Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I Know About Dogs

Did I suddenly change this blog from all things about running to all things about members of the canine family?  Just for one post I am.  Recently, I've heard a lot of runners talk about the apprehension they feel when they run past a dog or in a neighborhood with dogs.  I can totally understand why.  You're alone, the dog runs at you, you're not sure if he is friendly or not and worst of all, the owners are nowhere to be seen. 
I grew up with 3 dogs.  Yup 3.  We also had 2 cats, but I doubt any runner is scared of the neighborhood cat population.  Anyway, growing up with 3 very different dogs, I've learned a bit about how they operate and why they act certain ways.  So, to perhaps aleviate some fear of the dogs on your running route, I thought I'd share what I know about dogs.

Thing I Know #1:   Dogs are social creatures and very curious.  So when you run past and they run up to you, they are most likely not looking for the best spot to sink in their teeth.  They are checking you out.  They want to sniff you, maybe lick your hand and they want to see what the heck you're doing.  They may also want to see if perhaps you have anything good to eat.  So what do you do?  Let 'em sniff.  Let them jog with you for a while.  Sometimes I slow down to a speedy walk and hold my hand out.  I let them sniff me and after a good sniff, I get going again.

Thing I Know #2:  Even though a dog is barking at you, it does not mean he wants to hurt you.  Dogs bark to say "hello."  They bark to say, "Stay away", they bark to say, "Can you come play?"   Barking does not mean that he's upset necessarily.  The best way to see how a dog really feels is to look at his tail.  If he is still wagging that tail, then he is most likely just saying hello.  And there is a big difference between friendly barks and mean barks.  Usually if the dog is a dangerous one, his bark will sound more like a growl and way more ferocious.

Thing I Know #3:  Different breeds have different personalities.  So, if you run past the same dog everyday, figure out what kind he is and do some research.  This will either put your mind at ease after you find out that he's the most friendly breed in the entire word, or it will give you some very good information that can help you decide whether or not you should change your route.

Thing I Know #4:  Dogs love to chase!  And the fact that we're running means they will want to chase us.  Chasing you, once again, does not necessarily mean he wants to hurt you.  He thinks you're playing.  If it makes you nervous, the best thing to do is to walk past instead of run.  A long time ago, when I was a kid, someone (possibly my parents) told me to never run from a dog.  If the dog really is mean and you run away from him, he'll give chase.  Stand your ground or simply walk slowly away.  I had one experience with a very mean St. Bernard.  I was running past when I saw him coming at me.  Something about him made me realize he was not a nice dog.  He was growling and his tail was NOT wagging.  I slowed down to a very slow walk.  In a very calm voice, I just kept saying, "It's okay, boy, it's okay."  If I had run, I have no doubt he would have chased me.    So, if you don't want the dog to run with you, just slow down at his house and when you start running again, just go slowly.  Most dogs don't go too far beyond their own property.

Thing I Know #5:  Dogs protect.  They are hard wired to protect their owners.  So when a stranger walks or runs past THEIR domain, they will protect it.  This usually means, for most dogs, that they will bark at you or sit at the very edge of their property to make sure you don't try anything funny.  They are simply doing their job.  Let them!  I sometimes just cross to the other side of the street so they don't feel threatened by me.

Thing I Know #6:  Mean dogs, truly mean dogs usually have to be raised that way.  Just because you see a Pitbull, does not mean he's contemplating ripping out your jugular.  If a Pitbull or any dog is mean enough to bite or attack it's because he was trained to do so or he's been mistreated.  Luckily, most owners DON'T train their dogs to attack.   Dogs will run at you, bark at you, chase you a little, but all for the reasons already mentioned.  I was running with my sister-in-law once.  She is scared of dogs and she'll admit it.  We passed a house and a dog came streaking out of the house and headed right for us.  He stopped at the edge of his lawn and barked at us with all his might.   Keersten got scared, but I reminded her that he's just protecting his property.  I think she said something, like, "Oh, okay." And we continued on without incident.  It's normal to be a little frightened when a dog does something like that, but just remind yourself what you now know about dogs and hopefully your can continue on your run without having messed your shorts. 

Despite the fact that most dogs are friendly and wouldnt' hurt a fly, it only takes one bad experience with a dog to make us distrust the entire species.  Remember that St. Bernard I had an encounter with?  Despite having lived with 3 dogs and being very comfortable around dogs, that one experience put a little fear in my step now when I go running past dogs.  So I definitely understand why runners might feel the same way.  Here is what I recommend:

1.  Stay friendly.  If a dog is barking at you, say something in the most friendly voice you can summon.  "Hey boy!  How ya doin'?!"  Dogs can hear the friendliness in your voice, trust me.
2.  Run with a squirt bottle or pepper spray.  I run with pepper spray mostly because of the mountain lion scare last year, but I figure that if I was ever attacked by a dog, I would have a pretty good defense.  A squirt bottle with some water in it would simply discourage them from running with you, if it makes you nervous.
3.  If you're really concerned about a certain dog on your route, talk to the owner.  Owners are often times very obliging in these situations.  Afterall, if their dog were to hurt someone, they could lose their dog for good.  The owner definitely has a reason to make sure you're safe when you run past.  Ask them to make sure the dog is tied up.  Or just ask the owner about the dog's personality.  Most owners know their dogs well enough to know whether they would ever hurt anyone.
4.  This one will sound silly, but you might consider carrying some dog treats.  I know that sounds stupid, but if you're really nervous about the dogs along any given route, it might help.  I don't know a dog in this world who wouldn't stop dead in his tracks to gobble up a treat.  That and giving him a treat will show him you mean no harm.
5.  Run with a buddy.  I think being alone is a big part of why dogs may alarm us runners.  When you're with someone, it helps lessen the fear.  Better yet, run with someone who is comfortable around dogs.  Or even better yet, get a dog and make HIM your running buddy. 

If you've had a bad experience with a dog, I challenge you to try and have some good experiences with dogs.  The more good experiences you can have the more that one bad experience will fade away. 

Happy Running................dogs and all!!


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