Trails are to be shared, and trail runners should welcome the presence of the full trail community in all our wild and wonderful spaces, unless permits suggest otherwise. But, with shared space comes shared responsibility. A few weeks ago, local road and trail running champ, Siviwe Nkombi, was attacked during the first few kilometres of a race, on a beach where dogs are permitted to run without a leash. This incident has sparked some debate in the trail community, calling on dog owners to be more responsible. In this particular incident, the dog owner did not take responsibility for the outcome. Fortunately, Siviwe is recovering well and the wound on his knee was treated so as to avoid infection. An injury of this nature can have a devastating outcome for an athlete.
It goes without saying, that dog owners should not take their furry pals running in areas where they will encounter other people, unless they are on a leash or highly responsive to voice / clicker / whistle control. A runner coming around a corner at pace can startle even the most placid hound and conflict may well occur.
So what steps can runners take to avoid conflict with trail dawgs, and what should you do if attacked?
Read the Signs
Here are some of the doggie language signs you need to keep an eye on:
- Tense body with the hackles—the area between the tail and shoulders—up and ears erect.
- Loud growling
- Furrowed brows
- Flicking tongue
- Backing away while growling
- Stiff tail, or held high and wagging faster than normal.
- Intense stare with eyes wide with rage
Slow your pace to a walk. Dogs have a natural predatory instinct triggered by fast movement. When you slow down, you become less interesting to them. The only scenario in which you should keep on running is if you know that you can get behind a barrier, such as a bench, rock, or tree to separate you from the dog.
It is preferable to walk in the opposite direction of the dog, remaining aware of its movements. Staring a dog directly in the eyes is threatening to them, so keep the hound in site without making eye contact.
Remain upright, relaxed and try to muster up a sense of authority. A firm, deep voice is best. In South Africa, a firm “voetsek” usually does the trick. High pitched screaming or shrieking can trigger them further.
If you are being actively attacked, your first move must be to try to give the dog something to chew on. It’s better than tearing up your own flesh. Put something between the dog’s teeth and your body. This could be a loose fitting piece of fabric, your jacket sleeves, a stick, or anything that could separate the two of you.
If the attacked progresses, hit the ground. Roll in to a foetal position with your face down and hands behind your neck, with your fingers tucked in. Minimise the access to soft tissue around your stomach, face, and throat.
Spraying mace at a dog, or anything similar, should be a last resort and not used as a preventative measure.
And if your dog is the attacker?
Once you have got your dog off its victim, and done everything in your power to prevent the escalation of the attack, your dog should be leashed and walked away. Call for help, ensure that the victim receives immediate medical care, and offer to cover all relevant bills. Antibiotics and a tetanus injection are almost always necessary, as well as professional wound care in the days or weeks that follow.
Words: Kim Stephens