Random running annoyances No. 9: dogs

Alright, this one could be a bit controversial. Am I really going to pick on dogs? Well, sort of. Actually… no, I’m not. On reflection, the headline above isn’t quite accurate.

I don’t mind dogs. I’ve got nothing against dogs. I see people out running with dogs all the time, having lots of fun. Dogs are nice. We like dogs.

No, it’s not dogs that annoy me. It’s dog owners.

Actually, it’s not all dog owners. It’s not even many dog owners. It’s a small minority of them. A very small minority. It’s a handful of dog owners who seem to lack a bit of common courtesy, or similar.

It’s just, well, it’s this:

“It’s okay, he’s friendly!”

That has been shouted to me by multiple dog owners have shouted that to me on multiple occasions. It’s usually shouted in reaction to me flinching uncontrollably and completely losing my running stride as a big dog, with its mouth wide open to reveal big, sharp teeth (and a lot of slobber) charges towards me, barking loudly.

“It’s okay, he’s friendly!”

Now then dog owner, you’re probably right. He’s probably a lovely, friendly, cheerful dog who just wants to play, have his head stroked and jump around a bit. Your dog sees someone running and just sees someone to play chase with, or similar.

But I don’t know that. I don’t know you. I don’t know your dog. All I can see is a big dog charging towards me with his mouth wide open and big, sharp teeth. Forgive me if I don’t take your word about how friendly your dog is.

My flinch is a reflex survival reaction. And being disrupted by a dog charging at me is really annoying and disrupting to my run.

A few other things to acknowledge here. I do a lot of my running on footpaths next to parks or open ground – the perfect place to let a dog run off its lead in safety. And, as a runner, I have no more right to use that path or space than a dog walker. I totally get that, and I’m not suggesting dogs should be kept on a lead, or banned from where I run. Open spaces are precious, and everyone needs to share them. Runners, dog owners, dogs, everyone.

Another thing: most dogs are pretty passive, and I can run past them without them giving chase or inadvertently getting in my way. And most dog owners are very considerate, and will do their utmost to encourage their dogs not to get in the way of runners or anyone else.

It’s just that dogs – through no fault of their own – don’t really understand the concept of shared footpaths or parks. No blame there: they’re dogs. How would they understand?

If I’m out on a quiet evening run, I’ll do my best to duck round a dog – or, indeed, any other obstacle, person, vegetable or mineral in my way. Really, I will. That seems fair enough. Which is why it’s a bit annoying when a small minority of dog owners seem to think it’s endearing or amusing when their dog jumps into the path of a runner or other path user. Instead of actively trying to control their dog, some just chuckle and, you guessed, shout…

“It’s alright, he’s friendly!” 

An example. A few months back I was taking part in a race that finished on a private sports ground. The race finished on a big field, but the course had to pass through a small wooded area to get there. The race organisers had marked out the run route with cones and tape, and alongside that had marked out a path for spectators. Great.

I ran through this area at the same time as a dog walker. She was strolling on the marked spectator path, but her dog wasn’t on a lead.

When the dog saw me running, it seemed to want to play. It shot out into my path, then cut across and abruptly stopped in front of me. You know, the sort of thing dogs do, because dogs probably can’t tell I’m taking part in a race. Not the fault of the dog.

But to avoid kicking the dog, I had to ease up and adjust my course a bit. Given I was about 400 metres from the end of the race I was properly pushing, so that took some effort.

Okay, we’re talking one, maybe two seconds here: really not that important in the grand scheme of things. But… you’re walking a dog in a tight area on private ground next to a race. As a courtesy to those running, would it be too much to just ensure your dog stayed clear of the runners?

Instead, the dog owner’s attempt to solve the situation was simply to meekly call the name of her dog a few times. Before adding, inevitably:

“It’s okay, he’s friendly!”

Sigh.

Here’s the thing. I’m sure he is. But how do I know that…

Read more Random Running Annoyances here

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