Dog Encounters While Running: How To Respond To An Aggressive Dog

Every runner has likely had the same experience: they’re trotting along happily on a road or path when they see an aggressive-looking dog.

Most times, these dogs don’t give any attention to the runner. But other times, they do, and that leaves the panicked runner trying to figure out: What to do if a dog chases you while running?

As a dog lover, I’d assume that talking to potentially aggressive dogs in a friendly voice like I talk to my own pups would disarm them—let them know I am a friend, not a foe.

But this is exactly the opposite of what you’d want to do. 

For this article, we got with dog trainers and dog behavioral specialists to guide you in what to do if you encounter a strange and potentially aggressive dog. We tell you: 

  • how to spot the signs of an aggressive dog
  • what to do if you see an aggressive dog
  • what to do if a dog chases you
  • what to do if you’re being attacked by a dog
  • what to do after if you get attacked
  • how to prevent a dog attack

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

What to Do If a Dog Chases You While Running

How To Spot The Signs Of An Agressive Dog

Sometimes when you see a dog, it can be tough to tell if they are aggressive or not.

My husband and I were once running when a friendly-looking doodle ran up to us and bit my husband in the ribs, breaking the skin. We were shocked. 

“Some dogs look aggressive but aren’t, and some dogs have really high prey drive and want to chase, and then a very slim number of dogs are genuinely going to bite you,” shares Ali Smith, a professional dog trainer at Rebarkable.com

Plus, says Smith, with a surge in puppy population, it’s also a case that some of these dogs have not been properly socialized which may result in dog attacks.

So, how can you tell if a dog is going to be aggressive?

Look for these signs of an impending attack says obedience specialist Rick Allenput at The Pampered Pup:

  • growling or aggressive barking,
  • a stiff tail,
  • raised hackles,
  • bared teeth.
What To Do If You Encounter An Agressive Dog While Running

What To Do If You Encounter An Agressive Dog While Running

If you have any inkling that a strange dog could be aggressive, here’s what to do to prevent a dog from chasing you while running—or worse, attacking you while running:

5 Ways to Get a Dog to Stop Chasing You

#1. Stop running.

First and foremost, if you see a dog that may be aggressive, stop running

Running away from a dog initiates their prey drive, so they’ll only want to chase you. And since you’re never going to be able to outrun an aggressive canine, defusing their aggression is your best option,” says Daniel Caughill, co-founder of The Dog Tale.

#2. Be still and you fold arms.

Remain calm and be still.

Slowly cross your arms across your body and neck to protect yourself, advises Caughill.

#3. Back away slowly.

If you can, back away slowly and/or cross the street away from the dog, says Smith. 

“The closer you are to a dog, the harder it is for them to ignore their fear, prey drive or similar. Creating space is the best solution for all,” she notes.

Most dogs are afraid of sudden movements and the more you approach them, the more aggressive they will become

#4. Don’t make eye contact.

Do NOT make eye contact with dogs and remove sunglasses so the dog can see your eyes and that you’re not staring at them. 

“In dog body language, staring can be perceived as threatening,” says Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant at The Inquisitive Canine.

#5. Be quiet.

Don’t talk to the dog or encourage them to want to be your friend, adds Hunter Mayer. 

“I know this is really tempting but any kind of interaction you make is rewarding the dog for their behavior and they will want more,” said Sarah-Jane White, animal behavior and enrichment specialist and founder of Ruffle Snuffle Mats.

If you avoid making any threatening movements or sounds, the dog will likely lose interest sooner or later.

What to do if a dog chases you while running

What to do if a dog chases you while running

If after these measures, the dog persists in approaching you, you should take the following steps:

Freeze.

Remain still and act like a tree. 

“The dog may bark, bluff-charge, and even jump at you, but if you don’t give any response, most dogs will likely meander off after a while,” explains Andrew Garf, chief editor at Train Your GSD.

Yell a command.

If that still doesn’t work, face the dog and sternly yell in a firm, deep voice, “Back away!”, “No!”, or “Go home!” adds Allenput.

Escape.

If that doesn’t work, it is time to escape as far away from the dog as you can.

Hunter Mayer instructs you to find a safe place to run to, such as on top of a car, the back of a truck, or on another side of a fence (provided there isn’t another dog in that yard!). 

Look for owners.

It’s also a good idea to look for owners if you can safely do so, Hunter Mayer adds. If you’re in a neighborhood where you can knock on someone’s door for help, do that. Or, flag down a passing driver. If you have your phone, call 9-1-1 for help. 

What To Do During a Dog Attack

What To Do During a Dog Attack

If you find yourself in the awful situation of being attacked by a dog while running, there are measures you can take to minimize the injuries from the dog attack:

Protect yourself. 

If you can, put something – a jacket, hat, water bottle, anything – between you and the teeth, says Allenput. 

Hit them with a hard object.

If the dog bites you, fight back by hitting him with your fist or a hard object. You can try to gain control by grabbing the dog’s back legs and lifting it off the ground or kicking him, says Allenput. 

If you’re knocked to the ground, gouge the eyes, and punch him in the nose, or grab the back of his neck.

Don’t try to pull away. 

But, whatever you do, don’t try to pull away, as this will only tear your flesh. 

Curl into a ball. 

If you aren’t in a position where you can defend yourself or the dog is big enough to push you over, curl up in a ball and protect your stomach, neck, head, and face, from being bitten, says White.  

Wait for help. 

If the owner of the dog does not come immediately, stay on the ground and wait until they, or someone, does. 

What To Do After a Dog Attacks You While Running

Related: Running Before Bed: Tips and Benefits for Night Time Running

What To Do After a Dog Attacks You While Running

You can minimize the damage after a dog attack and protect others by taking these steps:

Apply first aid. 

Immediately apply first aid; wash the wound with warm water and soap. Dress the wound using a topical antibacterial ointment. 

Get the owner’s details. 

After an attack, get the dog owners’ details because they will almost certainly be liable for any medical bills, says Hunter Mayer.  

Go to the doctor.

It’s a good idea to seek medical help and receive a rabies vaccination if skin was broken (and especially if you notice increasing swelling, redness, warmth, oozing pus, or drainage, after 24 hours).

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” says Garf.

Tell the authorities.

File a report with the local police, animal control, or dog warden. You can call 911 after the attack.

“They can help with any immediate medical treatment and locating the owner,” says Hunter Mayer. Also, be sure to share any information you have about the dog and dog owners.

Warn others.

Then make sure that you warn your running community and be very aware to avoid that dog in the future. 

“Sometimes a route detour is simply safer, and avoid parks with high dog populations too,” says Graves.

Related: Marathon Training Masterclass 

How to prevent a dog from attacking while running

How To Avoid and Prevent Dog Attacks While Running

You can prevent a dog from attacking you while running with these steps:

Carry treats

Carrying dog treats and throwing them in the direction of the dog might motivate them to enjoy a snack, instead of going after you. 

“It also might successfully de-escalate a negative situation. The dog might associate the runner with someone who is safe and friendly, and not be so scared,” says Hunter Mayer. 

Bring a spray bottle.

Hunter Mayer also suggests you run with a spray bottle with water, dog repellent, or pepper spray. “None of these will hurt the dog, and they may save you both from a disastrous encounter.”

Stick to a familiar route.

If you can, run on a familiar route to avoid a potential dog attack or run with friends. If you can’t run in an area you know, be sure to take a spray or treats with you—and keep your cell phone handy!

Related: Options for Carrying Your Cell Phone

Hopefully you will never have to use these tips, but in case you’re chased by a dog while running—now you know what to do!

what to do if a dog chases you while running
Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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