Encounters with off-leash dogs aren't something new. Runners and cyclists get chased by stray dogs all the time.
But the scary part is, sometimes it's hard to tell if the dog chasing you is friendly or offensive.
It's a risky situation that leaves you with the question: Why do dogs chase you when you run?
Why Dogs May Chase You When You Run?
"Every situation is different," says Ron Berman, an Expert Dog Bites Litigation Consultant.
"What motivates one dog's aggression could intensify another's desire to initiate playtime, and not to bite", Ron explains.
Here's an at-a-glance look at four major reasons dogs may chase you when you run and what to do if an aggressive dog runs at you.
Dogs have an ingrained chase instinct
Genetic evidence suggests that dogs originated from gray wolves. Lots of the dominant traits and instincts seen in today's dogs were inherited from wolves over a thousand years ago.
One such trait is the prey drive, or in other words, a robust and natural instinct to chase and catch prey. Before domestication, this natural drive helped the canines hunt for food.
Over time, humans began to adopt some types of dogs and breed the prey driven from them. But these predatory instincts did not vanish completely.
Dogs are still hard-wired to pay attention to anything that's fast-moving. So if a dog sees you running, the chase instinct automatically kicks in and will run after you.
However, this ingrained prey drive doesn't necessarily mean the dog is aggressive. For example, some dogs will instinctively chase an object as part of play, such as in the game of fetch.
Some dogs are specially bred for chasing
As well as chasing fast-moving objects to satisfy their prey drive, some dogs are specially bred to chase down, capture, or kill other animals.
Some dog breeds –such as Golden Retrievers and Bluetick Coonhound— are
typically bred to pursue leads, grab, and bring them to their owners.
These dogs are great for hunting since they keep the prey animal intact and provide much-needed support. The same applies to Terrier breeds, particularly the Yorkshire Terriers.
Terrier breeds are often used for chasing and killing small animals like rodents. Safe to say, due to selective breeding, some dogs have developed the inherent urge to chase and attack those that run.
Dogs may see you as a threat
A dog may chase you when you run if it perceives you as a threat. Often, such dogs may have had negative experiences with runners in the past or aren't familiar with them.
Any dog can become nervous and fearful, even if it usually is calm and confident. If you try to grab a nearby stick, the situation may get out of hand.
The combination of anxiety and insecurity causes many fearful dogs to activate the chase instinct.
Especially if the dog is not socialized, that chase could end up in a full-blown attack, even if the circumstances aren't threatening.
It's the responsibility of every dog owner to socialize their dog and work on bite inhibition properly.
Why does it matter, you ask?
Doing so prevents a possible bite if an owner is not nearby when someone runs away from their dog.
Dogs are territorial creatures
Dogs are very territorial. You might have seen a dog marking its territory by peeing in the backyard, front door, trees, and even on parked cars.
If a stranger shows up in its personal space and attempts to run, the dog sees them as intruders trying to take off. So if the dog is not on a leash, it will chase the stranger out of the yard.
If the dog gets close enough, chances are that it will try and nip the sprinting victim without a second thought. The result can be catastrophic if the dog owners are away.
Territorial aggression is more common with trained dogs, such as German Shepherd Dogs. Their goal is to protect an area or things, including other animals within the household.
What To Do If a Dog Runs At You?
Taking out when you encounter a stray dog on the offensive is easy. Do you yell? Talk calmly? Run away? Freeze? Do nothing at all?
In such a dangerous situation, every second counts. And knowing how to prevent stray dog attacks is extremely important.
Here's what to do if a dog runs at you, plus a few tips to protect from dogs while running:
When a dog begins to chase you, the first and most important thing to do is stop running immediately.
Most dogs that chase you don't actually intend to bite. But if you run, the dog will activate its chase instincts and pursue you.
Stand your ground
The dog will probably run towards you while barking as a way to scare you. Don't be scared.
Instead, stand still without making direct eye contact with dogs. Reacting in this manner can be seen as a great way to defuse a dog's aggression.
Back away slowly
Once the dog is no longer interested in you, roll your body sideways slowly and back away. Worth noting is that turning your back on the dog before the animal has calmed down is a bad idea.
Because if you turn away when it's still exciting, that may trigger its predatory instincts. Only turn away when the dog looks distracted or when there's a safe enough distance between you and the dog.
Many people don't know for sure—but most dogs get scared of people wearing hats, sunglasses, and such accessories.
"A hat changes the way a person looks, and dogs, just like humans, are often afraid of the unknown", says Jessica Pierce, author of UnleashingYour Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Possible Life.
So if you have a hat or sunglasses on, take them off. In doing so, the dog will know you're a real person, not a monster, and ease off.
Freeze if you fall
You'll want to mind your footing to avoid tripping and falling while backing away from the dog.
But should you accidentally trip and fall, your best bet is to curl up and get your face and neck covered with your arms.
You want to freeze and remain still. Act like a tree. The dog will probably bark, charge, or even jump at you, but if it receives no response, it'll lose interest within minutes.
What To Do If an Aggressive Dog Runs At You?
The dog may keep chasing you even after taking the above measures.
At this point, it's a matter between life and death. So take the following steps to protect against an aggressive dog:
Resist the urge to yell
You shouldn't attempt to yell when an aggressive animal is pursuing you. Instead, continue to stand your ground while staying calm.
Why shouldn't you actually shriek?A high-pitched voice may over-excite the canine and activate its fight instinct.
Avoid eye contact
Don't make eye contact if the dog appears fearful or aggressive. Dogs don't perceive direct eye contact as a friendly engagement but rather as a threat to its dominance and may attack you.
While avoiding eye contact is an excellent way to show you're not a threat, pay attention to what the dog is doing. You should be ready to react in case the dog tries to attack you.
Give soft commands
Give deep, firm, and soft commands to let the dog know who's in charge. However, steer clear of a stern voice not to upset the canine.
Instead, speak in a cheerful voice. Speaking cheerfully lets the dog know you're a friend, not a foe.
Dogs can recognize and respond to basic verbal commands like "lie down", "go home", or "sit".
One or more of these phrases can put the dog in a good mood. A strong verbal command does wonders in diffusing a tense situation.
If the dog remains adamant about your actions, you may have to defend yourself. You'll need to enact a strong defensive strategy to fight the dog.
If you're still on your feet, kick at the dog forcefully rather than punching it because your shoes will protect your feet from any bites.
If you're going up against a big dog that knocks you down, curls into a ball to protect your face, neck, throat, and vital organs.
You can also gouge the canine's eyes using any tool you can find, such as a rock, stick, or even a water bottle if you usually carry one. The goal is to defend yourself until someone steps in to help.
1. Should I run if a dog chases me?
Running from a dog is a bad idea. If a dog chases you and you run away, it sees you as prey and will pursue you even more.
That chase could result in a full-blown attack if the dog has a deeply ingrained prey mindset.
2. What does it mean when my dog chases me?
When your dog chases you, chances are that the dog loves you so much that it wants to follow you wherever you go.
Still, by chasing after you, your dog is doing what it knows best: following his leader.
Dogs often see their owner as the leader and want to obey their inborn instincts to follow the leader.
3. Why do dogs chase cars at night?
Dogs rest the whole day and get super active at night, especially between 10 PM and 1 AM.
Anything too loud, fast, or flashy triggers their natural instinct and urges them to chase from behind.
It's necessary to stop this behavior of dogs at an early age because a dog can get injured while chasing vehicles at night.
4. Can you outrun a dog?
That's very unlikely. No matter how fast you can run, you're never going to outrun an aggressive canine.
An excited canine probably has more energy than you and will catch up. Your best option is to diffuse a dog's aggression rather than trying to compete.
To this end, you've got all the answers to the question: Why do dogs chase you when you run? Unfortunately, dog attacks, albeit rare, do happen.
That's why running on a route free of stray dogs is essential to avoid potential attacks.
If there is only one route, we suggest carrying around a dog repellant when running or jogging to keep loose dogs at bay.
There are several options out there. But our favorite option is the Guard Dog Bling-it-On Pepper Spray.
This pepper spray comes with an integrated keychain clip that easily clips to a key ring, backpack, or purse for easy transportation.
What's more?You could also carry a small safety device, such as a portable baton, a water spray bottle, or even some dog treats with you.
None of these will harm the dog but will be your first line of defense if a stray dog chases you when you run.