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How do you scare a dog away?

How to Avoid a Dog Attack and Prevent Bites

Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.

Updated on November 29, 2021

Verywell Fit articles are reviewed by nutrition and exercise professionals. Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

Michele Stanten is a walking coach, certified group fitness instructor, and running coach. She is the author of Walk Off Weight and The Walking Solution.

Dog Snarling

One of the scariest encounters you can have on a walk is being charged by an aggressive dog. How can you avoid a dog attack and keep from getting bitten or mauled while walking or jogging?

Tips to Avoid a Dog Attack

Dog attacks can happen anywhere. It’s smart to think ahead and know what you might do in the event of an attack.

Plan ahead so you know how you will react if you are charged by a dog. Being prepared may help you avoid serious injury.

Use these tips to reduce your risks in a variety of situations.

Leashed Dogs

Try to maintain a safe distance when you pass a dog being walked on a leash. No matter its size, the dog might snap at you if it becomes excited, is startled, is super protective of its owner, or feels frightened.

If the dog is being walked on an extremely long leash, alert the owner to rein in the dog before you pass. This can prevent a tripping hazard as well as allow the owner to better control the dog in the event that it tries to lunge forward.

If you want to approach the dog, ask the owner’s permission first—whether the dog is on a leash or in a yard. Also, look for a color-coded warning on the dog’s collar or leash.

The use of special tags can alert you to a dog’s temperament and whether it may be safe to approach. The tag might say «No Dogs» when the dog is not good around other dogs, for instance. «Caution,» «Nervous,» «Do Not Feed,» «Blind,» «Deaf,» and «Working» are additional warnings.

Prevent a Dog Attack

Be aware of dogs that are a block or more ahead of you in your path. Be prepared to change your route or turn around to avoid unleashed dogs.

Signs of an Impending Attack

Know the signs a dog may attack. These include visual signs of aggression such as:

  • Growling
  • Raised fur
  • Rigid body posture
  • Snapping

A fearful dog that may attack due to anxiety might show behaviors such as lip licking, yawning repeatedly, turning its head to avoid meeting your gaze, cowering, tucking its tail between its legs, and showing the whites of its eyes.

Never approach a dog that is barking, growling, snarling, sleeping, eating, or nursing its pups. A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is friendly; it could be a sign that it is anxious and its next move may be an attack.

What You Can Do

Do not stare a dog in the eyes as this is a sign of aggression between dogs. Instead, look away to show that you do not want to do battle. Turning sideways allows you to present less of a threat to a dog that is approaching aggressively.

Don’t run. The dog will chase and you can’t outrun a dog since some breeds can charge faster than an Olympic sprinter. Stand still, slowly withdraw, or maintain a constant yet slow pace out of the dog’s territory.

If you can, put an object such as a tree, post, or bench between you and the dog. Speak softly and gently to calm the dog. Tell it, «Good dog. It’s okay. Go home.»

If local law allows, pepper spray may be a good self-defense option when charged by a dog. A taser or stun stick might also work, but the dog must be dangerously close in order to use them. Learn the weapons laws in the community you are walking in before using these options.

If a Dog Attacks

If you are charged by a dog, get something between you and the dog’s mouth—an umbrella, pack, jacket, or stick. If you are attacked by the dog, curl up in a ball and protect your face, neck, and head.

For Dogs That Chase or Follow You

Employing the following tactics can help to dissuade dogs that might chase you:

  • Milkbone decoys: Carry dog treats to toss to a dog that always chases you on foot or bike.
  • Small pebbles: Yell and toss small pebbles at dogs that follow you.
  • Rocks in a can: Carry small rocks in a can with a lid (or something else that rattles loudly). When approached by a dog, shake the can hard. The rattling noise may scare off the dog.
  • Sharp whistle: A safety whistle can help stop a chasing dog. Wear it on a cord around your neck or attached to the shoulder strap of your pack. This will keep it handy for sounding an alarm for any threat or medical emergency.
  • Ultrasonic whistle: This is like a safety whistle but won’t irritate human ears. It works by repelling the animal away from the whistle’s waves of sound.

4 Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Lowrey S. Why do dogs bite? Understanding the reasons why dogs react. American Kennel Club. Published April 01, 2021.
  2. ASPCA. Aggression.
  3. Averett N. 5 animals that could beat you in a race. Runner’s World. Published December 05, 2017.
  4. Atheeb M, Ethaeb A, Salman M. Repellent of the stray animals. IOP Conf Ser: Earth Environ Sci. 2021;735:012084. doi:10.1088/1755-1315/735/1/012084

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.

Strategies for Encountering Dogs While Running

Bearded man on a run encounters a dog on the beach

Where I live in Flagstaff, we have the same problems with off-leash dogs that most communities face. There are some people who think, for whatever reason, that leash laws don’t apply to them and their dogs. All runners, including me, have faced dogs charging at us on the trails and on the roads. It’s a risky situation when you are faced with a dog who is, at best, overly enthusiastic, and at worst, aggressive. Sometimes there’s a guardian around, but not always. Even when they are present, the situation can be alarming, either because the person seems frantic to get the dog back. (“Come! Get over here! No bite!”) or because there is no concern as a dog leaps at innocent passersby. (“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!”)

Flagstaff is a running mecca where many of the best runners in the world come to train in order to take advantage of the 7000-foot altitude and the endless miles of trails. My worst nightmare is that some Olympian or Olympic hopeful will be bitten and that the injury will ruin someone’s lifetime dream. Even without such dire consequences, derailed workouts and being truly afraid are not cool, whether it happens to an elite athlete or to any of the rest of us regular runners.

I am often asked what to do when a dog charges at someone or chases them on a run. There are so many variables in these situations that it’s difficult to make blanket statements or provide all the possibilities, but there are general guidelines for minimizing the chance that a scary situation turns injurious.

What To Do If You See An Off-Leash Dog

Here are a few of my top tips for what to do if you see an off leash dog to prevent it from chasing you while running.

Stay Calm

The first and most important thing you should do is to stay calm. Adding any sort of excitement to the situation is counterproductive, because it may over-excite the dog.

Slow Down

When you are being chased by a dog or encounter an off-leash a dog on your run, it is important to slow down to a walk or stop completely. Speed is intoxicating to many dogs, who give chase to anything that’s moving such as squirrels, cats, dogs and runners — it’s the reason why dogs chase you when you run. The fastest runners — the elites — are more likely to be chased, which I think is due in part to their graceful, gazelle-like build and gait. Other reasons a dog may chase is when they are trying to “herd runners”, which may account for a lot of the bites to the back of the legs and ankles.

Scare Less

If you are wearing sunglasses or a hat, take them off. Many dogs are scared of people wearing hats and other such accessories so they charge or chase out of fear. If you remove them, some dogs realize you are just a human, not a monster, and ease off.

Stay Away

Swing wide to create more distance between you and the dog. A lot of dogs are chasing or charging to keep you away from their property, so if you act in accordance with these dogs’ wishes, you minimize the chances of trouble.

Speak Softly

Say things that may put the dog in a good mood, using a cheerful voice. This seems ridiculous to many people, but I swear that changing the dog’s emotional state can work wonders. The phrases that are most likely to have an effect are “Wanna go for a walk?”, “Dinnertime!”, “Where’s your ball?”, and “Good dog, good dog, good dog.” So many dogs are conditioned to react happily to one or more of these phrases, and that means they have the power to diffuse a tense situation. Speaking in a happy voice, even though you have to fake it, makes this strategy more effective.

Similarly, a few dogs will respond if you give them a cue, telling them to sit, go home, or stay. Many dogs are too worked up to react, but it does work sometimes. And giving a cue or using a happy phrase is exceedingly unlikely to make things worse, so both are worth a try.

Plan B: Change Your Route

Another option is to turn and head the other way. Yes, it’s frustrating to have to change your route because of a misbehaving off-leash dog, but safety first! Many dogs are trying to get you to go away, and if you do, they will leave you alone. It’s best to head the other way slowly so you don’t incite the dog to chase you.

Training Program

Try these free training programs from our friends at Dogo to help with new dog life and basic obedience.

What NOT To Do.

While these things may come instinctually, it is important not to take the following actions, as adding any sort of excitement to the situation is counterproductive.

Don’t Yell Or Scream At The Dog

Many dogs are afraid and yelling at a dog who is off-leash will only make their fear, and therefore their undesirable behavior, worse. Screaming agitates many dogs, and makes them even more unpredictable.

Don’t Stare At The Dog

Though staring at a dog is often suggested, staring is actually an overtly threatening behavior and will cause many dogs to react even more aggressively to you. It will rarely cause a dog who is going after you to back off.

Don’t Throw Anything At Dog

Similar to above, throwing things at the dog can be perceived as threatening, which may make the situation escalate rather than improving it.

Don’t Use a Stick As A Weapon

This is far too likely to frighten a fearful dog or to be taken as an escalation of any confrontation by dogs who are on the offensive.

No technique is foolproof, but the general rule is to try to get out of the situation calmly and quickly without making the dog any more upset. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong or whether the dog is legally allowed to be off leash where you are running. It’s just about avoiding a serious issue so that you can not only keep running today, but in the future.

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Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.

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