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How to Handle Encounters With An Off Leash Dog

All dogs will bite when provoked.  Some dogs like to chase and bite; it’s part of their prey drive.  Usually that can be directed toward chasing and “biting” a ball or frisbee.  But when prey drive kicks in and the dog is off leash, that’s a potentially dangerous situation.

In a previous blog we talked about why all dogs should be on leash when in public.  Many times owners think their dog will stay in their yard while the owner is doing yard work or going to dump the trash, etc.  But giving the dog a moment of “freedom” could literally come back to bite the owner.

Imagine you’re out walking your dog on leash on a nice sunny morning when out of nowhere comes a dog barking, snarling, and charging at you and your dog.  What do you do? What should you do?

We can always make a plan about what we think we would do when this happens but when the adrenaline kicks in; the best made plans sometimes go out the window.

1.      Try to stay calm.  I know what’s easier said than done but dogs can sense our emotions to take a deep breath and stay composed, even if your heart starts racing.

2.      Look at the other dog’s body language.  Does it have a loose, wiggly body and wagging tail? Or are is baring its teeth, with a stiff body, ears back, and growling?

3.      If I see the dog approaching and even if it seems friendly at first, I create space by making the leash short and moving the dog I’m walking behind me.  I use my body as a shield between the two dogs.

4.      Then I put my hand out like a stop sign and start yelling, whether it’s to tell the dog in a loud voice to “go home” or yelling for the owner to “come get your dog”.  Sometime that’s enough to send the dog running in the opposite direction or the owner appears to remove their dog.

Some people will carry something with them to ward off unfriendly dogs but those things can backfire and if someone else walks the dog that one time, they may forget to take it with them.

1.      Walking stick.  That’s good for keeping your balance but are you going to hit the other dog with it? You might miss and hit your dog instead.

2.     Umbrella.  It’s a good thought but if you open the umbrella, it could potentially scare your dog.

3.     Mace or some kind of chemical.  That depends on wind direction.  If the wind is blowing toward you, the chemical could hurt you or your dog and have no affect on the other dog.

4.     Whistle.  It might create a sound loud enough to scare the other dog but it could also scare your dog.

5.     Treats.  If you carry treats, you could take a handful and toss them behind or away from the dog so you can retreat to a safe place while the other dog is eating.  But sometimes the other dog is more interested in getting to your dog that it is eating the treats.

Some things NOT to do when you’re charged with an oncoming dog. 

1.      Don’t drop the leash.  Your dog will run with the other dog chasing it. You won’t know where they’re going and they could dart into traffic or become lost.

2.     Don’t try to separate the dogs yourself.  If the dogs get into a physical altercation, you could be bitten-even by your own dog-if one of the dogs redirects onto you.

3.     Don’t pick up your dog.  This is controversial technique because with a small dog we want to get it out of harm’s way and think picking it up will be easier.  However, the other dog may try to jump onto you and/or knock you down while trying to get at your dog, causing you injury.


Remember, every situation is different, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to handling encounters with off-leash dogs. Trust your instincts, prioritize safety, and don't hesitate to seek help if needed.  And if you encounter off leash dogs frequently in your neighborhood, consider reporting them to the authorities to keep pets and humans safe.

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