out to a place where there are no dogs.

      Doing this neighbourhood project helped me become far less intimidated by roaming dogs! But it’s definitely easier when I’m out running on the main streets where there are very few (if any) dogs to deal with (thankfully!).

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  7. Great tips! I love dogs except the ones chasing me, and I’ve had t deal with this three times, and one of the times– had it not been for a driver passing by, who put his truck between me and two pit bulls, I would have been attacked. Now I run with something I actually purchased to train my dog. It is called a BarxBuddy. It looks like a small remote, And it makes an ultrasound noise only dogs can hear (also has a light to scare them). It is a human way to deal with unruly dogs. And its served me well the other two times.

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    1. OMG! So glad the driver was there to help you with those pit bulls!! That must have been absolutely TERRIFYING. Thanks for that awesome tip – I will look into getting something like that! And so glad it worked on those two other occasions. That’s a great secret weapon to have.

      I really do blame dog owners though for even putting us (and children) in this terrible situation to begin with.

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  8. For the most part the dogs I encounter have been on a leash but I still move to the other side because I don’t like it when they bark. Once a dog ran up to me and SCARED THE BEEJEEZUS out of me!!! He/she was friendly and did not bark nor bit me. But I was terrified. I yelled “down” or something like that and the dog eventually went away. Another time there were TWO dogs and they were barking. I just stood still and waited for them to go away.

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    1. It can really be so intimidating! I’ve found the more I encountered them, the more confident I became but that’s not to say I didn’t hold my breath and feel startled at the bark! I’m doing one more neighbourhood and then I will be happy to get back on the main roads where there are very few dogs about!

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    1. I think what makes me upset is the fact that too many dog owners are just not careful when closing/ opening their gates. Many of the dogs I encountered would have been left out for hours without water (or to rummage in garbage cans) and can also be knocked down by cars. So even beyond scaring runners or kids, is the fact that they (dogs) should never be left outside to begin with for their own sakes.

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  9. I love dogs, but roaming dogs during runs makes me nervous. I once had to alter my route because a lady often walked a small dog off leash the same time each day. While the dog was small, it was more aggressive and would often chase and nip at my ankles, and she did very little about it!

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