They may be man’s best friend, but dogs aren’t always so friendly–especially to runners and cyclists. Encounters with loose dogs happen all the time, be it while riding on country roads where the yards aren’t fenced in or trail running in an area where owners think the leash laws don’t apply to their pups. It’s a ʀɪsᴋy situation–at best, the dog just wants a belly rub, and at worst, they’re ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴠᴇ. But how do you know which pup you’ve encountered? That’s the sᴄᴀʀʏ part–you simply don’t, says Ron Berman, a canine behavioral consultant and forensic dog expert. “Every situation is different,” explains Berman of what to do if a dog chases you. “What diffuses one dog’s ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴏɴ could intensify another. Runners and cyclists can encounter loose or ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴠᴇ dogs anywhere.”
Even the most passionate animal lover can find themselves panicked when they encounter a loose dog on the offensive. Do you run? Freeze? Back away slowly? Talk calmly? Yell? Say nothing at all? In a situation where every second counts, it’s important to know what to do to reduce the ʀɪsᴋ of an animal ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ. Here’s what to do if a dog chases you on a ride or run, plus tips for preventing it in the first place.
WHAT TO DO IF A DOG CHASES YOU
Stop, drop, and roll.
This easy-to-remember maxim comes from K. Dwayne Hearst of the Law Enfᴏʀᴄᴇment Training Institute: “Stop your movement, drop your gaze, and roll your body sideways so it’s in a diagonal posture away from the canine, rather than facing it straight on.”
Standing straight up toward the canine and making eye contact can be seen as a challenge to the dog, but dropping your gaze and turning slightly will decrease your physical stature, making you look less formidable.
If the dog follows you at a distance while you back away, then hold your ground. “Freeze and act like a tree,” says Hearst. “The canine will probably bark, bluff-charge, and possibly jump at you, but by receiving no response, many will meander off within a few minutes.” If that still doesn’t work, sternly yell “Get back!” several times while attempting to back away once more. If you’re on a bike, Berman adds it’s a good idea to put your bike in between you and the dog, using it as a shield.
It’s important that you not continue in the direction of the animal, as most dogs will protect their territorial boundaries. “When seeing a loose dog while running, the best thing is to increase the distance between you,” says Berman. “Most dogs are not ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪᴠᴇ enough to ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ a runner, and will stop at a certain point.” But don’t run away, as that may trigger the chase response. Instead, back away slowly without making direct eye contact. Be aware of your footing so you don’t trip and fall.
Don’t give chase.
After a dog ʙɪᴛᴇ or ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ, you may be tempted to follow the dog so you can confront its owner. Avoid this impulse after a dog chases you, as it may ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛen the dog, leading to another ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ.
If there’s an ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ, choose your strategy.
At this point, it’s all about survival, says Hearst. “If you’re still standing, kick at the canine fᴏʀᴄᴇfully but not recklessly. Move to a wall where you can sustain your balance and ward off the ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋing canine. If you’re taᴋᴇɴ to the ground, gouge the eyes or gʀᴀʙ the back of the neck.” You can also use tools on hand, like a stick or rock on the ground, or even a water bottle from your bike. This can defuse the situation until the dog gives up or someone else can step in to help.
If the dog is large enough to push you over, Berman says shift to protection mode: “One good strategy is to curl up in a ball, protecting your head and neck. Lie still and play ᴅᴇᴀᴅ. Most dogs will calm ᴅᴏᴡɴ in this scenario, as you are no longer a ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ and may just leave the scene.”
In addition to sending paramedics if necessary, your ᴇᴍᴇʀɢency response service can dispatch the ᴘᴏʟɪᴄᴇ and animal control, who can start the process of tracking ᴅᴏᴡɴ the dog and its owner (if there is one). Be prepared to give as much detail about the ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ as possible: “Try to remember as much as you can: ʙʀᴇᴇᴅ, size, color of the dog. What color was the dog’s collar? Also, if you noticed where the dog came from, what house, building or property did it come out of?”
Get medical attention
Depending on the severity of your ɪɴjᴜʀies, you may need to go to your doctor or the hospital for trᴇᴀᴛment. For a surface ᴡᴏᴜɴᴅ, like a sᴄʀᴀᴛᴄʜ, wash thoʀᴏᴜɢʜly with water, apply an antibacterial cream, and keep a cʟᴏsᴇ eye on it–if it becomes very red, sᴏʀᴇ, or ɪɴfʟᴀᴍᴇᴅ, see a doctor. If a ʙɪᴛᴇ ʙʀᴏᴋᴇ the skin, however, definitely go to a doctor–you might need sᴛɪᴛᴄʜes, ᴀɴᴛɪʙɪᴏᴛɪᴄs, or ɪɴjᴇᴄᴛions to protect you from ᴛᴇᴛᴀɴᴜs or ʀᴀʙies.
What to Do If a Dog Chases You: Prevention Tips
The number-one way to prevent dog ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋs is for the owner to train their dogs not to do it in the first place, and to always make sure their dog is secure in the house, the yard, or on a leash. If you’ve encountered a ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛening dog on your ride or run route, attempt to reach the owner before or after the encounter. For an ongoing problem, call animal control.
However, not all owners are responsible ones, and dog ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋs, though rare, do happen. That’s why Hearst recommends carrying a small safety device, like a portable baton, airhorn, or even a small umbrella.
Berman also says it’s important to be aware of your surroundings: “Many ᴠɪᴄᴛɪᴍs of dog ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋs were wearing headphones and did not hear the dog until it was right on them. It’s best not to be on the phone or looking at your cell phone. You need all of your senses to be available to pick up a possible ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ while there is still time to hopefully avoid it.