Into the Wild: Tips for Handling Unexpected Animal Encounters on Your Run

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Picture this: you’re out on a run, whether it’s in the midst of towering mountains or just your friendly neighborhood, and suddenly, you find yourself sharing the trail with an unexpected companion—a creature straight out of the wild.

It’s like a scene from a nature documentary coming to life.

But here’s the twist: not all wildlife encounters are the serene moments we see on TV. In fact, every year, adventurers and joggers alike find themselves face-to-face with nature’s untamed side, and the results can be downright dangerous.

So, here’s the bottom line: knowing how to react when you’re suddenly sharing your running path with a wolf, a mountain lion, a majestic moose, a graceful deer, or—let’s face it—the dreaded bear, is not just a matter of personal safety, but it’s also about respecting the boundaries of the animal kingdom.

In this article, we’re diving deep into the seven most common animal encounters that might just find their way into your running journey. But hold on tight, because it’s not just about survival tactics—it’s about coexisting in harmony. It’s about understanding the cues and the behaviors, learning how to navigate the fine line between awe and danger. Whether it’s avoiding a showdown with a determined deer or steering clear of a curious bear, these are the stories that will equip you with the knowledge you need to outwit and outmaneuver nature’s most magnificent inhabitants.

Ready? Let’s get started.

  1. Dogs

Dog encounters are the most common tale in the wild world of running.

In an ideal world, those off-leash dogs would be a model of good behavior, giving you a friendly nod and carrying on with their own business. The owner would have them on a leash, ready to dial down the excitement when needed. But, alas, the world isn’t always perfect.

You see, dogs can be a bit like actors on a stage. Sometimes they’re just there, minding their own business. Other times, they go full-blown drama queen, defending their turf like it’s the grand finale of a blockbuster movie. And guess what? It’s not always the well-mannered ones causing the ruckus.

When a dog is untrained, hostile, or without proper supervision, things can get real interesting—though not in a good way. Suddenly, what could have been a delightful encounter becomes a bit more intense, with the potential for some not-so-pleasant consequences.

So, here’s the reality check: while most dog encounters might be harmless and even enjoyable, it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected.

Whether you’re greeted with wagging tails or a more defensive stance, knowing how to navigate these encounters is like having a map in the wild world of running.

Warning signs:

  • Barging through doors
  • Blocking your path
  • Stopping eating when the approach
  • Becoming very still and ridge
  • Growling and showing teeth
  • Lunging forward or charging at you with no contact

How To Approach Them

  • Avoid eye contact. Otherwise, you’re asking the dog to lungeat you.
  • Stay calm. Show no signs of fear since dogs sense that.
  • Stop running, and stand tall. Do not make any sudden movements can awaken the canine chase instinct
  • Do not stick out an open hand nor jump up and down excitedly.
  • Stand sideways while keeping the dog in your peripheral vision.
  1. Wolf

Just the thought of stumbling upon a pack of wolves can send shivers down your spine. But hold on to your running shoes, because it’s time to debunk some myths and uncover the truth behind these enigmatic hunters.

First off, let’s address the elephant—or rather, the wolf—in the room. The idea of being attacked by a wild wolf might make for a gripping story, but the reality is quite different. In the real world, incidents of wolf attacks on humans are about as rare.

Here’s the scoop: wolves are inherently timid and, dare I say, a little bit scared of humans. Imagine them as the introverted party guests, preferring the quiet corners to the dance floor. Their natural instinct is to avoid human interaction, and they do their best to steer clear of our bustling world.

And here’s another twist in the tale. Wolves are like the ultimate road trippers, covering vast expanses of unpopulated land. They’re like the adventurers of the animal kingdom, exploring the wilds and keeping their distance from civilization.

But wait, there’s more. Wolves have a hunting strategy that’s worthy of a thriller movie. They’re like the ultimate chase enthusiasts, loving the thrill of the pursuit. When they lock onto prey, they’re relentless in their pursuit, running like the wind. And guess what? As a runner, you might just fit the bill for their idea of a “fast food” option.

But here’s the silver lining: even though these predators have the skills to chase you down, they’d rather not. They prefer the buffet of wildlife that the great outdoors offers, and human encounters aren’t on their menu..

Warning signs:

  • Bristling its pelt, appearing bigger and more threatening
  • Ears getting erect
  • Crouching backward and getting ready to pound
  • Making a wild, angry expression
  • Curling back the lips to expose the fangs and gums

How To Approach

  • Shout at the wolves as loud as you can
  • Toss branches and rocks at the wolves if you can do without looking vulnerable
  • Try raising your shirt or jack above your head to make yourself appear bigger.
  • Use strong body posture
  • Back away quietly if you see a fold before it sees you.
  • Avoid eye contact, but don’t look weak. A wolf sees eye contact as a challenge.
  • Do not run. You’re not fast enough.
  • Wave your arms to appear bigger. Stand tall and appear aggressive.
  • If attacked, keep the wolf away from your neck and head. Go for the nose and eyes.
  1. Bears

Bears are like the heavyweight champions of the wilderness, inspiring both awe and caution. Just like us, they’ve got their preferences when it comes to food, and berries often win the top spot on their menu.

But let’s set the record straight: while bears might have a soft spot for berries, they’re not to be underestimated. They’ve got a fearsome reputation for a reason.

Bear attacks, when they do happen, are rarely an act of aggression for the sake of aggression. Instead, they’re more like the bear’s version of self-defense. Imagine you’re just minding your own business, enjoying a peaceful day, and suddenly, a human-shaped intruder bursts onto the scene. It’s like someone crashing your quiet dinner party and demanding you share your berries.

Here’s the catch: as a runner, the ball’s in your court when it comes to bear encounters. Sneaking up on a bear is like flipping on a surprise party with fireworks and confetti—it’s not the kind of surprise they enjoy. If you suddenly appear around a corner without so much as a “Hey, I’m here,” you’re effectively the one scaring the living daylights out of them.

But here’s where things can get really interesting—startling a mother bear with cubs. Suddenly, you’re not just an unexpected guest; you’re a potential threat to her family. And let’s be real, no one messes with a mama bear when her cubs are involved. Mother bears are responsible for a whopping 70% of fatal injuries to humans. It’s like the ultimate mama bear showdown.

And it’s not just the moms who can be a bit dicey; lone male bears on the hunt are a risk too. It’s like encountering a solo adventurer who’s not in the mood for company—except his idea of “company” might involve a snack-sized human.

Warning Signs

  • Bear appearing confrontational, as in, standing tall, grunting, etc.
  • Swatting the ground or surrounding vegetation with the front paw
  • Lunging or bluff charging toward you
  • Having the ears flatted against their head

How To Approach

  • Keep your ears open so you can hear a bear scrabbling around in the bushes.
  • Make lots of noise
  • Shout at it, so the bear gets that you’re human, and not prey.
  • If you see cubs, sneak away quietly and immediately.
  • If you see the bear and it doesn’t see you, stay calm and retreat slowly and silently.
  • Do not climb a tree. Most bears are better climbers than you.
  • Throw things at the bear, showing them that you’re no easy prey.
  • Have bear spray on so you can grab it quickly, and starts spraying when the aggressive bear is 30 to 40 feet away.
  • If attacked, drop to the ground and play. Protect your face with your formats and cover the back of your neck with your hands.
  1. Snakes

Just the thought of crossing paths with a snake can send a shiver down your spine, conjuring up images of slithering danger. But let’s unravel the truth behind these fascinating creatures and clear up a few misconceptions.

First things first: most of the snakes you’ll encounter are like the quiet neighbors next door, harmless and just going about their business. But, as with any story, there’s always a twist. In the United States alone, there’s a roster of about 20 species of venomous snakes.

Enter the rattlesnake—the star of many a cautionary tale. Despite its reputation, this snake isn’t exactly eager to tangle with humans. In fact, it’s a bit of a wallflower, preferring to steer clear of us whenever possible.

And here’s the thing about snakes: they’re not villains in this story. They’re more like misunderstood loners. Snakes only become a danger when they feel cornered, harassed, or backed into a tight spot. It’s like they’re saying, “I didn’t ask for this spotlight; I just want to live my snake life in peace.” They’re not the villains who jump out from under beds; they’re just creatures with their own rhythm and rhyme.

Imagine a snake’s schedule like that of a nocturnal artist, preferring to spend the day resting and soaking up the sun. They’re like the rock stars who come alive when the sun sets, ready to perform under the cover of darkness.

And if you’re thinking of a snake encounter, spring and early fall might just be the time when they’re in the spotlight. It’s like their concert season, and they’re making sure to hit all the high notes.

The Warning Signs

  • Hissing
  • Attempting to escape
  • Mock striking
  • Snake positioning itself to look like an S shape.
  • Retraction of the head or tail
  • Hiding the head
  • Watching you and following your every movement. You become the focus of the snake.

How To Approach

  • Watch where you’re putting your feet and hands, especially when running over a log or climbing over boulders.
  • If you see a snake on trail or road you’re running, change your course. Stop and run in the other direction if you have to.
  • Do not provoke the snake in any way.
  • When attacked, stay calm and seek medical care ASAP.
  1. Mountain Lions

Also known as a cougar or panther, and weighing between 100 to 180 pounds, mountain lions are notoriously stealthy, and at times deadly


Mountain lions require cover to stalk their prey—so you probably won’t notice them until it’s too late.

Typically, mountain lions prey on mammals, such as raccoons, deer, and beaver. In some cases, they may stalk humans as prey.

Roughly 10000 mountain lions are believed to inhabit the Western U.S. alone. You’re likely to encounter one in the late spring and summer when young mountain lions become independent from their mothers and drift widely looking for unclaimed territory

Warning Signs

  • Crouching
  • Stalking, especially when closer than 50 yards away.
  • Creeping, trying to remain unseen as they move quietly toward their prey.
  • When attacking, mountain lion usually goes for the neck and shoulders with their front paws.

How to Approach

  • Always give the animal an avenue to escape
  • Keep your eyes and ear open.
  • Raise your arms slowly and open your jacket. Be loud by yelling and banging rocks together.
  • Make yourself appear as big and intimidating as possible.
  • Pick up a branch and wave it around, or throw at the animal to show them that you’re no easy prey.
  • Do not run. Again, you’re not the fastest animal here.
  • Do not bend or crouch down.
  • Talk to it in a calm, but firm voice, so it realizes that you’re not prey.
  • If the lion advanced, throw items and keep yelling at it.
  • If attacked, fight back and protect your neck and throat.
  1. Moose

You’re out on a run, surrounded by the beauty of nature, and suddenly, there it is—a moose, standing tall and unyielding. While they might resemble farmyard animals, moose are a whole different breed. They’re like the grumpy neighbors who don’t take kindly to unwanted visitors.

Here’s the scoop: moose are big, they’re bold, and they’ve got tempers that can rival a thunderstorm. It’s like they’ve got a “do not disturb” sign hanging around their necks. While they might not be interested in humans for casual chitchat, they’re all ears when it comes to self-defense.

Think of it this way: moose are the ultimate protectors of their personal space. If they sense even a hint of threat, they’re not afraid to charge like a bull in a china shop. And let’s face it, when a moose charges, it’s like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. So, it’s not about picking a fight—it’s about ensuring that you don’t unintentionally trigger a reaction.

Now, let’s talk about the bulls—the alpha males of the moose world. They’re like the guardians of their territory, ready to defend it like knights in a medieval tale. And the ladies? Well, they’ve got their own version of vigilance. Imagine it’s like a fierce mama bear, except in this case, it’s a mama moose who sees you as a potential threat to her calf.

But wait, there’s more to the story. Spring and fall—the seasons of renewal and romance—are also the times when moose are at their most unpredictable.

Spring brings the calving season, and fall marks the rutting season—the moose version of a love story. These are the times when their instincts are at their peak, and their behavior can be, well, rather interesting.

Warning Signs

  • Broadside display. This is the moose trying to show you how big it is.
  • Moose starts moving its ears, smacking its lips and raising its hair
  • Head tossing
  • Urinating
  • Pawing the and horning with the ground with its forefoot.
  • Rasing the long hairs on their hump
  • Laying their ears back
  • Licking their lip

How to approach

  • Give the animal space
  • If it charges, run away. They usually drop the chase after a few strides.
  • If a moose attacks, head for the fence or climb a tree nearby.
  1. Deer

Let’s dive into the world of deer—a creature that often graces our paths with its gentle presence. These elegant beings might seem like they belong to the realm of fairy tales, but they’re very much a part of our natural world.

Think of deer as the shy performers in the theater of the wild—when the spotlight’s on them, they’d rather make a hasty retreat than take a bow. They’re like the forest’s own version of introverts, more interested in fading into the background than stealing the show.

But hold on, because every story has its twist. While deer are generally as non-aggressive, they’re not to be underestimated. Just like anyone, they’ve got their limits, and when pushed, they can react in unexpected ways. Imagine it’s like that introvert who’s had enough small talk and suddenly speaks up.

Deer attacks might not be common, but they’re not unheard of. When a deer feels threatened, their natural instincts can kick in, and that’s when things can take a surprising turn. In those rare moments, a deer attack can indeed cause serious harm, like a character breaking free from their script and taking on a new role.

Warning Signs

  • Deer approaching you while making a loud noise in your direction
  • Changing  its stance and ear posture
  • Stomping its feet or huffing

How To Approach

  • Do not get too close to one
  • See the deer as early as possible to avoid a collision
  • Be aware. Keep a long sight distance down the road or trail.
  • When attacked, climb a tree.

Handling Unexpected Animal Encounters on Your Run – The Conclusion

Trail running, or any type of running for that matter,  is one of the greatest pleasures of being a runner.

All in all, awareness and attention are your best defense against an unwanted encounter with wildlife.

When it comes to preventing animal attacks and staying out of harm’s way, the best thing you can do is to see the animal before it notices you.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.

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