What to do about dogs while you’re walking

I recently was enjoying a morning walk on the country roads when I heard a dog barking where no dog ought to have been – I was well surrounded by fields and woods and not a house in sight. Imagining someone decided to get rid of their dog by tying it to a fence, I turned toward the sound and found myself face to face with a pack of feral dogs. That was enough to get my heart rate from ‘pleasantly pumping’ to ‘panicked pounding’.

Which got me to thinking about my upstairs neighbor’s dog who got free one day and spent her afternoon chasing joggers up and down our street, and the german shepherd who lives in a yard with no fence, and the mastiff who, on seeing a person, is set on opening a mastiff-sized hole in his enclosure, and the little poodly mix who broke free from his handler one day to attack us and another day was walking off lead, and the hunting hound hanging around with his fishing buddies who were too occupied with their beer to notice their dog was menacing people and the husky who was ‘very playful’ but actually tracked us with his nose and on another day charged with an intent to bite. I could go on – so could you probably.

With all that in mind, today’s topic:

What to do when a dog approaches, charges, chases, follows or otherwise interrupts your exercise plan by causing you fear or harm.

Here’s an important disclaimer: I have no professional certifications, training, or credibility. What I do have is 3500 miles of walking a year and dozens of dog incidents worth of experience. I have not yet been bitten, but I am not naive enough to think that I never will be. If you have no idea what to do about a dog following you while you’re running, walking, or biking, this is a good place to start. I make no guarantees.

Keeping calm is important – because if you act afraid, you become a target or prey. Your body speaks for you – keep your head up, your shoulders back, your face relaxed, and your knees flexible. Don’t discount this because it sounds too simple. It has worked for me many times.

If the dog is secure – behind a fence or well controlled on a lead, the best thing to do is keep calm and carry on. It’s not a bad idea to keep your eyes open because a dog can be ‘under control’ one second and free like a bird the next.

A dog who is free and defending his territory has a simple goal in mind: to keep you away from it. He will approach you, then stop at a distance and bark. His tail will be up in the air – wagging or not doesn’t matter. You need to show him that a) you mean no harm, b) you aren’t looking for a fight and c) you are powerful and strong and calm. This is the technique I used on the pack of dogs. Stand facing him, like he is with you. Square your shoulders and do everything you can to seem calm. He may bark at you for several minutes, depending on the strength of his territorialism. Wait him out, I promise it will be worth it. Eventually, he will lower his tail, and soon after that, he will turn and walk away. He has given up the fight. stopYou absolutely must wait until he walks away. The other thing he may do is decide that it’s worth the fight. At this point, he will come towards you again rather than turning and walking away.

If a dog approaches you and doesn’t stop at a distance, or stops but then continues the approach, you have to go to step B. You are already in your ‘calm, strong, ready’ stance. Now you must take a step forward. I know you don’t want to, everything is telling you to back up – but backing up will often backfire, telling the dog that continuing to approach you is working to get you to move away. This will lead to a closer, sometimes faster approach. I believe these things are best sorted at a distance. Take that step forward – put your hand or hands forward like a traffic cop signalling ‘stop’ and say something. ‘No’ or ‘Get back’ – it doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you say it like you mean it – calm and firm, not scared and shouty. Like you’d tell your daughter to talk to a stranger on the street who gave her unwanted attention. I have used this with the brown dog who jumps the fence when he sees another dog. His owners were amazed that he stopped and went back. That dog speaks ‘French’ and I said it in English – proving that it doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you mean it. If this works, the dog will lower his tail, and sometimes turn and walk away. Again, it is very important that you wait – stand your ground – until he walks away. If it doesn’t work he will continue and maybe even accelerate his approach; things are about to get physical. I’m sorry, but it does happen.

At the point where a dog ignores your body language and comes into your physical space, there is only one thing to do: defend yourself. Next I will cover defending yourself against a dog attack, as well as what to do when a dog attacks your dog while you’re walking.

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Is that dog dangerous?

Today, I want to tell you about the sorts of dog encounters you’re likely to experience while walking, running or otherwise enjoying your environment. Knowing what sort of dog you’re dealing with will inform you on how best to handle the situation. I will subsequently cover what to do about a loose dog when you’re exercising and defending yourself or your dog from a dog attack.

I have encountered each of these and very happily have managed to avoid injury or even trauma. I hope you can find some useful information to help you manage your environment to successfully complete your fitness plan.

The first type of dog I’ll cover is the ‘lost dog’. This is a dog who ran away from home or was dropped off by people who didn’t want him or some other incident that rendered him homeless and packless. A lost dog is rarely dangerous or aggressive. I have collected 8 such dogs off the street in the past year, and not one of them was remotely aggressive. If anything, they will avoid human contact. If they’ve identified humans as ‘good guys’ they might follow you, but in a way that is clearly ‘following with hope’ and not dangerous in any way. In general you can safely pass by a lost dog if that’s what you want – he won’t bark at you or chase you (but he may follow you). Carry on. Nothing to worry about here.

The second type of dog you might encounter is the dog who has something to defend – either territory or pack members. This dog will either be on or close to his home territory or be with his person or dog companion. This is, perhaps, the most likely dog you will encounter and truthfully, he is the one most likely to actually cause you a problem. If you encounter one or are likely to, you’ll definitely want to read the follow-up articles about how to deal with them.

The third and probably rarest type of dog you may encounter is the feral dog. The feral dog has gone back to nature – he may have found friends and formed a pack. They will have a territory that they consider ‘theirs’ and they will defend that territory if they have to. These dogs are not ‘vicious’ – they are definitely not looking for a fight. But they will engage. On the following page, you’ll find out about my encounter with a pack of feral dogs and how we all got to walk away without injury.

How can you know which type of dog you’re dealing with? Chances are good you already do know – you see a dog walking down the street alone and you’ve never seen him before: most likely a lost dog. You are ‘in nature’ and see a group of dogs without humans around? That’s a feral dog pack. The dog in question is in a populated area, with or without humans, and is barking/chasing/attacking those who come near (near is relative here – I know one dog who considers everything he can see his ‘territory’ and who will jump his fence to chase down a dog 150 meters away in a park) – that’s the one you are most likely to encounter. The domesticated dog defending something he values.

To learn some steps to increase the likelihood of an uneventful encounter, keep reading.

Next up: What to do about dogs while you’re walking

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Are you letting excuses get in the way of your fitness goal?

I have recently relocated, and am finding some very convenient excuses to cut back on my walking routine. Why, when I love to walk and love the results am I easing off? What’s that about?

For me, convenience is a big factor. At my previous abode, we had no outdoor space at all and a dog which meant: walking was not optional regardless of motivation or weather. His bladder doesn’t care that I ate a bunch of candy last night and feel lethargic nor that it’s pouring rain with no sign of stopping. We walked because we had to walk.

Here’s a list of my newly acquired ‘get out of walking’ excuses:

  • There’s an enclosed garden.
  • I don’t know the area and haven’t found a low-traffic or dedicated walking path that is long enough.
  • The dog’s behavior hasn’t suffered from his reduced exercise.
  • I can’t walk to the grocery store because there’s no place to leave the dog. Our old town had many ‘dog parking hooks’ outside the shops and he learned to wait for me there. Here? Nothing. So we drive to the shops.
  • There is television here.

These might not be your excuses – maybe yours are about family demands or lack of sleep or painful feet.

I have realized, as hopefully will you, that I need to know my excuses so that I can overcome them. I can’t change anything about our enclosed garden but I can create a routine – a new routine that overcomes these excuses via inertia. Clearly with so many ‘easy outs’ I need something more written in stone.

My plan is to find a good 5k loop today that is low traffic or dedicated to pedestrians. Luckily I still live in an area with walking trails crisscrossing the country. Once I have a good hour’s loop found, it will be easier for me to overcome the inertia of not ‘having’ to walk. I prefer to walk an area I am familiar with because the familiarity allows me to zone out and meditate. I am not enjoying my walks here because I haven’t found that place yet – I am constantly looking/listening for cars and even thinking about navigation as this new place is unfamiliar. Add to that what seems like an abundance of aggressive dogs (behind fences and gates, but still…it’s not like no dog ever got out of its enclosure when it wanted to) and it’s a recipe for ‘easier to stay home’.

I know that a habit is easier to keep than break and if I allow these excuses to get me out of my habit of walking I will lose all the benefits – including my increased fitness and peace of mind. I don’t want that. So I will overcome the biggest hurdle and try my best to return to the good habit of walking several hours every day.

What are your excuses? How can you help yourself to overcome them? Why is it so hard to do something we enjoy?

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Best shoes for walking in Europe

So, you’re traveling to Europe for the vacation of your dreams and you’re clever enough to know you’ll be needing some comfortable walking shoes. Great!

I happen to have some specialist knowledge here, as I have walked in European cities and hiked in the countryside of several countries. Here’s what you need to know to pick the best walking shoes for Europe.

  • The best walking shoes for Paris are the same as good walking shoes for Rome and shoes for walking London. If you’re planning a hiking trip around the countryside, you’ll want something different.
  • If you want to blend in, you’ll want something dressier than giant white athletic shoes. You probably already know this, since you’re here doing research on shoes for European travel.

So, here’s what we’re looking for: Stylish walking shoes that are good for walking on concrete and cobblestones and won’t draw the undue attention of those who prey on tourists (like pickpockets). You need to ‘blend’. Good European walking shoe styles are oxfords, loafers, or nice sandals.In addition, these must be good shoes for long distance walking and above all, they must be comfortable.


Women’s stylish walking shoes: try Mephisto, Clarks, Aravon, or Rockport. If I were packing a bag right now, I would include these black flats and these mary janes. If you’re the sort who will need dress shoes, you’ll need to pack a third pair of shoes for your European vacation.

Men’s shoes for walking in Europe: Try Keen (loafers), Sperry Top-Sider, or Merrell‘s less athletic looking shoes, like the loafers and oxfords.

Black, navy, or brown works great, though women could likely get away with pewter or cream and men wouldn’t go wrong with a nice tan. It would be best to avoid white or bright colors.

No matter which shoes you choose, wear them in gradually before you go – put at least 15-20 miles on your shoes in gradual steps. Even the best shoes might have a high seam or need a bit of stretching to be truly comfortable – and it’s better to find that out while you’re not treading the stones to the Louvre with a blister. Have fun!

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Preventing stress fractures from walking

If you’re developing a  fitness habit, the last thing you want is an injury like a stress fracture which can put you to the side for a month to 6 weeks. Talk about a habit-breaker.

So, how can you prevent a stress fracture? It’s not too difficult: wear decent footwear and build gradually. While I’m not an advocate of fancy shoes, one of the things fancy athletic shoes offer is cushioning, and since stress fractures are caused by repeated stress, cushioning can help prevent them. Of course, your feet were made for walking, without shoes. But not on cement or uneven rocky surfaces.

I developed my recent stress fracture through a great trifecta of problems: 1. I injured my heels and walked on the balls of my feet. 2. I did this in shoes with very thin soles, and 3. I did it walking on cobblestones. If I’d been walking on dirt or grass or even an asphalt surface, my feet wouldn’t have needed to flex quite so much in response to landing.

The last part of stress fractures is the sudden increase or change of your exercise. If you walk to the car in the driveway every day, it is not practical to suddenly begin walking 10 miles per day. It is more sensible to walk a few miles every day, skip a day, walk 10 miles, skip a day, walk a few miles every day and gradually add distance and duration. Gradually!

Don’t forget in your rush to get in shape that something so simple as rushing your fitness routine can sideline you for long enough that you give up. That is not the recipe for long term fitness! If you begin to develop foot or shin pain, try biking or swimming every other day until the pain subsides, because prevention is better than a cure!

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Real Life: Why preventing injury is better than not

Sometime in December, I buffed my scaly heels with one of those files made for removing scaly skin from your heels. And it worked beautifully. Until 2 days later when my newly smooth heel skin began to split open. Turns out I took off too much and didn’t moisturize enough. That was painful!

That could have been the end, if only I’d taken it seriously or done more than walk around on the balls of my feet – and not just a little. I kept up my 15km per day walking. The result? Stress fractures in my foot. Changing my gait without reducing the amount of walking I did broke my foot. If you came here wondering if you can get stress fractures from long distance walking, the answer is yes. Especially if you don’t take care of your feet.

That could have been the end of it if I had rested and bound up my foot, but then my heels healed and of course the dog doesn’t understand ‘broken foot’ so I kept walking, changing my gait again to accommodate the moderately painful fractured foot. The result? My lower back started to twinge. Back problems are a big no-no for me but my usual answer to a sore back is a good walk or 5.

I stretched through it but still didn’t do anything about the foot fracture and then a few days ago I woke up with rather severe tendonitis in my knee. This is a limiting injury – very painful and impossible to ignore. And if I don’t take care of this, it could cause a chronic or permanent injury. And nothing gets in the way of fitness like a chronic injury – particularly of the knee.

So my new plan is to treat the knee with RICE, and from now on I will take seriously any small injury which causes a change in gait – you can see how a simple thing can spiral out of control.

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Walking for weight loss: real life experience

I have discussed the potential to lose weight by walking previously. The facts are not encouraging – if you want fast weight loss or magic, a 15 minute stroll isn’t going to cut it.

But having recently acquired a dog and doubled my walking, it would be irresponsible to not share the weight loss side effects I’ve achieved.

Prior to getting the dog, I walked approximately 5-7 hours per week. Since getting the dog, I walk 2 hours per day plus an extra hour or two on the weekends. So about 15 hours per week. And in the month since I’ve gotten this dog, I have lost 4 kilos – around 10 pounds. I haven’t changed anything else – still eating the same. Just walking more. I don’t know how long this weight loss will go on – it will certainly level off sometime. But 10 pounds is pretty significant.

Still, who (else) has time to walk for 2 hours every day? Well, I would posit that most of us do – if we’re willing to sacrifice something else.

One option is to get treadmill and combine an hour of walking with your evening tv. They’re even making treadmill desks, which would enable you to walk for several hours without reducing productivity. It should be noted that such desks also require a separate purchase of a treadmill. When walking at your desk, you will not be walking at a high speed, you maintain a slow-moderate pace for an extended period of time. This is a very good technique for people who have joint problems because it’s low impact.

If you have a home office this is an excellent way to keep your fitness level up even though you don’t have extra time. If you work outside the home, consider asking your supervisor to authorize a trial – physical movement is a productivity enhancer, not a distraction. Gather your resources and show her how it will benefit the company. (Fit people don’t take as many sick days, for instance!)

As you know if you’ve been reading for long, I am a big proponent of outdoor walking for all the benefits it offers. But much as I love the outdoors, there’s no denying that it is better to walk whenever and wherever you can rather than get the ‘perfect’ situation.

Another way to put an extra hour of walking into your day is to park 20 minutes from your job site. Obviously, this is only appropriate if the area is safe and walkable – but if you work at a mall, you could easily park at the opposite end to your workplace and traverse the entire mall both to and from, incorporating extra exercise into your schedule with only a small sacrifice. Then you just have to have a brief 20 minute stroll at lunch and presto: you’re walking an extra hour every day.

Be creative! Get moving! You won’t be sorry!

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November, Here comes winter walking weather

Today, I’ll be talking about weather, walking, dogs, shoes and the winter blues aka ‘seasonal affective disorder’. I’m going to try to tie it all together. This is where my life is right now and you write what you know, right?

First up: winter walking footwear. November where I live is a month full of rain. There are moments of sun, but there are still puddles and mud. Having recently acquired a dog, I can no longer wait for the sunny moments to go out for a bit of exercise. In other words, I needed a decent pair of waterproof walking shoes. I don’t like boots, and I wanted something that I could wear around town without people thinking I was going hunting. I settled on the Bogs Rue – a slip on waterproof shoe.

I also considered the Charlot because they’re pretty cute but decided in the end I wanted a shoe rather than a waterproof boot.

Here’s my review: I love them. They are truly waterproof and I cannot stand having wet feet or socks. I have large feet and hammertoes, and these shoes are not going to cause any blisters because there’s plenty of room. Really good choice!

Next: walking, winter, and SAD. My mom can always tell when I’ve not been getting sun in my eyes because I get whiny. I start to moan about the rain and grey. What I’ve discovered is that I can tolerate any amount of rain and grey skies as long as I get 10 or so minutes of sunlight on my face every day. It’s important to note that while getting sun in your eyes is generally perceived as a bad thing, it’s vitally important to get a bit if you suffer from winter depression. You could use a full spectrum light box like this favorite from Philips – they work, and work well. The other option, though, is to get out and get a bit of exercise when the sun is peeking through. It doesn’t take much light to make a palpable difference in your mood. I find 10 minutes of sun with uncovered eyes is enough to keep me going until the solstice. Side note: it is no mystery why humans have celebrated the winter solstice since they figured out what it was.

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Exercise tracking as a motivational tool

Study after study shows that people who wear pedometers increase their activity without  other intervention. I’ll leave the ‘whys’ to them and just take it as a given that if you are given an easy way to track your walking or other exercise, you will incorporate more activity in your daily life.

For the record: most health agencies want all of us to take 10,000 steps every day. It’s considered the minimum for basic health. That counts every step – whether it’s going down the hall, shopping for groceries, or walking through the park. Every step counts but you don’t know how many you’re taking if you don’t count.

Which means that if you’re struggling to stay motivated to complete your new exercise walking program, it might be worth it to invest in a pedometer or other exercise tracking device.

Devices available run the gamut from simple to advanced.

A ‘hip pedometer’ will track your steps only when worn on your hip. You clip it onto a pocket and off you go. The Omron HJ-150 is a straightforward option for under $30. It doesn’t have any fancy add-ons: it tracks your steps each day and resets to zero at midnight.

For around the same price, the HJ-112 will track your steps whether it’s in a vertical or horizontal position.

Still under $30, you can choose a wristwatch style pedometer which also has a heart rate monitor – very useful if your fitness goals include heart rate goals. Reviewers often wish you could save the data from one workout to another (for tracking purposes) but in this case you get what you pay for. The Smart Health Digital Pedometer Heart Rate Watch is a basic pedometer and heart rate monitor worn on the wrist. It doesn’t have any other tricks.

If you want the Rolls Royce of exercise tracking devices, I point you to the Fitbit activity tracker. At nearly $100, it is much more expensive than the other options, but again – you get what you pay for. Fitbit measures your steps no matter if you clip it to your bra or belt or if you carry it in your pocket. It can even count how many stairs you climb! It also wirelessly communicates with your computer so that you can see your fitness activity over time. Further, it monitors sleep which can be very useful if you’re struggling. And if you want to, you can log meals – allowing you to track your food intake. It really has everything needed to revamp your life with as little struggle as possible.

The beauty of walking, as I say all the time is that you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need a gym membership, special shoes, expensive clothes or even a pedometer. You don’t need it. But that doesn’t mean those things are useless – in the case of a pedometer or exercise tracker device, they can be very useful indeed.

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Why you should make SMART walking goals

Pretty much every ‘success’ coach will include some form of goal-setting training. And there’s a good reason – goals work. Humans respond to goals. Coaching yourself to success with your fitness target, therefore, will include goal setting. Here’s the free version of what a success coach will tell you.

Set SMART goals. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time Bound

So your walking goals should meet those criteria. This can take many forms. You might decide you want to ‘walk to the moon’. Taken literally, that’s not realistic – but if you consider that the moon varies between 356,400 km to 406,700 km from Earth, you could shape that into a smart goal. It’s specific. It’s measurable. It’s massive, but achievable. For most of us, it’s realistic. To make it time-bound, you have to set an ending date. I’m just going to say that even if you walk a lot, it’s going to take you around 10 years. Most of us will need a shorter term goal than that.

So maybe you make the goal of walking from coast to coast within a year. For the US, this is generally 3000 terrestrial miles (it’s shorter as the crow flies). That is a big but reasonable goal for one year: you’d need to walk 10 miles per day, taking 65 days off – or walk shorter distances (a bit over 8 miles) every day. Forrest Gump I’m not so I might stretch the date to 18 months.

It’s important to not forget that you have to ‘measure’ your exercise to reach your fitness goal. Exercise tracking can take many forms – you can walk a set path every day, wear a pedometer, or go further and take advantage of the technology available to us. Next time, I’ll be discussing exercise tracking in all its forms to help you decide which tracking method is best for you.


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