Updated: Feb 13, 2021
With all of the recent dog thefts and attacks on walks around the UK recently, I thought I'd write a blog with some ideas of how we can stay safe whilst out and about with our 4 legged best friends. I'm going to be coming at it from a self awareness and self defence basis, as I train in a modern, defence based martial art. In my job, with Amity Pet Care, I find myself constantly risk assessing, and I think we can all agree, if we can prevent an attack from happening, great! A few of my friends from Peak Performance Martial Arts have also added some of their ideas and top tips.
There are a number of things you can carry or wear whilst on a walk. If you make yourself easily visible to others, this may deter attackers, so you can wear a high vis reflective jacket/tabard/running harness, etc. There are lots of personal alarms on the market, which would likely deter an attacker as the sound is ear piercing, as well as referee whistles, as an attacker is less likely to want to stick around if their victim is making a lot of noise and drawing attention to them and the situation! There is Farb criminal identifier spray, which can dye the skin red for a period of time. It's best to have these items easily accessible with our dominant hand. Just be mindful that whatever you buy is legal in the UK, and should an injury occur from any of the above, it could be classed as assault. You could also wear a camera on a body harness to film potential evidence. Paul adds: "Don’t use a phone or headphones as it will distract you from your surroundings", which Steve agrees: "I never wear any if I'm walking."
Another thing I think is important to consider is the footwear we wear for the terrain we'll be walking on. My chiropractor reminded me that closed footwear with laces are the most supportive, but I appreciate that some of the ground, particularly during the wetter months, requires wellies, but just consider if you could run in your choice of footwear!
It's important to think about where we choose to walk. Are there likely to be other people about should you get into trouble, or is it very isolated? Is there good visibility to spot others approaching? Is there good mobile reception? Is it well lit? Paul agrees: "Walk in well lit public places. Don’t go down back street alleyways" and Steve adds: "I would also want to know where the exits are, be it a park or street. Always have an exit whenever possible". Sometimes, we can't avoid walking our dogs before sunrise, or after dark, so I would absolutely advise sticking to residential areas (there are still plenty of amazing scents for our dogs!) with plenty of street lamps in these cases.
COVID19 has obviously made things tricky, but if possible, can you walk with someone from your support bubble, particularly if you're not planning on walking somewhere with lots of houses close by? Attackers want it easy, and more than one person makes their lives harder (trust me, there's a particular drill we do in our martial arts classes with 2 attackers holding padded shields, and it is exhausting!). If you know you would struggle with running away from an attack (although, adrenaline does usually help!), this is another reason to avoid walking alone if possible. I would always advise telling a trusted person where you're going, and update them to confirm you're safe, as they can call for help should they be concerned.
When we arrive at our walking location, it's good to have a scan around at who's there. It's generally obvious if someone's there for a walk with their dog or children, but if you spot someone who's perhaps looking a bit shifty, seems to be waiting around, or watching who's getting out of their cars, likely not dressed appropriately for a walk, and you're questioning their motive for being at that location, it might be safest to drive away, and pick somewhere else. Paul says: "Trust your gut. If something feels dodgy it probably is. Dodgy people will try and hide their face (so if they’re pulling a hood or cap down, staying in shadows)" and Steve adds "People that try to blend in will always stand out. Put it simply, if something feels unnatural about their body language (ie moving to the other side of street to walk on your side for no reason or a tilt of the head) then that to me is generally suspicious". Paul recommends walking on the opposite side of road to groups/people you don’t know.
If you're already out on a walk and you do spot someone who appears to be suspicious, you can give a loud and clear "stay back", or "stop", with your hand up in a fairly universal 'stop' signal. No one should be approaching us during the COVID pandemic, and if they continue approaching and don't listen to your request, you know you need to make a quick decision. Some people may choose to release their dog if they're on a lead if they know they'd be hard for a stranger to catch, or that they would run from the situation, but be very mindful of how close you are to any roads, and also be aware that some dog thief's may try to lure a dog with treats/food, so some people may be better keeping their dog on a lead and keeping them close. It may be easier to scoop up and carry smaller and slower dogs if you're able to run away. I would also work on training a really solid recall will your dog, with added distractions, including things such as other people trying to call them and lure them away-something to build up to! If you do find yourself having to defend yourself, I would always make as much noise with whatever you have on you, to draw as much attention to the situation, and hopefully other walkers will come to assist, if the attacker hasn't already fled. One of the first things we're taught in our martial arts classes is to have a good, solid base for our feet, with our legs roughly shoulder width apart, slightly staggered, making us less likely to lose our balance, as well as ready to be able to run.
Paul advises: "If attacked and running is not an option, go for the throat/eyes/balls/knees. When you attack always follow up. Never just go for a one punch-better to blitz." We can even use our nails (any length of nail works) which can help to gather DNA evidence. Sarah adds: "It depends on the type of grab [ie, if they've got hold of us]. If they are close enough then I would always kick to the knee. Any kind of kick would do". As soon as we see an opportunity, the aim is to make our getaway, so use your attack to buy time. I would highly recommend everyone signs up for some self defence classes, even if you don't fancy attending formal martial arts classes long term (although, they are great fun, and brilliant for upping your fitness game!), as they'll really teach you some effective ways to defend yourself. I hope this has given you some useful ideas of what to look out for, and how to hopefully avoid any worrying situations whilst out with your 4-legged best friend! Stay safe! Laura, Amity Pet Care.