Running and Meeting Strange Dogs

Want to start a fight? Let your dog off leash in a public area frequented by runners. Northwest Runner had a screed a while back about dogs, with the runner fairly vociferous in his complaining about them. I couldn't find the article online or I'd have linked over. Suffice to say that the author on that piece wanted all dogs on leashes as a minimum and, from the tone, would have preferred that dogs never be allowed near runners and their trails.

I tend to fall in the opposite camp regarding dogs. I like seeing them out there cavorting.

Yesterday, the two came together, dogs off leash and cavorting. I did my workout on the Colfax rail trail, logging the assigned time that the coach prescribed and not being in too big a hurry. Given the mushiness spots, speed wouldn't have been easy anyway. I ran out to the turnaround and got there a little early so I traipsed part way up the hill before starting the return trip.

I met the dog and her owner about a half mile from the end. I saw the owner first, a lady out for a gentle hike in the slow misting rain. I did my usual move to the side, make eye contact, smile routine as I approached. I've figured out that a 6'3" runner closing at even modest speeds can be a touch intimidating. It's the same reason I call out when passing from behind, especially in the dark.

The dog, a black lab with some grey on the muzzle, was in the tules at the edge of the river. It didn't know I was there until after I said howdy. When she did realize it, she came bombing out of the reeds, barking.

Note, barking not growling.

One advantage of being married to my sweetie is that she's the Director of the local Humane Society. I'm well-trained on meeting strange dogs.

Step one was to check ears, eyes, tail as she came charging up. Tail was flat, eyes normal, ears normal. Probably not an aggressive dog under normal circumstances. Still, the dog was doing her job of protecting "mom" and letting me know in very certain tones that she was on alert.

The walker heard the dog barking over whatever was playing from her ipod and stopped to call her dog. (Why do you go on a trail that has deer, a rushing river, soaring bald eagles and wear an ipod? Don't get it. . . .)

I stopped running. This is usually the second thing that pisses runners off, the first being the initial adrenaline shot of a dog running at them. The simple act of stopping does more to prevent bites than any other single action.

When I was running, I was a threat - or prey, depending on the mentality of the dog. Either way, stopping forces the dog to reorganize it's thoughts.

The next step was to talk calmly at the dog. This works with bears, too. "Hi there, puppy, how are you? Want to be friends?" It doesn't have to make sense, but you have to be calm. Cheerful is better. Avoid angry. the dog will read the aggression in your voice and react to it.

I offered my fingers (left hand, palm down, fingers curled, thumb tucked) for her to sniff. If the dog had been growling, I probably would have skipped this step. A barking dog is issuing a warning. A growling dog is issuing a promise. Big difference.

The dog had time to sniff my fingers before her owner snagged the collar. She gave me one more solid woof to make sure I understood not to mess with mom.

The walker looked terribly apologetic. I waved, said "I'm fine" - hopefully she could lip-read since the buds were still in her ears - and eased out on my way, starting slowly. In total, the exchange cost me less than 15 seconds.

Hopefully, from now on, that dog owner will realize she has an over-protective dog and will maintain tighter control over her, even if it means leashing her. Certainly, she should be more aware on the trail, and call her dog earlier to establish control. If her dog had bitten a runner, me or someone else, it would be headed for doggie jail, something none of us really want.