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 Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.