I’ve been out and about running five times since 2013 began and logged a bit over thirty kilometers. But that said, it’s been a week for the dogs… literally.
Every night I’ve been out I’ve had some kind of encounter — minor to moderate — with a dog. And these encounters, while occasionally expected, have been something of a rarity for me in my running career. So, it’s come as something of a rattle to me that I’ve had four in a row.
The encounters have been largely random and of varying degrees. The most minor of them have involved (admittedly) barely any involvement by your’s truly at all, actually — though every single one has resulted in me altering my pace or route as a result of the encounter.
What does one do when one runs up against an out-of-control dog on a dark, cold night? I’m not an expert, but I can tell you what I did.
1. Alter Your Route On-the-Fly
One of my encounters was very mild — if one could call it an encounter at all — and involved little more than me seeing something on the path ahead that caused me to adjust my route. It was dark, around nine in the evening, and I could see a problem ahead. A dog on a leash was barking furiously at something and the owner was struggling to keep control, the dog jumping and pulling. In this case the runner is in a position where approaching an excited dog as a fast-moving unknown in the dark streets may not be the best idea. I come across dogs all the time, and even in the daylight it can be intimidating. Dogs can react randomly, and you’re never quite sure what a dog will do as you seemingly run towards it along a side walk. I tend to try to pull off to the edge and give the owner and dog a wide berth. But in the dark, and given the choice, I’ll adjust my route and find a new way. On city streets there is always a slightly altered route to follow… given enough warning.
2. To Trust a Fence or Not
Another of my encounters involved a fence that, in the dark, didn’t seem like it could do it’s job to my satisfaction. I was running along a somewhat-major side walk, a side walk I’ve travelled many, many times before, and — from the fenced yard beside me — suddenly erupted a vicious and angry barking and growling. A large dog, probably defending its little snow-covered territory whilst being let out for a quick winter pee, had it’s paws up on the edge of the fence and was letting me know that I was straying a little too close for his comfort. This shakes you up a bit. After all, just ten feet away from an angry dog — and me darting past a plodding, red-light-blinking shape in the night probably surprised him as much as he surprised me — the mind instantly starts to wonder just how high the dog can jump and how much protection that fence is really offering. After all, if he’s got his paws up… well, you can imagine. I just kept on running and the barking faded into the distance.
3. Assume the Owner is Deaf, Dumb, and Blind
As a dog owner I try really hard to keep control of my dog but it can be a tough proposition at times, I understand. Dogs are critters with minds of their own and unless you are one-hundred percent vigilant, your guard will drop and… things happen. But that said, I’m usually paying attention when we’re out walking. A third encounter involved coming up behind a dog owner out walking a yappy, little fur-ball… I mean, his dog. The dog saw me and because I noted that the the dog had seen me I assumed the owner saw me too. I’m usually relatively noisy when I run up behind someone. I shuffle my feet, clear my throat, and even shout if necessary. But this guy? I got within ten paces of him and finally figured out he hadn’t noticed me at all, and on the narrow side walk, two feet of snow piled on either side of the path, he had headphones on, was idly walking, wandering back and forth, swaying, not paying attention. “On your left.” I shouted finally, having dropped my pace to pretty much a walk. He jumped and turned, and the dog went for my legs at almost the exact moment I dodged past him. For a moment the dog was a hurdle, and I missed booting, getting bit, or some other complex fate by the merest of hairs.
4. Your Safety Comes First
Definitely the worst of the encounters was the first (probably priming me to be a little more sensitive about the whole dog-versus-running thing for the later encounters.) The mistake was that I opted to do my daytime route… but at night. There is this awesome little trail that runs straight as an L-shaped arrow through a pair of large green corridors. I can leave from my house and within five minutes I’m off the roads, away from traffic, noise…. oh, and light, too. Did I mention it’s my daytime route? But I put on my headlamp and risked it. Bad idea.
I had turned down the darkest of the stretches, got about half the distance to the clearing ahead, and there, silhouetted in the glow of a single distant street lamp was a shape I first thought was a coyote. Yes, I’ve seen coyotes and this looked exactly like the animal I had often pondered encountering on a run. “Oh… Crap!” I stopped. Not to a walk, either: I stopped and gauged the situation. And in the two seconds of time that passed while I was gauging my options… the animal’s head turned, his body turned, and then the he started running. At me. At this point the mind does interesting things and the term “fight-or-flight response” seems apt here. And, as stupid as it seems running into a situation such as this, my calculations were telling me that flight (figurative or literal) was not a viable option. I started running again, slowly towards the animal, and threw my hands into the air whilst, in my deepest, loudest voice (which those who know me could testify to the rarity of such things) started shouting. The still-unidentified beast was barking, snarling almost, I was yelling, and when we got within twenty-five meters of each other, neither giving ground as we ran towards each other, I was starting to reconsider my whole plan and wondering if I could learn to climb a tree in the following ten seconds of my life. This was not exactly a video game.
Salvation came from a female voice in the distance that — thankfully — stopped the animal in its tracks and helped my heart to start beating once again. Long story short — or at least the story I could derive — was that someone had gone to put their garbage out, the dog had got loose, and was running around the park. “I hope he didn’t scare you.” The woman shouted from the distance as, having called the reluctant dog back and (now holding it securely by it’s collar) I ran past and looked for a better lit route. Not exactly my brightest moment, I opted for some overhead illumination for the rest of the run.
Any advice on dog encounters, running or otherwise? Share in the comments.