You’ve probably been out walking your dog, minding your own business, when someone’s off-leash dog charges you. While this is often annoying, it’s usually no big deal as long as both dogs are friendly. But what if your dog isn’t friendly? Or, what if the approaching dog isn’t friendly?
The following are some tips on possible ways to handle an approaching dog, keeping in mind that every situation is different.
What not to do when you see an off-leash dog
If you see an approaching dog, don’t run in the opposite direction.
“Running will often cause a dog to chase you and can create more arousal and aggression in the dog,” said dog trainer Robin Bennett of The Dog Gurus.
Another thing to avoid is screaming, because this will alarm most dogs, said dog trainer Anthony Newman of Calm Energy Dog Training.
He said to try your best to remain calm without being tense. Instead of imagining the worst-case scenario, try to imagine success.
One of the most harmful things you can do in a tense dog situation is to get tense yourself, he said. If you’re imagining a dog attack, you’re far more likely to make one happen.
What you should do instead
Most dogs are friendly, but these are some tips to keep in mind just to be on the safe side.
The most important thing to do when you see an approaching dog is remain in control of your own dog, Newman said. Do whatever you normally do to get him to be calm. Ideally, your dog will look at you and walk calmly on a loose leash behind you.
He suggested dog owners should turn slightly away from an approaching dog and calmly keep walking. The goal is to appear both non-threatening and non-fearful.
He said to avoid staring at the dog while keeping the dog in your peripheral vision. Sometimes he will ease the tension by making “jolly” noises like “Good boy!”
Bennett also recommended slowly walking away from an approaching dog. She said she tries to get her dog to face away from the oncoming dog if possible.
Yelling “Sit!” or “Go home!” at the approaching dog can be effective, because the average dog will leave you alone if you are believable, she said.
I liked this advice, because as a dog walker, one of the things I do is yell “No!” to an approaching dog, especially if the dog I’m walking happens to be aggressive. This typically stops the dog in her tracks for at least a second or two, which breaks the initial tension and gives me time to “re-group.”
Bennett also recommended carrying dog treats on walks so you can throw a big handful at an approaching dog in the hope that he will stop to eat the treats while you move away. She also uses treats to keep her own dog focused.
Some tips to protect yourself
If dogs seem to bother you regularly, she recommended carrying an automatic umbrella that opens with a button.
“Often, having an umbrella open suddenly into the face of an oncoming dog will scare the dog enough to disorient him and cause him to retreat,” she said. Obviously, you want to make sure your own dog is used to being on the other side of the umbrella first!
Another option Bennett suggested is to carry Spray Shield animal deterrent, which is a citronella spray. The downside is the dog has to be really close, but “if you wind up trying to break up a dog fight, this might help.”
In a situation where you are actually attacked or you feel there could be an attack, Newman said to use whatever tools you have for protection, whether it’s a book, a bag, a shoe or even a leash.
Luckily, the majority of off-leash dogs are not looking for trouble, but it’s best to think about how you will handle off-leash dogs, especially if they make your own dog uncomfortable.