How to Deal with Wildlife Encounters While Running

Run long enough, whether through a mountainous setting or in your neighborhood, and an aggressive animal will likely cross your path sooner or later.

Here’s the truth. Every year, countless walkers and runners around the world are injured or killed by rampaging wildlife.

That’s why knowing how to react when you come across a wolf, mountain lion, moose, deer, or God forbid, a bear or any other beast is key for both your safety and the animal’s safety.

In today’s article, I’m going to discuss the seven most common animal encounters you’re at risk at as a runner, and how to avoid incurring the animal’s wrath.

1. Dogs

Posing little to no threat to runners, a dog encounter is the most common of all animal encounters.

In a perfect world, off-leash dogs should be well behaved and leave you alone. The owner should be able to regulate the dog’s behavior with ease.

But that’s not always the case. Dogs can also super territorial, defending their turf and acting aggressively. This is especially the case with the untrained, hostile and unsupervised, which can do some serious damage. (Check this story)

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 lunge at 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.

2. Wolf

The possibility of coming across a pack of wild wolves may give you chills down your spine, but attacks on humans are incredibly rare. Such incidents are rare because wolves are very timid and scared of people.

By nature, wolves are pack hunters that cover immense areas of unpopulated land. That’s why if you’re out on your run and spot a wolf, chances it’ll likely bring some friends along.

What’s more?

Wolves are also coursing predators, they dig the chase and will pursue prey on the run. As a runner, that might be you under their radar.

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.

3. Bears

Since most bears are omnivorous, they’d rather munch on berries than a human, but that doesn’t make them less fearsome.

Most bear attacks are a result of the animal feeling threated and behaving in a manner that eliminates the threat.

As a runner, the worst thing you can do is surprise a bear as you come running around the corner, so you’re usually the one at fault when an animal gets scared.

Worst case scenario is to startle a mother bear with cubs as they’re ferociously defendant of their cubs if she thinks you’re a threat.

Mother bears are the culprit behind 70% of all fatal injuries to humans. Lone males on the hunt are risky, too.

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.

4. Snakes

Most of the snakes you’ll encounter are of the harmless variety but not always the case.

There are at least 20 species of venomous snakes in the U.S. alone—one of the most common of these is the infamous rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are super shy and prefer to avoid contact with humans as much as possible.

Snakes are only a danger when harassed or cornered. Otherwise, they want nothing to do with you. Only snakes that get cornered with no escape route that can go on the fence.

Snakes tend to nocturnal creatures, spending the day resting and sunning themselves. They’re most active during spring and early fall.

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.

5.  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 predators.

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.

6. Moose

Moose might be the most dangerous of all farmyard animals. They’re big, tend to be bad-tempered, and you’re better off avoiding them at all times.

Moose are not usually interested in humans unless they feel threatened—that’s when they may charge to protect itself or its calf.

Male moose—also known as bulls –tend to defend their territory furiously, and females may see you as a threat to their calves.

The animal tends to be the most aggressive in the spring—the calving season—and fall—the rutting season.

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.

7. Deer

Sure, deer are timid and take flight when they see humans. They’re rarely aggressive, and also one the most common wildlife sighting for runners.

The animal is timid and takes flight as soon as they spot humans. And rarely aggressive. But when provoked—usually when it feels threatened— a deer attack can do some serious damage.

Deer tend to be most aggressive during mating season—the fall.

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.


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.