Heel Your Dog

How to Minimize the Risk of Getting Bit

As both a runner and a dog lover, I can understand the pleasure derived from running with your dog. Not only is running good for you, as it turns out, it’s also good for your pooch. World-renowned dog behavior specialist Cesar Millan says that you can channel your dog’s energy much faster by running. According to Millan, “Thirty minutes of running can benefit a dog more than one hour of walking. That’s because it’s faster, everything moves quicker, and they burn more energy.” Millan believes that if we all ran with our dogs, it would be a different world. I would agree, if all dog owners were conscientious of those around them.

In my nine years of working at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, I helped remove vicious dogs from drug raids, captured feral cats from dilapidated houses, and even helped confiscate exotic cats, snakes, and caimans from inappropriate dwellings. Surprisingly, the worst animal bite I ever experienced did not happen at work, but while out on a run. A few years ago, I was out for a run and I spotted a woman in front of me, walking her dog on her left. Her dog appeared uncooperative, but not vicious by any means. In retrospect, I should have moved way over to my left or passed on the right, but instead I followed the rules of running and passed on the left. As I passed, the dog leapt over, knocked me down to the ground, and bit a chunk out of my thigh. The woman quickly ran off with her dog, most likely fearing a lawsuit after hearing all the expletives spewing from my mouth.

Thankfully, in my 20 years of running, an encounter such as this one only happened once. My hope would be that a dog bite wouldn’t happen to anyone else; however, statistics show that an American has a 1 in 60 chance of being bitten by a dog each year. According to the Center for Disease Control, 4.7 million people in the U.S. population are bit annually. One out of every six of these bites is serious enough to require medical attention. Obviously, runners aren’t going to stop running and dog owners aren’t going to stop walking their dogs. However, there are steps you can take to minimize getting bit if you are a runner and there are precautions dog owners can take to prevent their dog from biting.

How to prevent a dog bite if you are a runner.

Runners are particularly at risk to dog attacks because this activity provokes a dog’s chase instinct. Randy Lockwood, PhD, senior vice president of ASPCA Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects claims: “In their brains, dogs see themselves as wolves and the runner as a caribou or deer. There have been several cases in which two children have been chased by a dog, and one child fell while the other kept running. The dog attacked the one who kept running.” So if a dog does charge you, instead of continuing to run, stop immediately. I know it’s easy to say and tough to do, but try to stand still and let the dog sniff you. Don’t strike the dog or put your hand out. If the dog does attack, feed him whatever you can — your iPod, your jacket, your shirt, basically you want the dog to take something in his mouth other than your arm. If you get knocked to the ground, curl up and cover your head and neck.

One thing to keep in mind is that as a runner, you are approaching a dog’s territory faster than they’re used to. If you are coming up from behind, make sure you don’t catch the dog unaware. The American Running Association recommends that you announce yourself when you are 50 feet away. Simply saying “coming up on your left” should suffice. This may have prevented a dog bite in my case.

How to prevent your dog from biting a runner.

I’m all for letting your dog run free in off-leash parks and beaches; yet, when you’re out for a walk with your dog where there are other people running, biking, rollerblading, etc., your dog should be on a leash both for his protection and for the protection of others. The busier the area, the less slack you should have on the leash in order to prevent any altercations between your dog and others.

Walking on the left. Most dog trainers will teach you to walk your dog on your left. Dog trainer Bonnie Braund told me, “When I teach my class I tell people they can chose which side they want to walk their dogs on. But if they are going on to formal obedience training, showing their dogs, etc., then the dogs have to be on the left because it is required.” As a runner, I disagree with the requirement of heeling your dog on the left. Wouldn’t you want your dog on your right and as far away from other people, bikers, and dogs who are also walking on the sidewalk? If you walk your dog to your right and you both stay to the right side of the sidewalk, you will be between your dog and any pedestrians who can then pass safely on the left. And since most people are right-handed, I would think they would want their dominant arm controlling the leash. Walking your dog to your right is also safer for the dog. Many times I’ve seen dogs being walked on the left and speedy bicyclists coming up behind and passing on the left only to have the dog move out at the last moment, in which case either the bicyclist or the dog becomes injured.

I’d love to hear opinions from dog walkers, runners, and others in regards to walking your dog on your left versus right. Post your comments following this column.

Adoptable Pet of the Week


Dancer is a 6-year-old Border Collie/Chow chow mix who is hoping for a permanent home. Dancer is a special dog that is looking for a new home and the right people to love and cherish her. One of her legs was amputated due to an injury, but that doesn’t slow her down one bit! Even with three legs she will walk her way right into your heart. Dancer has been described as a wonderful dog that loves rides in the car.

So, if you’re looking for a new co-pilot on those long car rides, Dancer is your gal! Shelter hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, visit the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road, call 964-4777, or go online at www.sbhumanesociety.org.


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