Bow-freaking-wow. As an intrepid suburban runner, finding myself confronted with loose dogs of all shapes, sizes and interest in me as I pad by them isn’t atypical (though it’s never a-mazing). Dogs don’t seem to have a natural predilection toward me despite my repeated efforts to sweet talk them by offering to rub their bellies and my honed skill at caring for stuffed puppies (thanks mom and Dr. Dad!), so a hound coming at me at dawn while I’m lost in RadioLab or The Skeptics Guide doesn’t tend to set off fireworks of joy.*
So what should you do if you come upon Bowzer or Lassie or Snugglechum and they’ve got teeth barred? Well, you could watch this short video (which I’ll cover in writing, too) and stop reading. Or you can watch and read on. Or you could just read on. Choices!
Staring is Caring (or at least a bite-resisting technique)
The first thing you should do if a dog doesn’t appear to be totally ready to eat your eyeballs is stop moving. Stand tall with a wide stance and really kick ass posture that says “I am a bad-ass.” Thinking this phrase isn’t proven to help, but it sure might. What you’re trying to do is intimidate the dog and let it know you’re in charge. According to the internet:
…a steady gaze lets the dog know you feel confident and may discourage an attack. Usually, a fearful dog will back off after a few minutes. However, if the confrontation takes place in a confined space, you might want to stare at a point on the dog’s body rather than directly at his face. If a fearful dog feels cornered, a direct gaze may goad him to attack.
If a dog is ready to eat your eyeballs, juglar, and abdominals (whoa, this is getting gory a la the end of Where the Red Fern Grows) you’ll know by his bark – an “I dare you” kind of snark, his snarl, or the fact that he lunges at you hoping you’ll start to run so he can start to chase.**
Act Like You’re the Boss
Many dogs you encounter in suburbia are trained, domesticated animals who are a little high on freedom and wanting to protect their family (who is probably happily snoozing away without a dog attacking them). Be forceful and yell “No!” or “Down!” or my favorite, “Go home!” Make sure you hold out your hand and either point or have an open palm. Repeat often – just saying it once rarely does the trick. This technique does wonders for small, yappy dogs.
Mace in the Face
If you’re out in the boonies (or out when there’s not a lot of foot traffic) you’re probably carrying mace or pepper spray anyway. Totally acceptable to use this on a pooch. Just remember, like a human attacker if you don’t get a good shot, all you’ll do is aggravate the animal and up their adrenaline, making you look even more tasty and good with ketchup. I’d keep this as a last resort if the dog starts to attack for real.
Even if you set a PR at your last 5k, a dog will outrun you. Your best course of action is to not provoke him into a chasing scenario. If you’re in a staring match, back away slowly but without hesitation.
Obstacle Course, Activate!
Look for anything you can put in between yourself and the blood-hungry Fido-wanna-be. A giant stick, a backpack, rubbish — anything that will fit in the dogs mouth that saves your arm from becoming a doggie-style bologna sandwich.
Better still, scout for higher ground. Is there a wall you can jump on? Maybe a roof you can grab and hoist yourself upon? Dogs are not known for their leaping abilities and struggle to reach higher ground. This is a good time to climb that tree over there. Yes, there.
Most importantly, stay alert. Even if you’re rocking out to Ke$ha or engrossed in Harry Potter, Book Seven, let your eyes scan the space around you and ahead of you, and don’t turn the volume on your walkman/mp3 player so high that you can’t hear what’s happening in your vicinity.
Go forth, and don’t become dog chow.
* There was totally one time where a giant blonde retriever of sorts blocked me from getting home. He was tearing apart newspapers in everyone’s front lawn, saw me and made a beeline. I made it to the nearest house and banged on the door for help. They distracted the dog and told me to skidaddle, which I did.
** Who knew dogs had so much in common with villan vampires from Twilight?