Encountering an unleashed dog can be a frightening experience for runners, bicyclists, and other pedestrians who have no way of knowing if the dog approaching them is friendly or hostile. As fast-moving, colorful, and exciting targets, runners may be approached or confronted by unsupervised and overly aggressive canines who seem all too eager to attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States and, of those bites, as many as one in five become infected, resulting in injuries more serious than the initial bite itself.

Fortunately, arming yourself with the knowledge of how to handle this type of situation may help you avoid injury, disfigurement, or even death. In the event that the dog is aggressive, making one wrong move can result in injury, disfigurement, or even death. Staying calm and employing these simple safety tips may help keep you safe the next time you come face to face with an unknown and unrestrained pooch.

What to Avoid

Certain behaviors—such as adopting an aggressive or submissive stance—may seem natural when faced with a potentially A Female Rottweiler Standing on a Beachdangerous canine. However, giving in to these and other instinctual actions may trigger the dog's own instincts, causing it to consider you a threat or, worse, prey. Avoid these behaviors when confronted by an off-leash dog:

  • Screaming, yelling, or shouting – Raising your voice to the dog may agitate it or cause it to become afraid, which can make its actions unpredictable.

  • Staring or making direct eye contact – While staring at the dog could potentially show your dominance, it's more likely to make the dog consider you a threat, making it behave even more aggressively.

  • Throwing something, or brandishing a stick or other “weapon” – These defensive strategies are likely to escalate the situation, as the dog may perceive them as threatening.

What to Do Instead

Just because you shouldn't arm yourself with a stick doesn't mean you're without options. These actions and behaviors may help you diffuse a potentially dangerous situation:

  • Stay calm – Keep a cool head and be assertive, rather than aggressive.

  • Slow down to a walk, or stop and stand still – A fast-moving target may excite a hostile dog and cause it to give chase.

  • Give the dog a wide berth – In many cases, a dog may approach to prevent you from nearing the property. If you avoid the dog’s “territory” of your own accord, it may be less likely to pursue or attack.

  • Give the dog a cue or say something to put it in a good mood – Keep your voice calm and steady and, in a cheerful tone, tell the dog to sit, stay, or go home. You can also repeat phrases like "Where's your ball?" or "Good dog!"

In the event that the dog does attack, remember to protect soft tissue areas, such as your face, chest, and throat. Avoid pulling away from a bite, which can cause the skin to tear, resulting in more damage.

Were You Attacked by a Dog?

While learning safety tips are great for future situations, it can't help those who have already been a victim of a vicious animal attack. If you or someone you love were attacked by a dog, it's important to know your legal options. Contact the experienced attorneys with Steinberg Injury Law for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case.


Peter Steinberg
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Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Since 1982
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