Running, Dogs and Trails – Part 1

Image by FlyinPhotography via Flickr

Yesterday I was out running a local trail system and had a dog encounter and to be very honest it bothered me – a lot, see my RunLog 11/27/11 post for more information. So I have decided to do a two-part series on Running, Dogs and Trails and this is the first one from the runner’s perspective.

Sort of an open letter to dog owners from a trail runner, hiker and walker about dogs and trails, with a few tips for when you encounter dogs on the trail.

I have been a runner, hiker, and trail walker for a long time and it seems that over the past few years people’s attitudes towards other people who are sharing the trail with them and their dog(s) are changing and it is not a positive change.

Several times this year I/we have been on trails and suddenly hear and see a dog running free and coming towards us. We usually yell “Hello” to alert the dog’s owners that someone else is on the trail with them.

At that point we invariably hear the famous words “Oh don’t worry, my dog is friendly”.

Oh really! Then why is your dog’s body language aggressive, the fur on the nape of its neck is raised, it is growling at me and its lips are curled back so I can see its fangs – the damn thing looks more like Cujo than that “friendly” pet the owner is talking about.

As the owner gets closer, the dog finally responds to multiple voice commands by the owner and runs back wagging its tail – saying “see I protected you from those strangers”. You then get to hear all the excuses and apologies, but a dog is going to protect its humans from strangers, you are not part of their pack.

Yes 90% of the dogs I meet on trails are friendly and wouldn’t hurt you, but sooner than later you will meet that dog that isn’t friendly and is running loose and sees you and it starts towards you.

What do you do?

So what do you do when you suddenly come up on a dog like that?

First thing – Don’t run or keep running, from what I have read and been told, this triggers the hunter instincts in a dog and by running you have signalled that you are prey or are afraid of it. Not a good thing for a strange dog to be thinking about you.

Personally, when I see a dog running loose on a trail – I immediately stop, stop my timing device, step off the trail, yell a hello to the owner and politely ask them to leash or hold their dog until I am by them. Then I wait to see what the dog’s owners are doing and keep a really close watch on the dog, not moving any more than I have to, until we get things figured out. Loosing a little bit of time is a lot better than loosing a lot of time.

I do not crouch down and I do not try to maintain eye contact with the dog, but I definitely keep close track of what it is doing and am looking around for trees go up quickly or branches/rocks for other purposes.

I don’t get all freaked out and yell and scream, but act calm and in control of the situation. Otherwise the situation can quickly get out of hand and bad things can happen that could have been avoided if you stay calm.

When trying to get the owners attention, I try not to sound pissed, peeved or anything other than friendly or neutral. However, if the dog has an aggressive posture or isn’t stopping on my loud command to it to “STOP” or “SIT DOWN”, I have been know to yell out “get your fucking dog – now” quite loudly as a kind of warning to them that I feel threatened by their dog. I only do this in situations where I feel very threatened by their dog and at that point I really don’t care if I piss them off.

After all their dog is their responsibility and it is their responsibility to keep you safe from their dog on a public trail.

Position Yourself for Safety

When I first see a strange dog, I also stand sideways to the dog with my dominant hand back as a strange dog or human approaches, at this point in my life, I don’t even think about it, I just do it automatically.

Example: I am left-handed, so I stand with my right arm exposed to the dog. If the dog does attack, this stance provides a good stable base, I will be harder to knock down and not expose myself unnecessarily (stomach, privates, etc.) to the dog. It also puts me in position to side kick the dog and fend it off with my right arm and attack with my left. Hopefully, this is just a precautionary position and not one that you have to defend yourself from.

While I am talking with the owners, I am watching to see if they have control of the dog, is the dog taking an aggressive stance and are they continuing to walk by you or motioning for you to go by them.

Be Nice!

It doesn’t hurt to be friendly to other people on the trail, after all most of them are really out there to enjoy the freedoms of the trails, just like you are. They have brought their dog along to enjoy some freedom as well. So I am polite as possible and wait to see what they are doing, say our Hello’s and start walking or running slowly again, ensuring that the dog is not coming after me.

Being nice even if they are not, helps to resolve a lot of problems before they get out of hand – don’t get into a pissing contest out in the woods, nothing good will come of it. It is better to let it go and move on than stay in a situation that will have no winners.

Adamant about leashing

However, I am fairly adamant about the leash/restraining a dog until I go past, especially with the bigger dogs, when they haven’t been responsive to the owners voice commands immediately. Sometimes you know when a dog is safe, other times you just can’t tell, better to be safe than sorry.

Why am I adamant about asking someone put their dog on a leash.  Especially when the owner says that the dog is so friendly?

  • First – most communities and States do have a leash law or that the dog must be under the person’s control, the trails are public and I have as much right to be on the trail safely as the other people who have their dogs with them do.
  • Second – I don’t trust dogs, I am not scared of dogs (I have been around them my whole life), but they can be unpredictable and I have been bitten a few times by those “friendly” dogs, because I was a stranger.
  • Third – I will defend myself and if the owner does nothing or very little to prevent it and it will be painful (probably for me more than anything), but a dog might get injured if it attacks me.
Pissing some people off
For some reason or other, this request to leash or hold their dog, seems totally pisses off some people. Unfortunately I have been getting this response, a lot more lately than I used to? They get their knickers all in a knot and become very curt and glare at you like you are being completely unreasonable by asking that they leash or restrain their dog, until you have gone by.
I don’t understand why, maybe it is the way I am asking or my voice tone is curt, or could it be that I am inconveniencing them by my being on the trail too or they have other issues and are taking out their anger on me, it doesn’t really matter to me – that is their problem not mine.
However, when I request for someone to leash or restrain their dog I am doing it for my safety, not to inconvenience them or judge their dog as being violent. I have had to many bad experiences with dogs and do not want to be bitten again.

The reality is that

being attacked by a dog wandering on the trail probably won’t happen, but at the same time aggressive dogs can really ruin your day out on the trail. They get the old adrenaline pumping and when the owners are unresponsive to your need to be safe, it pisses you off. It only takes a couple of seconds to snap a leash back on or hold your dog until someone goes by, that way we can all enjoy the trail together safely.

No dog owners if you see a runner or hiker/walker coming up and you have let your dogs run on the trail, as a courtesy to others, please call your dog back and either leash or hold them until the runner/hiker/walker has gone by. That way we all can be civil to each other and enjoy being outside on the trails together.

It comes down to showing respect to others who share the trail with you.

I think what I said yesterday pretty much sums up my feelings on this issue:

I am a dog owner and I don’t mind people having their dogs with them on trails, but just because a dog is friendly to people it knows, doesn’t mean it will be to strangers it is meeting on a trail somewhere. Dogs are territorial and protective of their people. If they are on a public trail they either need to respond well to voice command or be on a leash. I hate it when I feel threatened by a dog especially one that is well overa 100 pounds and could put a bad hurtin on you if it decided to attack.

What are your experiences when meeting un-leashed dogs on trails?  Any words of wisdsom or helpful hints that I missed that o.

Next post will be about obnoxious runners, hikers or walkers when I am walking my dogs on trails.

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