Barefoot running and dogs are intertwined for me. My dogs have been a major excuse for lots of time walking and running. That means a lot of my running is done in dog parks or dog friendly places. Naturally, I meet many dogs in bare or minimally clad feet.
Of course, any runner can meet a dog or pack of dogs. A few things to keep in mind, whether you run barefooted or in the thickest of shoes:
1) Dogs can be oblivious. I’ve been knocked down twice. Once, two racing dogs caught me behind the back of a knee apiece, sending me feet first up and down on the back of my head. I’m embarrassed for my species to admit, though the dogs came back to see if I was still alive, no owners did. Generally, people at the parks are great.
2) Dogs can fight. Most don’t. In many years of dog park use, I’ve only seen one terrible fight and a couple of lesser ones. Of course, dogs spar or dance to determine dominance, sometimes including barking, growling, mounting, even mouthing or nipping. But most dogs will hear and obey instructions to back off: A guttural “NO,” works in most cases.
3) Dogs can bite. This has never happened to me or in my presence at a dog park, but recently it happened to my husband at a beach on the coast. It was terrifying, but we learned some things to share with other runners.
1) Stay alert for new dogs, especially in groups. “Pack mentality” kicks in at any number over one.
2) Note the closest building or keep your car within reasonable distance. When my husband was bitten recently, this saved us from a mauling instead of just one bad bite.
3) If a dog doesn’t back off when told “no,” especially if it holds your gaze, not looking away, you are facing a serious threat. Back slowly away while talking quietly and reassuringly. Don’t keep yelling or gesturing. Often backing off is enough.
4) The next stage in an attack is the curling of the lip and growling. Then, barking and bared teeth.
5) Don’t hit or kick at an attacking dog, not even with a weapon. You can’t move as quickly as a desperate animal. Our attack, we feel certain, was to protect a batch of puppies as the female dog was clearly still nursing. Pepper spray often blows back on the user, so is not advised.
6) DO make a loud, continuous, high noise. At the dog fight, I used an extended screech. On the beach, I made it to the car where I blew the horn continuously till my husband was safe. In both cases, the dogs suddenly stepped back in alarm and stopped their attacks.
“The best defense against an attacking dog is a portable air horn,” according to the Animal Control experts with whom I spoke. (Party stores often carry air horns for celebrations.)
Whether you run with a furry friend or run solo, it’s always wise to know your surroundings and to be prepared for furry friend or foe.