If you enjoy walking or jogging for your daily exercise, you may have encountered stray or at-large neighborhood dogs who surprise you as you pass. Many of these are benign pooches, who are curious to see what you are up to and just watch you as you go by. However, on a rare occasion, you may find yourself being charged by a dog. Would you know what to do to keep yourself safe, and how to get the dog to leave you alone?
Contrary to some outdated advice that is still circulating, your best bet is to be still, quiet, and neutral. If you attempt to scold the dog, unless you are an expert at reading dog body language and assess the dog as being conflicted or fearful, you may escalate the intensity of the dog’s behavior toward you. If you attempt to continue moving, by running past, or running or backing away, you may well add to the dog’s excitement and inadvertently encourage him to come after you (you will not be able to outrun him). If you attempt to extend your hand for the dog to sniff, this will likely be interpreted as an offensive move, thereby risking a bite. Extending a hand when meeting a dog is very old-timey advice that persists, despite what we’ve learned about dog behavior. It was once thought that dogs would be calmer if offered the chance to sniff our scent. However, it turns out their sense of smell is incredibly powerful (you may have heard about dogs trained to sniff out narcotics or cancerous cells). A dog close enough to see you has likely already smelled you. To avoid antagonizing a dog or escalating the intensity of a potential attack, avoid using threatening body language like this. Do not reach for or attempt to touch the dog.
The best thing to do is to stop moving, stand sideways to the dog, and say nothing. Look at the ground ahead of you so you can keep the dog in your peripheral vision. It is best to fold your arms to keep your hands safe, and to stand with your feet apart so that you won’t be knocked over. When you appear big, neutral, and still like this, most dogs will either stop before reaching you (in which case backing away would likely be your next best move), or they will approach you to investigate and move on. Even a pretty charged up dog may bite you only once and then leave you alone once he registers how neutral you are. When the dog loses interest, you can back away, continuing to keep the dog in your peripheral vision should you need to stop again. Talking to the dog may only convey your anxiety, so it’s best to just be silent and take a deep breath. This will keep your head clear so you can get a good description of the dog, and if possible make a mental note from whose property he emerged. Then use that information to make a report to Animal Control. Although the dog may not have bitten you this time, Animal Control will pay a visit to the dog’s owners to educate them about the importance of confining their dog to their property. (The dog pictured here is a friendly pup jumping up on me. The last time a dog charged me in a threatening manner I didn’t have my camera handy, but I am glad to report the techniques I just described worked and I was not injured.)
Usually these measures are enough to avoid a serious attack. Should the dog bite you repeatedly, however, do your best to remain standing. Use an object like a purse or branch to keep between you and the dog. If other people may be within earshot and the dog is not relenting, shout, “No! 911!” Should you be knocked down, curl up like you are pretending to be a rock, face down, with your arms covering your ears and neck. This posture protects you best and is about as unthreatening as you can appear to the dog, and which will hopefully result in him leaving you alone.
There is a product called Spray Shield which some joggers and walkers carry. It is a concentrated citronella spray that won’t injure a dog or person, but that may deter a dog with aggressive intent. The sprayer is small enough to fit in your hand and easy to keep in your pocket. Because it is not painful on contact like pepper spray, it may be less likely to increase the intensity of the attack, which is one of the risks of using pepper spray.
If you know of loose dogs or dogs who pose a threat to passersby, please call Animal Control so that they can help keep the dog and his neighbors safe. You can make the call anonymously in most cases. It is best to prevent problems instead of waiting until there is a serious injury, either to a person or to the dog. In the meantime, find a different route on which to walk or jog.