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Tips on Runners & Dog Attacks

By Sharon Perkins

Few things inspire more fear during a run than hearing the panting of a running dog behind you or coming face to face with an unfamiliar dog. Runners attract dogs because they're moving quickly; your movements could look like a game of chase to a dog, or like a reaction of fear or invasion of their territory. Knowing how to protect yourself against dog attacks could prevent serious injury and reduce your fear of dogs when running.

Stop and Stand Still

If you're running and a dog starts chasing you, stop or slow down as soon as you hear it behind you. Both dogs that think you're playing and predatory dogs are quiet when they run behind you, the ASPCA website warns, so don't take the lack of barking as a sign of friendliness. A dog that starts following you when you're running might think you're playing chase. Stop running and stand still; it will lose interest when you're no longer a chase object. If the dog doesn't come closer, back away slowly. Don't turn your back on the dog, since this can look like a sign of weakness from a dog's perspective.

Look Nonthreatening

Don't scream or wave your arms if a strange dog comes near you. Try to look as nonthreatening as possible; don't try and stare down the dog or even make eye contact. To a dog, direct eye contact looks like a challenge. Don't smile; smiling looks to a dog like you're baring your teeth, veterinarian Debbye Turner tells CBS News. If you speak at all, speak in a low, authoritative voice and tell the dog commands it might recognize, such as "Sit!" "Go home!" or "Stay."

Protect Yourself

If a dog jumps toward you, protect yourself. Throw an article of clothing, such as a coat, at the dog. Don't lash out at the dog with your hands; dog bites on your hand can cause serious long-term damage. If a small dog attacks, a kick on the snout can send it running in the opposite direction. If you can't prevent an attack, curl up in a ball on the ground to give the dog the least amount of surface area to bite and cover vulnerable areas such as your face and ears with your hands.

Physical Deterrents

Carrying some type of weapon with you might seem like the most reasonable protection against dog attacks, but many runners prefer not to weight themselves down with clubs or other bulky deterrents. Pepper spray seems like a reasonable way to handle dog attacks -- and in some cases, it might be. But you might also anger an already angry dog by spraying pepper spray. Depending on which way the wind is blowing and how good your aim is in a panicky situation, you could also end up spraying yourself. Rain can also affect its usefulness.

Treating Bites

If you are bitten, wash the bite thoroughly with warm water and soap. Dog bites cause fewer infections than cat bites, but infection can occur. Let your doctor evaluate the bite; he might want you to take antibiotics to prevent infection or to get a tetanus shot. Watch the bite site closely, especially for the first day. If the site appears increasingly red or swollen, seek medical evaluation. Report the bite to your local police department as well as to the owners, if you can find them.

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