Respect for Animals when out Running in the Countryside by Paul Doyle

Respect for Animals when out Running in the Countryside by Paul Doyle


Respect for Animals when out Running in the Countryside.

Tips to Staying Safe.


I started writing this article following a couple of incidents where I inadvertently startled a horses being ridden on a country road. Not fun for the riders and something I didn’t intend to happen.

Both times I thought I had made myself visible and heard, clearly not enough. The choice words of abuse from the riders we can probably deal with. Potentially causing an accident is not something anyone would want on their conscience.

After discussing this idea with the LFR social pages it occurred to me that as well as horses there are other animal-related interactions we need to be aware of when running or walking in the countryside.

It’s also spring, daylight hours are lasting longer and longer, so who doesn’t want to take advantage of the incredible countryside surrounding us? So I felt that now was a good time to bring everyone’s advice together and put it in a blog.

The thing is, if like me, you like the idea of spending some quality running hours away from the hustle and bustle and big city lights of Leighton Buzzard it’s not always easy to avoid skittish, curious or just less-than friendly animals that don’t necessarily understand our intentions. I know of a few people who have been attacked by dogs, or even chased by overly-enthusiastic dogs snapping at their heels. Also, who feels truly comfortable running through a field full of curious bovine who seem to want to join in on the fun?

With this in mind, I hope that over the following pages I have cobbled together enough advice on dealing with these situations to make you feel a little more confident. Thanks to Richard H, Ceri L and random folk who have written various articles on the interhoola from which I have unashamedly plagiarised bits from.

Over Keen to-meet-you Pooches

Here are a few do’s

Staying calm is a good idea. Adding any sort of excitement to the situation is counterproductive.

Slow down, walk or stop. Speed is intoxicating to many dogs, who give chase to anything that’s moving. Some dogs try to herd runners, which may account for a lot of the bites to the back of the legs and ankles. It’s annoying to interrupt your run, but it beats being bitten.

If you are wearing sunglasses or a hat, take them off. Many dogs are scared of people wearing such accessories and charge or chase out of fear. If you remove them, some dogs realize you are just a person, not a monster, and ease off.

Swing wide to create more distance between you and the dog. A lot of dogs are territorial and are attempting to keep you away from what they perceive as an intrusion.

Say things that may put the dog in a good mood, using a cheerful voice. So many dogs are conditioned to react happily to one or more of these phrases, and that means they have the power to diffuse a tense situation. Speaking in a happy voice, even though you have to fake it, makes this strategy more effective.

Similarly, a few dogs will respond if you give them a cue, telling them to sit, go home, or stay. Many dogs are too worked up to react, but it does work sometimes. And giving a cue or using a happy phrase is exceedingly unlikely to make things worse, so both are worth a try.

Another option is to turn and head the other way. Yes, it’s frustrating to have to change your route because of a misbehaving off-leash dog, but safety first! Many dogs are trying to get you to go away, and if you do, they will leave you alone. It’s best to head the other way slowly so you don’t incite the dog to chase you.

Here are a few don’ts

Don’t yell at the dog. Many dogs are afraid and this will only make their fear, and therefore their undesirable behaviour, worse.

Don’t stare at the dog. Though this is often suggested, staring is an overtly threatening behaviour and will cause many dogs to react even more aggressively to you. It will rarely cause a dog who is going after you to back off.

Don’t scream. This agitates many dogs, and makes them even more unpredictable.

Don’t throw anything at dog. Doing so can be perceived as threatening, which may make the situation escalate rather than make it better.

Don’t pick up a stick and try to use it as a weapon. This is far too likely to frighten a fearful dog or to be taken as an escalation of any confrontation by dogs who are on the offensive.

No technique is fool proof, but the general rule is to try to get out of the situation calmly and quickly without making the dog any more upset. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong or whether the dog is legally allowed to be off leash where you are running. It’s just about avoiding a serious issue so that you can not only keep running today, but in the future.

So what to do if attacked?

It seems that the general consensus seems to be to protect your face, chest, and throat. Also keep your hands in fists to protect your fingers. If you must be bitten, the safest place for it to happen is the shin or forearm. If possible use something like a jacket, shoe or a stick to keep the dog’s focus away from you. Let it take it, this could give you enough of a chance to back away.

Dogs are not naturally inclined to attack humans unless they feel a threat to themselves, their pack, or their territory. We cannot always avoid the problem because some dog owners are irresponsible or negligent. However, we can arm ourselves with the knowledge that will prevent a situation from escalating, and minimize the damage if it does move on to an attack.

A Field of Curious Bovine

Richard Heady: I work with cattle every day and although intimidating they are very, very rarely dangerous. These are my top five tips for staying safe when running through field of cattle:

  1. Resist your instincts to run, shout or wave at approaching cattle, you are only making yourself fun!

Cattle are very inquisitive and very very rarely approach with any malice, 99.9% of the time they are just bored and you look like a bit of fun. The more movement and noise you make, the more fun you become and the more they will want to join in.

  1. If you are intimidated by a certain field of cattle on one of your regular running routes there are three simple steps to avoid unwanted bovine attention

Evening is playtime for cattle, in the morning they are often too lazy/hungry to bother you, so you can adjust your planed run times to avoid becoming their evening entertainment

Just walk around them, generally a farmer would prefer you to deviate from the footpath than trouble his cows

Whittle yourself a crude walking stick to make you feel safer (not as a weapon) and as a last resort a light tap on the nose is enough to spoil their fun. (You can stash it in the hedge and run your route in reverse next time)

  1. Just remember it is not in a farmer’s interest to put dangerous stock in a field with a foot path, they could get prosecuted. The only time cattle would pose a threat is if you get in-between a cow and its young calf, or if the cattle were distressed and you were between them and the exit.
  2. Do not take their bate, they will often approach fast and then slam on the brakes at the last minute , jump around and follow you, willing you to run so that they can chase. I know they can be intimidating, but don’t rise to it, be boring and they will lose interest.
  3. Keep your dog on a lead! Dogs will stir up the cattle’s interest, and can be especially dangerous in a field of sheep. There have been a number of dog attacks killing sheep in the Leighton Buzzard area in the past few months, be aware your beloved pooch has very strong instincts that can be ignited by running animals, it is really not worth the do is stand to the side and talk so the horse realises that you are just a person!



The instinct is to get out of the way, often behind a tree or bush and be quiet so you don't scare them. No, to a horse you are now a scary animal, crouching and waiting to attack.

If more cyclists and runners understood some key points about horses, they could easily modify their behaviour to make them less frightening to the horses and reduce the chance of accidents.

  • Horses are animals and as such, are not predictable. Since they evolved as prey, they have strong flight instincts and can be spooked by creatures they don’t recognize. Things that look normal to us (someone wearing a back pack, riding a recumbent bike, or carrying a child in a back pack) can really frighten a horse.
  • If you come up behind a horse, please call out or ring a bell. If we know you are there we can prepare for you to pass. Talking to the rider is best because then the horse will understand that you are human.
  • Take your time when passing and leave plenty of room. On a road please don’t run right next to a horse or at top speed. If you slow down and give the some room the horses probably won’t even flinch. On a narrow trail, it may be better to wait for a wide spot.
  • If a horse looks scared, then stop and wait. No-one wants to disrupt your run, but no-one wants you to get hurt. Please remember that the average horse weighs more than 1,000 pounds (71 Stone) and has steel shod hooves. Is it worth getting into a rumble with an animal like this?
  • Ultimately, best bet is to make yourself as visible as you can by not lurking in bushes, jumping out from undergrowth etc. Make yourself heard, a cheery ‘good morning, lovely day!’ etc will alert your presence to both the rider, and more importantly the horse. Especially when approaching from the rear.


Thanks for reading. Any comments or additions or key points I may have missed, please let me know.

Comments are closed.