I don’t speak dog. I have only a rudimentary grasp of canine body language. So when a dog runs at me, I naturally assume that it’s on the attack.

In most societies, the standard greeting is some variant of “hello”. But from time immemorial, dog owners—a distinct subculture—have adhered to their own social conventions. Instead of “hello”, the universal greeting of the dog owner is “Oh don’t worry, he’s friendly”. It doesn’t matter if it’s a yapping Chihuahua, a hulking Saint Bernard or a slavering Bulldog. Every dog is positively cuddly, at least in the eyes of its owner.

I’m usually a fairly calm person. But nothing riles me up like a confrontation with a dog (or its owner). Faced with a beast threatening my top-of-the-food-chain supremacy, I am overcome by some primal instinct. I do my best alpha-dog impression, squaring my shoulders, baring my teeth, raising my hackles and barking a gruff command. This intimidating performance has sent many a dog scurrying back to its owner with its tail between its legs. I’ve even been scolded a few times for being so cruel (“He just wanted to play!”). Sorry but I’ve had some bad experiences.

Even otherwise well-trained dogs can find the lure of a runner or cyclist irresistible. I’ve had my share of encounters with big, scary dogs—Dobermans, German Shepherds and Pit Bulls. But, ironically, the worst encounter was with one of these slobbery, inbred creatures:

Cute and harmless? Think again.

I spotted this chunky pooch waddling along beside it’s owner as I was running. This dog looked so pathetic that it didn’t even register as a threat. So I failed to notice when it started to lumber towards me. It slowly built up steam, stubby legs churning madly. At the last second, I looked up and saw it coming at me full tilt on a collision course.

With the reaction time and fast-twitch muscle of a triathlete, I had no hope of taking evasive action. It rammed my legs and we crashed to the ground in a tangled heap. Covered in scrapes and bruises, I fumed as the owner gave a half-assed apology. My only consolation was that I sort of chokeslammed the dog when I fell. I swear it was accidental… well mostly.

Anyways, it won’t try that shit again soon.

Every dog has its day. The real canine comeuppance came months later. I was running along the waterfront trail in my beloved city of Kingston, when my doggy radar started to ping. I spied a dog streaking towards me across a large field. This time it was a psycho flea bag like this:

A typical dog-runner encounter.

For once, I had plenty of time to react. I stopped, paused my watch, and prepared to do my alpha-dog impression. But man, this dog looked scary… like deranged! Just as I decided that fleeing was the most sensible course of action, I noticed a chicken wire fence hidden in the tall grass. The dog, its maniacal eyes locked on its prey, failed to see the fence. In an instant my grimace of fear became a triumphant smirk. The beast charged headlong into the fence, tumbling tail over snout and becoming entangled in the wire. By the time it extricated itself, all its fight was gone and it retreated meekly to its owner. Chalk one up for the humans.

I’m not particularly sadistic, nor am I an animal hater (I’m veg, remember?). My frustration is mostly directed at dog owners. For every respectful dog owner there is another that values their pet’s rights over those of their fellow humans. They flaunt leash laws inconveniencing, intimidating and endangering folks and, most egregiously, interrupting my training sessions.

Just remember, no dog is harmless.

Beneath the cuteness lurks a killer.