Tuesday, November 11, 2014

When a dog bites: A cautionary tale

It was the perfect day to run. The cold temperatures had disappeared, and it was a 50-degree fall day. The wind had calmed. The sky was clear.

I couldn't not run and if I was going to head out, I should use the opportunity to start my plans to get Denali into shape. After a run group member brought along her dog to the past two weekend runs, I was inspired to get Denali to the point. Tami told me that she had been running a mile or so with her dog, dropping him off and finishing her runs.

Her idea sparked something in my brain, and I decided that I would try to run a mile with Denali every day through the end of the year. It's not going to be a streak — he will be boarded over the holiday — but it would be a strong effort to make him a part of my exercise routine.

Mark was impressed with my initiative, and we agreed that I would run 1 mile with Denali while Mark bathed Miles. I would be home before it was time to read to Miles.

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At 7:05, I put on my You Saw Me vest (code "healthy strides" for free shipping) and got Denali leashed up. The excitement was palpable as we stepped onto the front porch and heard the encouraging buzz of the Garmin.

There was a short walk to the corner and we were off. Denali was more than energetic in that first tenth of a mile up the street. My breathing was ragged and my steps quick. I tried to slow us down as best I could. After all, this would be an e-a-s-y easy run for me, and he was getting back into shape.

We began to settle in to a more comfortable pace as we headed north on the boulevard lined with beautiful historic homes. The third of a mile stretch, surrounded by modest family homes, never ceases to stand out to me. We headed south again, headed home, when we reached the stone entrance of the neighborhood. There was a slight uphill and then we had a steady grade down toward home.

Denali was happy. I was proud. I thought about what a great start this run was to our project.

And then, a block from home, it was over. Seemingly out of nowhere, a neighbor's dog ran toward us and grabbed Denali at the throat. I'm not sure what happened next. There was a fight, yes. There were yelps and violent movements.

In the middle of the street, frozen, I screamed for help. At the top of my lungs for what seemed like 2 minutes. I tried to keep hold of the leash and pull Denali to me. To bring him to safety. The dog, though, was still there.

With a snap, it was over. Denali's prong/pinch collar had come undone by the stress of the event and he was free. He ran down the street, away from the attack. Away from me. As I went for him, the owner came out of the house. Silent. The dog disappeared into the darkness.

I screamed at her between calls for Denali. "This is the second time your dog has attacked him." I was on the cusp of crying. Still, silence.

I found Denali on the porch, panting and still. He was shaken — hell, we both were — but he was fine. He was safe. It was over.

Knowing what to do in that situation was difficult. Eerily enough, this weekend my running buddy and I were talking about how we wouldn't know what to do if our dogs were attacked on a run. You want your dog to be safe but you need to keep yourself safe, too. Intervening between two dogs can further anger the attacking dog or you can get caught between them.

Here are some tips:

Turn away. If possible, turn your back to the attacking dog and try to lead your dog in the other direction.

Look away. Do not make eye contact with the attacking dog. It will signal that you are not a threat.

Commands. Try issuing familiar commands to both dogs. Sit, stay, back away, leave it. It might offer a cue to the dog to be obedient or seek positive reinforcement for listening (read: treat).

Carry pepper spray. Don’t be afraid to use as much as needed and spray directly into the dog’s nose and eyes. Be mindful of the wind so you don’t spray yourself. If you have to use the spray on your dog as well, don’t hesitate to do so.

Carry a flashlight. A bright light  can be directed into the eyes of an attacking dog to temporarily blind him.

Carry a whistle. The loud noise might help break up either dog’s focus during a fight, and will help call attention to other people in the area to come help.

Sources: Canidae, Shiba Shake and WikiHow


  1. This makes me so angry, especially coming right after hearing about the experience of a woman from my running group dealing with a couple who walk running trails early in the morning with their dog off-leash.

    I hope Denali is ok after all that. You should consider calling the police on that house if it's the second time he's been attacked by that dog..

    1. I did call Animal Care and Control, making sure that the attack is on record with the city and the owners were made aware that the situation is serious.

  2. This makes me super angry for you as well. I have a puppy, well he's almost 8 months now. So he's a big puppy. I plan to run with him some once he hits a year old. But the fact that other dog owners aren't responsible makes me SO angry. My brother and wife have a dog that is aggressive towards other dogs. She is the sweetest dog in the world and great with kids. They adopted her and she obviously had issues with other dogs prior to when they got her. My sis in law and I have ran together on the trail where other people have their dogs off leash and it's unbelievably frustrating. Just because YOUR dog isn't aggressive, doesn't mean other people (who are being responsible with their leashed dog) aren't aggressive. It's just so irresponsible. And for women who are looking to their four legged friends to help provide them some safety the last thing we should have to worry about is other dogs, more specifically irresponsible dog owners! UGH. So mad for you.

    1. Off leash dogs are not legal here so I'm thankful that it's not something I see. Often, at least. I agree, though, that a dog owner cannot assume that his animal will behave as trained in ever situation. Yes, your dog might stay in the yard but if I run by with my dog, he might chase us. (We had a problem with this a couple years ago.) Safety needs to be a priority all of the time.

      What kind of puppy do you have?

  3. Glad to hear your dog is okay, I've started running with mine and have been bringing pepper spray along. This exact situation is something that I think about everytime I take my girl with me. I've re-routed when I've seen off leash dogs around, but really it's impossible to predict.

  4. How frightening for both of you! So glad you are both OK!

  5. So guess who got chased by a husky this morning? You guessed it - me and Rowdy! No joke, as soon as I saw him, I remembered what you said and turned away. I said "Come on, buddy!" which is what I'm always telling Rowdy needs to hurry up, and thankfully he listened. We sprinted straight ahead, and I heard a neighbor yell at the dog. I waited a few seconds to look behind me, and he was gone. Whew!

    The husky didn't bark or growl, just simply started to follow us. And I've NEVER seen him off his chain before, so I think this was just a strange coincidence and I won't be reporting it. But I will try to say something to the neighbor so she realizes I was a little scared.

    Anyway ... THANK YOU for the tips - I'm so glad I read this post yesterday!

  6. how awful! poor denali! and you! but glad you are both safe now. and i hope this never happens again.