Animal Instinct

Bombing the downhill on a crisp fall day, enjoying the smell and the sound of the leaves crunching under my feet. I round the corner of a switchback almost in flight, and then stop dead in my tracks at the sight before me. The perspiration that was already on my forehead seems to intensify. My heart begins to race, my palms to sweat…I look to my left and to my right and see that I have nowhere to go. To many, actually to most, they wouldn’t stop, they wouldn’t be afraid and as much as I try not to be, but I am. The off-leash dog in front of me is probably the sweetest most gentle animal on Earth, but I don’t know that and I don’t know that dog.

I’ve hesitated to write this post for months. Trail runners and dogs are like trail runners and beer! They kind of go hand in hand. Almost every person I know who runs trails has a dog or runs with a dog, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else loves your dog or feels safe when they come upon an unleashed unfamiliar dog on the trail.

Pam running in the Bay Area of California.

Two years ago, I was running in a big organized training run on a very familiar and popular trail in Northern California. I was running with my friend along a wide path that was full of runners, hikers and families all out enjoying their afternoon. Many had dogs on leash.

As I passed one couple with two leashed dogs, I noticed the dog out of the corner of my eye. I have passed tons of leashed and unleashed dogs in my years on the trails, but nothing, nothing prepared me for what was about to happen.

Without warning or provocation, this dog lunged across the path and bit me on my hip and thigh. It happened so fast I didn’t even comprehend what had exactly happened. I faltered and bent over in intense pain and in complete shock. My friend, thankfully, had her wits about her and instantly jumped into action. “Did he just bite you?” she asked, and all I could do was grunt, “Yes, on my hip.

The owners, to be fair were completely shocked, “I can’t believe this! He’s never ever done anything like this before! He’s a sweet dog. Are you okay?” My friend immediately grabbed my phone and took photos of the dog, the people, my bite. She got their phone numbers and gave them mine. She inquired about his recent shots etc.

Running with friends in Placerville, CA.

While all of this was going on, more runners from this organized run were coming up behind us curious as to the commotion on the trail. The dog, the one that had just bitten me, lunged again and this time, his next victim wasn’t as lucky. The dog had bit her forearm, severely. I had to give her my bandana to tourniquet the blood that was flowing. Luckily for all of us, the finish line was only a mile and a half away.

My physical wounds eventually healed, but it took a while and that was probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt (and I have given birth to two kids!), but the mental and emotional trauma that was created on that day, is something that lives on inside of me.

I am not writing this to shame or tell anyone not to run with their dogs. I am animal lover through and through, just ask my husband (if I bring home another animal I may need a new home). I realize that dogs provide comfort and are often used for safety when trail running. I am writing this because I want to make you aware or maybe remind you that not everyone feels safe around your dog. I’m glad it was me instead of a child who encountered that dog because their tiny face would have been eye level with him.

Pam running on the Flume Trail in Tahoe.

I am writing this to remind you that maybe running with your dog on a leash, especially on populated trails, is something to think about and to make sure the leash is the correct size for your dog and the trail you are running on. The dog that bit me was on a leash, but a long leash and as I later found out, not one that was appropriate for that breed of dog.

Even though your dog is considered as family and you think that you know your dog inside and out, they do have minds of their own, and you never know what may spook them. Dogs and most animals for that matter can sense fear and tension, and no matter how hard I try and hide those emotions, I am sure I am exuding it as I pass.

Pam dog sitting for one of her favorite dogs.

Please don’t stop running with your best four-legged running partner but do assume that everyone you encounter on the trail may not be all warm and fuzzy when it comes to your furry friend and that your dog can most definitely sense that. Today when I run, I often stop and move to the side of the trail, just like with horses. I wait until I see the dog’s owner. Sometimes I inquire if the dog is “friendly” and the owner always says yes … I am sure the owner of the dog that bit me did the same until that day two years ago.



Pamela Kropf

Pam is a Tahoe loving Jersey Girl. She moved from the east coast right out of college and has been running all over Northern California ever since. A mother of two, Pam is constantly seeking the balance between being a working mom, a soccer mom, an avid mountain biker’s wife and an ultra runner. If she isn’t eating mountains for breakfast, she’s cooking and sharing the love of being a plant-based athlete to anyone who wants to make the transition. Plant-based for over 24 years, Pam is a Certified Food for Life Instructor, a graduate of Cornell’s Plant-Based Certification program and Rouxbe’s Plant-Based Professional Chef Program. Amazingly, she does find time to sleep. Running trails and single tracks with her Wolfpack is what keeps her sane and grounded.

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14 thoughts on “Animal Instinct”

  1. That’s so terrible!
    My local trail system has a facebook page for trail users which is normally used for trail conditions, maps, pictures, etc, but lately it has featured a heated debate about dogs on leashes on the trails. The trail use rules are clear: dogs must be on a leash no longer than 10 ft. But for some reason, people seem to think it is a suggestion. I am a passionate dog lover but I’ve almost been bitten while running several times, even had a dog chase me!
    Thank you for writing this, it’s something runners need to think about. Even a leashed dog may not be prepared to deal with other trail users.

    • That’s why I hesitated to post/write this … the dog debate is heated and one so many feel so passionately about too. I love dogs, all animals but it is something that people need to be reminded of unfortunately. Thanks for the support and for reading!

  2. I remember seeing you that day. It was a Doberman if I remember correctly. Yikes. I own 2 dawgz 🙂 and run with one of them all the time. They are animals and you never know…

  3. Thank you for this! As the owner of a pit bull who is the sweetest thing in the world – but a giant scaredy cat – afraid of little dogs, I appreciate it. Two reasons… one – many people are scared of my dog – just by sight. I would never inflict him on someone else in that way. We cross to the other side of the street or trail, always on a lead no longer than a foot when people or other dogs are nearby. Two – just because you have a dog – doesn’t mean my dog wants to say hi. People who walk or run with their dog off leash DRIVE ME CRAZY! If I have my dog on an ultra short leash – have moved far from you or am crossing the street to get as far away from your unleashed dog….THAT’S A SIGN. My dog doesn’t want your dog coming over to say hi.

    My dog is super super friendly and the worst thing he will do is put his nose in your crotch and wag his tail – but I am not about to let him acost people in that way. Your dog should never cross my personal space. As I certainly won’t let my dog invade yours.

    I witnessed a dad with a tiny baby in a front body carrier out walking his golden retriever one noonday while the old folks home had residents out walking with their walkers and canes. The golden retriever crossed the street without his owner and jumped up on an elderly man with a walker. Had I not had my dog with me – crossed the street to avoid this situation – I would have taken the owner to task. This dog should not be off leash. Luckily the man was pretty sturdy and didn’t fall, but it was entirely avoidable had the dog been on a leash.

    People are inconsiderate or simply clueless when they don’t properly contain their pet. This is how incidents happen that are regrettable. It always concerns me. Simply because of the breed of my dog. If some Pomeranian off leash comes at my legally leashed dog and my dog bites him… my dog will be the villain – which is nuts.

    • Thanks Ami!!! That’s crazy about the golden retriever! That could have ended so poorly. Wow. I love dog owners like yourself and wish there were more out there. Sometimes I do really think it is a matter of common sense or decency but at the same time, we’re so preoccupied in this world already. Keep being an advocate! I’ve had my eyes opened more and more about pit-bulls from owners like yourself. It’s true, they can easily be labeled the villain when more often than not, it is their owner. 🙁

  4. i am so sorry this happened to you! i was recently backed into a creek by someone with a growling dog. the dog was OFF leash even though trail rules indicate that you need a leash. when i said your dog should be on leash she had some ridiculous response such as “i know”. she failed to understand that i was genuinely scared. even my dog loving friend was QUITE nervous!

  5. Pam, thanks for writing this.

    I’m not a dog person, had some bad experiences growing up, thankfully never bitten. I’m tired of a dogs chasing me on a run with the owner calling the dog back and yelling he’s friendly. When you can’t call your dog back, I’m not comfortable taking your word. Saying he doesn’t bite to me only means he hasn’t bitten yet.
    Wish everyone would be considerate and follow the leash rules.

  6. This message needs to get out more. I do a lot of trail running with my dog but she is ALWAYS on a leash and I pull her in close when we approach others. She’s a rescue and very submissive. We come across unleashed dogs all the time and I am petrified one will attack her. I just don’t understand people who don’t follow the rules! So glad you recovered.

    • Thanks Corrina. I was afraid I’d have a lot of dog people angry with me but the support I’ve received since writing this is proof that I am not alone. Thanks for reading and thanks for being a smart and considerate dog owner! What those dog owners don’t understand is how much danger they are putting their own dogs sometimes whether being attacked by another dog, another animal or god forbid their dog does bite someone … the consequence they will have to pay going forward. Sad on all ends.

  7. Take it from a Letter carrier, EVERYONE says their dogs are friendly but, just as you said, they have a mind of their own. I had been bitten by a dog but, the signs were all there. Red flags everywhere. His hair standing up on his back. Showing his teeth. I asked the owner to keep him inside. She ignored me and the dog came out. She proceeded to say he’ll lick me to death. He circled me for a minute and just as I headed back to my mail truck, he bit me on the ankle. He didn’t break the skin I was ok but, the blindness of this dog owner was shocking! I told her, Ma’am, your dog just bit me.” “Oh my gosh! He’s never done that!” She said. I told her the signs were all there. He didn’t want me there. He was being protective. She smirked at me like the dog had sensed some evil lurking in me and that’s why he bit me! Some people have no control over their dogs. If you aren’t seen as the pack leader in your dog’s eyes, he will not respect your direction and corrections given. I have 2 dogs. I trail run with my larger one but, with a special leash around my waist. I do, on occasion, let her off the leash but, only after she’s gotten tired and relaxes.


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