There are 2 creatures who tend to scare me more on runs than just about anything else: dogs and snakes. I know the likelihood that either of those animal encounters are going to cause me bodily harm is pretty slim, but I freak out nonetheless. (Want to see me scream and jump? Put a snake in front of me – dead or alive – doesn’t matter.) In the late spring, those of us near water also get to deal with territorial mama geese protecting their cute little balls of waddling fluff. I’ve been hissed at more times than I can count and usually avoid areas where I know they are nesting until the babies are a bit older and mom isn’t so intent on keeping me away.
What are some strategies you can use to help ensure that if you come across a wild (or domestic) animal while running, walking or biking you are less likely to get hurt?
- Even if the animal seems friendly, it’s best to not approach it. An overly excited dog can knock you down just as quickly as an aggressive one can. If the dog does try to jump on you, turn to the side and push it down with your forearm, saying “no” in a firm voice.
- Don’t make eye contact. Dogs often perceive this as a threat.
- While your instinct may be to run faster, this may not be the wisest move. Stop running, turn, and walk in the other direction if you can. If the dog does approach you, in a firm but calm voice say “no”, “sit” or “go home”. Don’t make wild movements or scream.
- If the dog is on a leash, give them a wide berth and see how their owner responds. I’ve been on group runs where someone has brought a dog and I tend to not run with that group. The owner may not understand but I’m the one ultimately responsible for my safety and if I’m not comfortable around their dog, my run is going to suffer.
- Some friends of mine carry mace or pepper spray – not just for the 4 legged threats, but for potential 2 legged aggressors as well. Just make sure when you spray it that the pepper isn’t going to blow back at you.
Most of the above tips pertain to threats of the canine variety, but what about other wild animals?
Snakes – The majority of snakes in the US are not poisonous, but that doesn’t mean you should pick one up. They tend to be non-aggressive unless they feel threatened. Watch where you are putting your feet (I’ve actually almost stepped on a stick until I noticed it slithered). Some experts suggested tapping the ground if a snake is in your path and doesn’t want to move. Usually they feel the vibrations of your feet or the stick and will go on their merry way.
Bears – Thanks to sweet Baby Jesus, I will probably never have to deal with a bear encounter, but some of you who run or hike in the national parks might. Bears are best enjoyed from a distance and while making a lot of noise to hopefully scare them away. Experts suggest making yourself appear as large as possible. If you are wearing a jacket, hold it out to the sides so you appear bigger. Talk to the bear and back away slowly. Don’t run or climb a tree because the bear will then see you as prey.
Geese – Canadian Geese are strong and fast. Don’t let their cute little waddle fool you. If they happen to have fluffly little baby geese trailing behind, your best bet is to turn around and go in the opposite direction. Geese are fiercely territorial and protective of their young and they don’t give a poop about being in your way. (Dealing with all the poop they DO give is an entirely different post.) I have numerous friends who have been bit while running because they didn’t just leave the geese alone.
What about you? Any interesting animal encounters to share or tips for dealing with unruly critters?
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