Walking home from work a few weeks ago, I saw a male runner heading down my street towards the supermarket at the corner. So far, so normal.
Suddenly a large white labrador bounded out of nowhere and, springing up on its hind legs, tried to hug the runner.
Standing up, the dog was almost as tall as the man, and made for an impressive sight. There was no doubt that the dog’s motives were friendly – its tongue was lolling out and its tail wagging with robust enthusiasm.
My running comrade was a lot less pleased to see the dog. The young girl attached to the dog was most apologetic, the runner was unharmed, and everyone went off in their own direction afterwards.
Even before I started running, I was never much of a doggie person. It’s more out of disinterest than any solid dislike – for instance, until I was 10 we had a red setter at home that we just called The Dog. When we moved from the country into town, we parted company and it probably wasn’t a traumatic break-up for either party.
However, when I was around 11 or 12 I was bitten by a dog (but not The Dog) on two occasions – once while playing football and the other while hurrying along a residential street. Since then, I’ve given dogs a wide berth.
I’ve never been attacked or chased by a dog while I’m running. A few times, some small yapper has yapped in my general direction, but always while on its leash. That mountainous white labrador has never appeared on my runs either.
In fact, the only problems I’ve had are not with dogs but with their owners. A typical one is the person who blithely lets their small terrier run off on a long leash, tripping up anyone in their path. A few months ago, while barrelling down my local hill, I almost got tangled up in such a trap. “Hey, the streets aren’t for runners!” said the dog-owner, clearly not understanding the natural order of things.
That said, people will walk their dogs in the parks and streets where you run. You just have to be aware and civic-minded, and not get stressed or huffy about it. All we runners need now is for owners to make sure they don’t let their dogs go to the toilet on our running routes.
What should you do if a dog threatens you on your run? Run to Win has a few good tips that I’ve heard in a non-running context too: move slowly out of its territory, maintain eye contact, keep your arms and legs close to your body, and don’t just run away.
Common sense should also prevail. If there’s an aggressive canine or its aggressive owner stationed permanently along your route, then you might be better off saving yourself the hassle by running somewhere else. If you’re bitten by a dog, go immediately to a doctor or hospital for a tetanus shot. Wild or dangerous dogs should be reported to the local authorities.
Of course, dogs don’t always mean harm if they engage with you. Many times the dog just wants to play – and the eye-catching motion of bright running clothes is a kindlier version of the proverbial red rag to a bull. Other times the dog is protecting its patch. (You can urinate ostentatiously on its territory in a blatant land-grab, but this is only going to end in military action or, worse, interminable diplomatic discussions at the United Nations.)
So, even us runners can learn to be a bit more tolerant of our canine friends. Next time you’re on your run and you encounter a dog, just stay calm, sing this legendary theme tune to yourself, and remember that one day you may fall down a well and need help: