If a dog attacks your ankle while you're running...
November 15, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Last night running home, a small dog attacked my ankle. Luckily I was wearing long pants so the dog got my pants instead of my ankle. I'm not sure what my response should have been, and am curious if there's etiquette around this in case it happens again.

I run on sidewalks in Chicago, so I'm often dodging people and dogs. I try to give dogs a wide berth since I know their reaction to someone running by can be sudden and negative. In this case, the dog owner and dog were in front of me, and the dog was on a leash, and was a small (ankle biter - hah!) dog. The dog was mostly in the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. The dog owner was taking up a little too much of the sidewalk so it seemed easier for me to go between the dog and the street, which I did. As I passed the dog, it growled and leapt at my ankle, managing to grab the zipper of my running pants. I shouted, the owner yanked the dog away, and the action ripped about two inches of zipper off my pants. The dog owner was immediately apologetic, I checked to make sure I wasn't bleeding (just the zipper separation), mumbled that it was fine and continued my run.

My question is: should I have held the dog owner accountable? Should I have said something different? My theory is that I was partly (or fully?) to blame because a dog walker shouldn't be expecting someone to be running in between the dog and the street (I was going north, so I passed him on the right - he was going the same direction so would not have seen me coming). Should I never run between a dog and the street?
posted by bibbit to Human Relations (12 answers total)
Yes, the owner is absolutely responsible for everything that dog does. If the dog went for you and ripped your pants, then the owner is responsible for remedying that.

Should you avoid running closely past dogs? Sure, it's a decent rule to run by. But in our society a dog should be trained highly enough that they don't bite people, ever. If the owner can't be assured of that, they should be muzzled.

If you hadn't been wearing trousers, that dog might have drawn blood.
posted by Static Vagabond at 2:16 PM on November 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

My theory is that I was partly (or fully?) to blame because a dog walker shouldn't be expecting someone to be running in between the dog and the street

As a dog owner/lover and not a runner, I say it's the dog owner's responsibility 100% to control the dog. Unless you are antagonizing the dog or going in between dog/owner and getting tripped up in the leash, you're not at fault. Whether you want to hold the dog owner accountable is up to you.

In general I figure there's an occasional "cost of doing business" related to being outside in the world and among my fellow humans and their critters & possessions. For me personally, a torn zipper would fall under that category and I'd let it go. YMMV.
posted by headnsouth at 2:16 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I suspect you should have said something as you approached to warn the dog and owner. Bike riders do it.

Maybe he was doing a wee which made him vulnerable. I don't think the proximity to the road is the issue, but that you were unexpected and he may have been abluting.

But you're not really in the wrong, there's just an easier way to handle it.
posted by taff at 2:18 PM on November 15, 2012

Runner and dog lover here. It startles dogs and triggers a reaction when someone suddenly runs right beside them. I'd suggest just calling "on your dog's right/left!" as you approach, so the leash holder can control the dog.

This is the leash holder's responsibility, but advance warning probably would have prevented the zipper damage.
posted by bearwife at 2:20 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I say this as a dog owner: you are not in the wrong. When a dog goes out in public, the person walking them needs to keep them under control at all times.

In the future I would generally suggest trying to keep the person walking the dog between you and the dog, in the event they aren't paying attention they have more time to react and correct inappropriate behavior. I wouldn't say there is a hard and fast rule about not running between a dog and the street.

As far as holding them accountable, I would want to know if the dog has ever done anything like that before- because if it has, the dog needs better training.
posted by ambrosia at 2:21 PM on November 15, 2012

As a runner I would probably have yelled at the dog owner a bit to be honest (and I am a dog owner). A young dog playfully chasing after me a few steps? No problem. A dog pretend pouncing towards my feet as I run past? Startling but no biggie, kinda funny actually. Biting? Oh hell no. Just no. Not ok. Very, very bad.
posted by fshgrl at 2:35 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you responsible? No. Could you have made a better decision? Yes.

To give you an example, if I walked into the worst neighborhood in town with stacks of money bulging out of my pockets, it wouldn't be my responsibility if somebody were to mug me. However, it also wouldn't be an entirely unexpected consequence, and my friends would certainly be entitled to question my judgement on this score.

The same principle applies here. Dogs should be trained well enough not to bite (or muzzled), if they're taken out in public. At the same time, they're only animals, and when an animal gets spooked - by a very large creature coming up rapidly behind it, for example - it is likely to resort to its fight-or-flight instincts. Hell, even people react the same way sometimes. For example, I once playfully lunged out of hiding at a friend trained in Tai-Kwan-Do and he was so startled he almost kicked my head off.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:37 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Dog owners are responsible for their animals. Full stop.

I know you said that the damage was limited to your pants, but getting bitten by a strange dog is like getting into a car accident. You should politely ask for the name, address, and telephone number of the dog owner and depending on the circumstances, request to see the dog's veterinary/registration records. If the dog owner doesn't comply or isn't able to produce them, you report the situation to local health/public safety authorities and let them deal with it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:44 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

It kind of seemed like you had a balanced, thoughtful reaction. I don't actually think that you have a social responsibility to do any particular thing in a situation where there was no serious damage and where you recognized you might have inadvertently been a little bit responsible, unless you want to force her to pay for a new pair of pants or something, which sounds like more trouble than it would be worth. It would be nice to believe that incident was horrifying enough that the dog owner will be more cautious and aware in the future, having seen the result of her inattention.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:27 PM on November 15, 2012

As a dog owner:

1) You absolutely have the right to hold the dog owner responsible. There are potentially dangerous beasts, and other people have more of a right to be out in society than a dog does. They are not just people with fur.

2) there's no need to be a jerk ; we're all human. You said that the person was apologetic, and assumed that they were in the wrong. If you're willing to use these pants again, despite the zippered legs being ripped (or if it's some other cosmetic issue), then don't press the issue further. If you'll be throwing out these pants because of the damage, then you could have brought that up with the owner. Similarly if you were bitten, you could ask the owner for their info to later get documentation on the dogs rabiers innocluation, and possibly for reimbursement of medical issues.

Most of the time, I have good control of my dogs and they can't interfere with people. I keep looking over my shoulder so I know if there's a biker or jogger approaching. However, about once a year, a jogger, or biker coming from behind surprises me (and my dogs). I'm not sure if it's that they just came from a house I passed, or that they're going that fast, or if I've been slacking on looking over my shoulder.

As someone moving quickly on a sidewalk where most people walk, there's some responsibility on you to avoid accidents / collisions. In a situation as described above, if I were you, I would either 1) try to get the attention of the person as you're approaching so they can get their dog in control, or 2) go over the grass so you can have the owner be between the dog and yourself. 2) is likely the best option as 1) might just rile up the dog.

Yes, the person should have been minding their dog better, but consider a situation when driving; if you see someone doing something stupid, do you risk your life and car because you have right of way, or do you inconvenience yourself to make sure everyone's safe and fume about the idiot later? Ultimately, I feel that the dog walker bore most of the responsibility, but you had some. Take the learning experience to stay further from dogs while running and accept that it might be better sometimes to walk through a situation rather than jogging, even if you "shouldn't" have to.
posted by nobeagle at 6:52 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are running and are at all unsure about a nearby dog, slow to a walk immediately and get some physical distance between you and Fluffy somehow. You can pick up speed again once you're well out of range. You are simply not as exciting a target to dogs when you are walking, as opposed to running.

This does NOT mean to say that you have any responsibility re: whether the dog attacks you. It is just a way of avoiding the problem entirely. Worked for me many, many times.

If you get bitten despite your evasive maneuvers, it's the dog owner's responsibility, period. It would be even if you had totally not seen the dog. RonButNotStupid has some good suggestions on information to collect.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:16 AM on November 16, 2012

Thanks, folks. I think all your answers are pretty much in line with what I believe to be true. It's dark out when I run, and I don't make a ton of noise, so I'm sure I surprised both the owner and the dog. This will serve a good reminder for me to be more aware of whether people see/hear me coming - normally if I'm trying to warn someone I just start scuffing my feet a little and it's usually enough to get someone to hear me coming. I also like the suggestion of walking around a dog I'm unsure of rather than trying to run by. Let's just hope I never get in a more serious situation!
posted by bibbit at 9:59 AM on November 16, 2012

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