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Trail talk: ‘How to stop a mad dog’

While I don’t own a dog and never have, on many an occasion I have walked large and powerful dogs with family and friends. Sometimes the dog is on the lead, sometimes off. On every occasion the owner, with a sharp and direct call or command, has been able to halt the dog or bring it to heel. However, on hundreds of occasions I have witnessed other owners with little or no control over their charges.

So, how many times have YOU been attacked by a dog while hiking? Certainly Three Points of the Compass has had a few run ins, always when on public land or path. I don’t count those weekend walks where a myriad of dog walkers and their ‘harmless pet’ are encountered. Those times when to the shrill “he’s only playing, he just wants to get to know you” an unwanted dog proceeds to climb up your front, paws spreading liberal amounts of mud over trousers, hip belt, shirt or jacket. That is just annoying. More those occasions when no owner is around and a large and very angry hound runs full pelt toward you. What do you do then?

Cigarette card issued in the 1910's by Ogden's, branch of The Imperial Tobacco Co. (of Great Britain and Ireland) Ltd.

Cigarette card issued c1913 by Ogden’s, branch of The Imperial Tobacco Co. (of Great Britain and Ireland) Ltd.

On a couple of occasions hiking in 2018 I have had to circle, keeping myself facing some furious, slavering, sizeable beast. They didn’t bark, all they wanted to do was to rip me to shreds, it was very very apparent, teeth are bared and snarling is pronounced. I have been very fortunate in having trekking poles to hand and have kept tips to the animal, while circling, keeping myself facing the dog while trying to get further away. None of the animals have been rabid, if they were they wouldn’t suddenly decide to give up. I have had holes ripped in trousers but have not yet been bloodied. I know of some hikers who have been far less fortunate. If the fangs went in, then clubbing the damn animal is about all you can do. There is some lovely advice that you should simply stand calmly with your arms at your sides. I can assure you, if I had done that I would either not be here now or sporting some impressive scars. As to the advice to let it sniff you…

Certainly there is no point in shouting at the dog, that is going to hype it still further. Running is pointless too, any dog can run faster than you. Attempting to stop it getting too close while moving out of its territory promptly is wise. If a dog does latch on then prying the jaws open from the side with the tip of a pole may get it to release, but most dogs have immense strength in their jaws.

Around a century ago, this Ogden’s cigarette card gave sage advice to Boy Scouts and others, stating that staff, walking stick, hat or handkerchief should be held in front, as the dog paws this down this gives “opportunity of disabling him by a kick“. I can imagine the outcry if such advice were circulated widely today. There are a few other ploys that it is worth considering, or being aware of.

This doesn’t help much when some yappy little cur struggles their way below a fence or squeezes under a gate and follows you down the lane, constantly nipping at your ankles. At times like these it is inadvisable to waste time and look to try and film it for evidence, you need your wits about you. There is never an owner around and if there were, the last thing you want to be doing is heading further into the dog’s territory, possibly to meet a larger cousin. Again, time to retreat while cursing quietly, or perhaps not so quietly. While it is the animal that is attacking you, it is the owner who is at fault.

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