I love dogs and am a dog owner myself. It’s hard to imagine my gorgeous bundle of fur would take a chunk out of a runner’s legs. I have however developed a certain fear of strange dogs I meet on runs. This is partly due to a recent close encounter with an angry sheep dog! I know dogs can be unpredictable creatures. I meet so many on my runs, some on leads, others running free. I seem to view them all as potential mad hounds and keep an eye out for suitable trees to climb up should the need arise.
So, how do you know if a dog is friend or foe? Do I really have anything to worry about?
I spoke to Justine Schuurmans of The Family Dog, a company that specializes in dog training for the whole family. She’s an expert in dog behaviour and I wanted her advice.
What are the first signs that a dog you’re approaching might not be friendly?
The best way to get clues as to whether a dog is friendly is to really take a good look at its body language. You’ll get clues in the eyes, ears, tail and whole body. Watch this video clip to see what I mean.
The number 1 fallacy is that a wagging tail means ‘friendly’. Sadly this is not true at all! A wagging tail simply means that the dog is stimulated, and in a situation with a runner flying by that may be exactly the opposite of a friendly signal! The best thing to look at is the dog’s overall body posture. Stiff means not good! Loose and wiggly means much more likely to be friendly.
If a dog is running straight towards you in an aggressive way what should you do?
You need to strike the ‘I’m not interested in you and I mean you no harm’ pose! First and most important, freeze where you are!! Fold your arms and ignore the dog. TURN your head away (still keeping the dog in your peripheral vision). DO NOT STARE at the dog – this says to the dog that you’re totally up for some head-to-head conflict. Lastly don’t attempt to push the dog away.
Do you think runners need to be wary of dogs or in your experience are most dog owners responsible enough to keep them under control?
Most owners really love their dogs and want to do the best by them. It can be just as embarrassing for a dog owner to own up to their dog being less than perfect as it is for a parent to admit the same about their child! So sometimes they make really bad choices. I have seen so many people say ‘my dog is fine around other dogs’ only to see them snap a second or two later! You have to just take your own precautions.
What if I want to say “Hello” to a dog I meet?
If there’s a totally irresistible dog on your run that you HAVE to stroke, stop well beforehand, start walking and check out their body language. If the dog’s posture is loose then ask the owner if it’s OK to say hi. If they say yes, then ask the dog! You do that by standing still and encouraging the dog over to you by patting the side of your thigh and see if the dog comes over. If they don’t – no worries – another dog, another day! If they do come up to you pet on the body, NOT head – most will shy away from your hand and don’t enjoy it from strangers. And finally, you want to check in with the dog – do they like it? The best way to find out is to stroke them for 3 seconds and then stop and see if they come back for more.
Do you have any other tips for runners who meet lots of dogs on their routes?
I would make it my policy just to ignore all dogs on my run. No eye contact (just to be on the safe side).
I would also check out the lead they are attached to and then make sure that you give them WAY more space than the length of it. The most nightmarish leads are those extendable ones because a) you never know how long they really are going to grow and b) the dogs on them are typically given a pretty free rein and are less likely to walk nicely next to their owner.
I’ll certainly be walking next time I go through that farm yard instead of cranking up to Mo Farah gear. Any dog can be spooked by a speedy runner and react in fear. Show them some respect, give them plenty of space and if in doubt, walk not run away.
For more information visit: www.thefamilydog.com