They often say that dogs are man’s best friend, but they aren’t necessarily the best friends to unfamiliar runners, cyclists, and walkers.
Even if you are a dog lover and proud puppy parent, encountering loose dogs while you are running, walking, or out for a bike ride can be quite a stressful situation.
When dogs are not fenced in or tethered to their owner by a leash, they can chase after you, either merely out of excitement and hopeful anticipation of accompanying you or, worse, out of aggression and defense, perceiving you as a threat.
Although it’s unfortunately rather common to be chased by a dog, it’s not as common to actually know what to do if a dog chases you while you’re running or cycling.
Arming yourself with the knowledge of what to do if a dog runs at you or chases you while you are running will not only help you have a more enjoyable workout by being able to move on quickly, but it is also vital to your safety.
So, keep reading to learn what to do if a dog chases you when you are running or exercising and maximize your safety.
We will look at:
- Why Do Dogs Chase After Runners?
- What To Do If A Dog Chases You While Running Or Cycling
Let’s get started!
Why Do Dogs Chase After Runners?
In a perfect world, dogs would not be able to chase after runners, cyclists, or walkers because they would either be enclosed in a fenced-in yard or tethered to a leash while out on the trails or roads in public.
Unfortunately, some dog owners feel like the leash laws do not apply to them, or they otherwise have reason to believe that their loose dog will not be encountering any other people trying to have a good workout.
In the majority of cases, dogs that chase after you are just looking for a bit of attention, a belly rub, or a running companion.
Particularly if you are running past the dog, it triggers their animal instinct to join the pack and run along with you.
In these cases, it can be annoying if a dog runs at you, but they are most likely not seeking to bite you or hurt you.
On the other hand, there are cases where dogs can be aggressive because they are territorial and perceive you as a threat to their own safety or the safety of their “pack,” which includes their owner and family.
Either way, it is important to know what to do if a dog chases you.
What To Do If A Dog Chases You While Running Or Cycling
Knowing what to do if a dog chases you while you are running or cycling can potentially help prevent a serious injury and can certainly make your runs less stressful.
But what should you do if a dog runs after you while you are trying to run yourself?
Should you keep running? Should you freeze and stand still? Should you yell at the dog to go home? Should you talk sweetly and back away slowly?
Unfortunately, every dog is different, and every situation is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all way to manage dog encounters while out on a run or bike ride.
Any one of these reactions, along with plenty of others, could potentially work, but what may work best to defuse the situation and get the dog to retreat in one scenario may aggravate a different dog in another.
With that said, certain responses are likely to be more effective and safe than others, so here is what we suggest for what to do if a dog chases you on a run or ride:
Step 1: Stop, Drop, and Roll
Just like the fire safety guidance you learned as a kid, the three-part “stop, drop, and roll” protocol can be a good way to get a dog to stop chasing you.
Of course, because you are dealing with a dog instead of smoke and flames, each cue will be different here than in fire situations.
To make the dog lose interest in continuing to run after you, stop your movement (running, cycling, walking, etc.), drop your gaze by looking down at your feet, and roll by turning your entire body away from the dog rather than facing it head-on.
You are just turning your body to be diagonal to the dog but stay upright on your feet; do not get down on the ground as you would roll for a fire.
The purpose of stop, drop, and roll is to look less intimidating to the dog.
When you are approaching a dog, particularly head-on, and looking directly at them eye to eye, the dog can perceive your stature as a formidable challenge and can feel threatened.
This can incite aggression because the dog will perceive you as a threat and be scared for their safety.
In contrast, if you look down and turn away from the dog, the dog will perceive you as meek and will not feel anxious or worried about your presence.
Step 2: Retreat Backwards
When a dog is aggressive, it usually stems from its innate instinct to protect its territorial boundaries.
If they believe you are encroaching on their territory, they will react and respond, potentially by chasing you away from their turf.
If you retreat and back away from their area, they will relax and let you go.
The key is not to run away as you do so.
If a dog sees you running, it can trigger the chase response, resulting in the dog running after you.
Even if you are in the middle of a good run, it’s worth it to stop, back away slowly, walking backward (trying to be cognizant of your footing and surroundings, so you don’t trip or run into anything).
Again, keep your gaze down so that you are not staring into the eyes of the dog.
This response will signal to the dog that you respect their boundaries, you are not a threat, and you are leaving them alone.
Step 3: Freeze
If the dog continues to run after you while you are trying to back away slowly, the next thing to try is freezing in place.
This is only advisable if there is some distance between you and the dog.
Plant your feet and stand solidly as if you are an immovable tree.
If you had been riding your bike when the dog started chasing you, place your bike between your body and the dog to function as a protective shield.
Be aware that there’s a good chance that the dog may aggressively bark at you, lunge at you, and even try to knock you down.
However, the more you can do to be completely stoic and display zero response, the more likely the dog will completely lose interest and back away.
If this doesn’t happen, use your sternest voice to yell commands like “Go home!”, “No!” or “Get back!”
Keep yelling these commands and revert to slowly backing away again.
Step 4: Fight Or Flight
If all of this fails and the dog is still aggressively approaching you, it’s time to decide how you are going to respond: fight or flight.
A case could be made for either situation. However, if the dog is relatively small compared to your body, choosing to attack back at the dog will certainly be safer than if you have a big canine on your hands.
Additionally, really big dogs tend not to be the fastest runners, so there is a better chance you could outrun a big dog.
Although deliberately hurting an animal is never anything a person should do, when your own safety and survival are in question, you have to defend yourself and respond accordingly, even if that means using your force to inflict pain on the dog.
If you decide that it’s best to fight the dog, apply swift kicks to the legs, trying to avoid the head and torso, if possible. You want to protect yourself but not be reckless.
To maximize your safety, it’s really important to try to find a large stationary object, such as a tree, telephone pole, wall, or fence of some sort, to hold onto to ensure that you stay balanced and upright.
The last thing you want to do is fall down because it leaves you in an extremely vulnerable position for the dog to attack you.
If you are taken to the ground, look for ad hoc weapons like sticks or stones, try to gouge the eyes of the dog, or grab the back of the neck.
Alternatively, you can curl into a tight ball, trying to protect your own face and organs as much as possible.
If you aim to resemble a rock, the dog may lose interest and leave.
If you think you can run away, you can take this risk, although it can initiate the chase response and leave the dog even more thirsty to hunt you down.
Step 5: Call 911
If you feel threatened at any point, and you have access to your phone, you can absolutely call 911. Emergency services can dispatch personnel or animal control to help defuse the situation.
Try to gather as much information as you can about the dog, including the size, color, breed if you know it, address, etc.
Step 6: Don’t Seek Retribution
Hopefully, somewhere along this continuum of steps for what to do if a dog chases after you (ideally at step one), The dog will retreat and leave you alone.
Although you might be tempted to scold the dog and chase after it, use every ounce of self-restraint not to do this.
Try to shake it off and move on and away from the dog.
If possible, you can return to the same spot in your vehicle later on and speak with the owners about the incident, but trying to punish the dog at the moment is just going to re-ignite the problem.
Step 7: Seek Medical Attention
Dog bites can be quite dangerous because they open your skin to a world of potential bacteria.
If you do end up getting hurt, make sure you seek emergency medical treatment to prevent further sequela.
Getting chased by a dog can be extremely scary, and there are a few things that will spike your heart rate as quickly, even if you are already running your heart out.
However, if you are confident in what to do if a dog runs after you, you can snap into action mode instead of panic mode.
Stay safe, stay aware, and try to stay as calm as possible.
Other than knowing what to do if a dog runs at you, there are many safety measures you can take in all kinds of situations while running or exercising. Check out our Safety Guide For Running On The Road and Trails for more tips.