what to do if you are attacked by an off-leash dog

i’m a big animal lover…especially dogs. juno, our four-year-old, 65-pound fluffy malamute/chow/shepherd rescue regularly accompanies us on our stroller runs (as you’ve probably seen in our pictures!). with my love for dogs, plus my vigilance and super mom-senses, i never even thought about the possibility of being attacked by a dog. no way. not me! olivia benson trained me to be on the lookout for shady characters lurking in parked cars and bushes, but not shady dogs.

last week, i was enjoying a solo run in a nearby neighborhood (these are the more “country” properties, with larger lots, orchards, and other agricultural operations). the perfect spot for a solo run! or so i thought. as i was approaching the eighth mile of my run, i turned down one of the busier streets in our area (a two-lane road with lots of traffic, houses, and parks).

as i was making my way onto the final stretch of dirt sidewalk, approaching a larger paved sidewalk and curb, i was startled by the sound of growling and barking. a fast moving dog suddenly charged me, growling, barking and drooling. it crossed both lanes of traffic and was nearly hit by an suv - but it didn’t slow down one bit. i was terrified. the dog was a notoriously aggressive breed, which only added to my stress and fear (which i hate even having to say, especially since my own pup is considered an “aggressive” breed).

i immediately went into fight-or-flight mode. i didn’t slow down; rather, i sped up and ran to the shoulder of the road and hopped onto a wood-slatted horse fence. phew! safety. a good samaritan witnessed the whole thing. he laid on his horn and the dog finally backed off. the owner was nowhere to be found; the dog had a pink collar, but i’m not sure who it belonged to. i was feeling really safe on top of that fence. the dog wasn’t able to reach me, and i took the chance to catch my breath and make my next move.

the good samaritan offered me a ride and i accepted (though in retrospect, i kind of wished i had stayed on the fence and just called 911. i would feel so terrible if the dog did this to someone else. i did report it to the local police once i made it home, but i don’t think they found the dog). he and his female companion dropped me off at the park down the street.

after this incident, i realized how ill-prepared i was to handle a situation like this. did i act in the “right” way? what will i do differently if this happens again? and what would i do if my dog, juno, had been with me? what if the kids/stroller were with me? yikes. my mind was wandering.

as a new runner, i wanted to know exactly what the experts had to say. here’s what i found from runner’s world and runner’s blueprint (links to articles are below):

  • if you are chased...stop in your tracks. “be boring.” slow down and walk. during my encounter, i did the exact opposite. i sped up my pace and fortunately found a fence on the side of the road, which allowed me to jump to safety. if the fence hadn’t been there, i’m not sure what would’ve happened.

  • don't stare at the dog. this can make an aggressive dog even more hostile.

  • don't cower. don't adopt a combative position either, this may instigate a fight. stay relaxed and use an upright posture. act confidently. yep, i did the opposite on this one, too. i started yelling and “made myself big” like i’ve been told countless times when hiking (to avoid bears, mountain lions, etc.). oops.

  • use a deep, firm voice to convey a sense of calm, not a high-pitched, shrieking voice. my voice was deep, but i definitely was yelling expletives at the dog in a not-so-calm way. oops. again.

  • if a scary dog charges you, spray it with water or mace if you have it. noted, though i’m not sure i would’ve been able to reach it and use it in time to make a difference. my incident happened so quickly.

  • PREVENTION TIP: run with one earbud only. this is the one thing i did right! and it honestly saved me, as i could hear the dog approaching and had time to react.

bonus tip: if your dog is attacked while you are running

until last week, i never gave it much thought. but after my near-miss dog attack, i found myself wondering: what would i do if my dog was attacked by another dog? and what would i do with the kids? women’s running advises letting your dog “fend for itself”, as hard as that may be. they also suggest finding a way to break up the fight using whatever you have available – water, pepper spray, a stick, etc. read more below.


how to prevent and handle a dog attack while running. this was by far the best resource i found. thank you, runner’s blueprint!

here’s another great set of tips, from runner's world

how to combat a dog attack on the run. thank you, women’s running, for the great tips!