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Are Dogs a Runner’s Best Friend?

By Keith Stachowiak on September 13, 2013 // Leave a Comment

Everyone has heard the popular saying that a dog is man’s best friend. But, oftentimes a dog is not a runner’s best friend. One of our law clerks is a runner and after seeing the serious injuries dog bites have caused some of our clients, she has developed a fear of dogs. When she runs, she crosses to the other side of the street, avoids running near parks with unleashed dogs, and distances herself from a stranger’s “friendly” dog. The rest of this article was written by her in response to research she has done on how to best avoid injuries caused by dogs.

As both a runner and a dog owner, I have seen the important interplay between those two roles since I started working at Murphy & Prachthauser. I think there is a misconception that the only way a dog can cause injury to someone is through a serious dog bite. However, there are many other ways your dog could cause injury to another person. Even a dog on a leash could cause harm to a passerby. For example, while walking on a trail, a dog may run out in front of a runner or bicyclist and cause them to lose their footing or lose control of the bicycle. In both roles as a runner and dog owner, it is important to be conscientious of the injuries dogs can cause.

This October, I will be running my first marathon and as a result I take long runs each week. On my last 16-mile run, I decided to count the number of dogs I passed and analyze the potential threat they caused. In total, I ran past five dogs. Two of the dogs are worth mentioning. First, I passed a large dog on a leash. As I approached, the dog came closer to me and I moved as far away as possible avoided eye contact with the dog. Second, as I ran through Lake Park, I noticed an unleashed dog ahead. Instead of continuing toward the dog, I crossed the street ran on the opposite side of the road to avoid an encounter with the dog. The other three dogs were well controlled by their owners, on short leashes to prevent them from running out in front of me, and did not pose any threat to me as a runner. However, as a runner, I have responsibilities to avoid harm caused by dogs.

After reading articles from Runner’s World Magazine[1], Shape Magazine[2], and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website[3], the best recommendations for runners are to be prepared and stay calm.

Part of being prepared is knowing your route.[4] For example, I know that along my route I will be passing Lake Park, a place where there are generally numerous dogs. As previously mentioned, when I hit that area of the route, I cross the street or avoid running through the area where dogs are present. In addition, if you know there is a dog that lives at a house along your route, ASPCA has said, “Some dogs can be territorially aggressive toward people.”[5] With this in mind, it may be a good prevention strategy to change the route to avoid the dog altogether.

Runner’s World Magazine suggests that in the event a dog does attack, you should be ready to react.[6] They recommend, spraying the dog with a water bottle or even mace, which they say will not hurt the dog.[7] Other sources also recommend carrying pepper spray in the event a dog does attack.[8]

Staying calm is the other important tip runners should remember. According to ASPCA, “Some dogs’ chasing behavior is triggered by a runner’s fast movement.”[9] While running, my first instinct is not to stop and back away slowly. I want to keep running. But, experts suggest that this is not the best strategy. Dogs can outrun even the fastest runners or may perceive you as a threat.[10] Roo Yori, a pit bull dog trainer, suggests you “Freeze.”[11] Of the injuries we’ve seen, most people have dog bites on their arms and legs and this is usually because our first instinct is to push or kick the dog away. Yori suggests, “[T]hink of making your body like a post and fold your arms across your chest.”[12] Using this tactic, a dog is less threatened by flailing limbs in its direction and less likely to bite. Then, you should back away slowly from the dog and avoid eye contact with the dog because dogs may also find it to be a threat.[13] In the event the dog does knock you over, Yori suggest curling up into a ball and covering your neck with your hands and putting your face toward your chest or in Roo’s words “Be a rock.”[14]

If I take my duty as a runner to protect myself seriously and am prepared and calm when I encounter dogs, I should be much safer. But, as a dog owner, I also have a duty to protect others and my dog.

Like most dog owners, I think that my dog, a nine year-old Yorkie Poo, is the friendliest dog in the world and would never hurt a fly. However, even the best dogs can cause injuries to others and I have a duty as a dog owner to keep my dog under control and avoid situations where he would get excited or feel threatened. In addition, I know runners carry pepper spray and some even carry stun guns to protect themselves and I would not want my dog to be on the receiving end of either one. I have summarized my responsibilities into the following tips: keep your control of your dog and keep your dog’s vaccinations and visits to the vet up to date.

First, control of your dog is important. My dog gets excited when he meets new people. As a result, when runners pass by, he may get excited and want to run too. A retractable leash can be an important tool to keep your dog at a close distance. In addition, ASPCA recommends keeping a few treats on hand.[15] When a runner or bicyclist passes, redirect the dog’s attention to a treat instead of the people going past.[16] If you want your dog to be able to run and play without a leash, Milwaukee has numerous dog parks. According to milwaukeedogparks.org, there are five dog parks in the Milwaukee area where your dog can play while being unleashed.[17] If you live in an area where people pass by often and you let your dog outside unsupervised or without a leash, you may want to consider putting up a fence to protect others, yourself, and your dog.[18]

Second, in the event your dog bites someone or causes an injury in another way, you will be liable for the injuries. Generally, your homeowner’s insurance policy will protect you for injuries caused by your dog, but you should also take steps to protect yourself. For example, if your dog bites someone, you will be required to provide up to date information regarding vaccinations and veterinarian visits for your dog. In the event you cannot produce records, your dog will be quarantined to ensure the dog does not have any diseases that could be transmitted to the person he or she bit. Therefore, it is best not only for the health of your dog, but to ensure the health of others to keep vaccinations up to date.

Runners and dog owners alike have important responsibilities to take preventative measures to avoid injuries caused by dogs. If we can work together to avoid these injuries, we can minimize a runner’s fear of dogs and make man’s best friend a runner’s best friend too.



[1] Ralph Talmont, Mean Dogs Bite, Runner’s World, Aug. 3, 2010, available at http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/mean-dogs-bite?page=single.

[2] Charlotte Hilton Andersen, What to Do When a Dog Attacks While Running, Shape Magazine, May 13, 2013, available at http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/what-do-when-dog-attacks-while-running.

[3] Dogs Chasing Runners, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/dogs-chasing-runners

[4] Charlotte Hilton Andersen, What to Do When a Dog Attacks While Running, Shape Magazine, May 13, 2013, available at http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/what-do-when-dog-attacks-while-running.

[5] Dogs Chasing Runners, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/dogs-chasing-runners

[6] Ralph Talmont, Mean Dogs Bite, Runner’s World, Aug. 3, 2010, available at http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/mean-dogs-bite?page=single.

[7] Id.

[8] Charlotte Hilton Andersen, What to Do When a Dog Attacks While Running, Shape Magazine, May 13, 2013, available at http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/what-do-when-dog-attacks-while-running.

[9] Dogs Chasing Runners, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/dogs-chasing-runners

[10] Charlotte Hilton Andersen, What to Do When a Dog Attacks While Running, Shape Magazine, May 13, 2013, available at http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/what-do-when-dog-attacks-while-running

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Ralph Talmont, Mean Dogs Bite, Runner’s World, Aug. 3, 2010, available at http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/mean-dogs-bite?page=single.

[14] Charlotte Hilton Andersen, What to Do When a Dog Attacks While Running, Shape Magazine, May 13, 2013, available at http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/what-do-when-dog-attacks-while-running

[15] Dogs Chasing Runners, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/dogs-chasing-runners

[16] Id.

[18] Dogs Chasing Runners, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/dogs-chasing-runners