This post may have a funny title, but don’t be too quick to laugh if you’re planning on running as a candidate in a local election. After working on dozens of political campaigns and knocking on tens of thousands of doors, I’ve learned that mean dogs are one of the biggest hazards you will face in the field.
If I’m working as hard as I should be on my door-to-door efforts, then I inevitably get bit by at least one dog over the course of the campaign season. Luckily, none of the bites I’ve suffered have been bad, but I’ve fended off a few dogs that probably would have left me with nasty wounds if they had gotten to me.
When you’re a political candidate whose goal is to visit as many neighborhoods and homes in your community as possible, then you quickly learn what mailmen already know: a lot of people simply don’t keep good tabs on their dogs. Although I’ve found that you’re more likely to get attacked by a dog in bad neighborhoods, I’ve been chased by a canine or two on nicer streets, too.
After you’ve done door-to-door canvassing for a while, you’ll learn how to look for the signs of loose dogs before entering someone’s yard: food and water dishes, chains, dog poop on the lawn. It will become second nature to quickly assess the situation and figure out if the dog is locked safely in the house, or roaming free and looking for someone to take a bite out of.
In recent years, I’ve noticed more and more people have started to install the “invisible fence” type of systems that circle the perimeter of yards and shock dogs if they try to cross the boundaries. These homeowners sometimes erect small yard signs that proclaim the presence of the invisible fence, but it causes more confusion than anything else; when a big dog comes running at you, you’re not sure where the perimeter starts, if it’s working or not, if the dog is wearing its collar, or whether the the invisible fence even exists at all.
Believe it or not, the best thing you can carry with you to fend off mean dogs while you’re out campaigning isn’t pepper spray mace, but a regular clipboard. I can’t tell you how many dogs I’ve fended off with a clipboard, and there’s an art to doing it that you will learn very quickly.
In many cases, simply facing the dog and holding the clipboard out in front of you will keep if from trying to lunge at you. The dog might try to circle around you, but make sure that you move to stay facing the dog and keep the clipboard pointed at its face. All the while, of course, you should be slowly backing away from the dog and out of the yard in question.
If the dog is especially bold and decides to attack anyway, you can offer up the clipboard for it to bite instead of your arm or leg. Each time the dog tries to take a piece out of you, try to get the clipboard in its mouth. I used this technique last year to stop a particularly scary pooch from doing me damage, although it ended up chewing on my clipboard and tearing up plenty of perfectly good campaign fliers.
It’s never a good idea to run from a really big dog unless you see a good place to take shelter within a few steps. Believe me, they will catch you. Besides, turning and running only makes a dog want to chase you even more, and you’ll have better success standing your ground and backing slowly away.
Of course, the best defense against dog bites on the campaign trail is to never go into the bad neighborhoods and suspicious yards in the first place. While winning your election is important, it isn’t worth getting bitten. If you have any doubts about the safety of a particular neighborhood or yard, then don’t go there–it’s that simple.