Have you ever been out on a walk with your dog and had an off-leash dog, or dogs, run up to you? This can be a scary situation for humans and for our dogs, especially since our dogs are restrained by the leash, impacting their ability to communicate with the other dog, and they are aware that they are in a vulnerable situation.
Not all dogs are fans of all other dogs, and even if they do like other dogs, they may not like having their space invaded in this situation. It can be a downright dangerous situation sometimes. My own dog was attacked by two loose dogs when we were on a walk last fall, and I know of at least two recent incidents where local dogs were tragically, fatally wounded by loose dogs.
The time to plan for what you will do if loose dogs run up to you on your walk is before that happens. Here are a few things to think about that can help you prepare for this situation:
Try not to panic: Having some strategies for what you will do in this situation will make it much more likely that you will be able to keep your cool in a tense situation.
Be aware of your environment: Throughout your walk, keep your eyes on your dog for changes in their body language, and keep your eyes on the larger environment around you. Keep a general eye out for things that could help you in the unlikely event of a fight or attack. These could be things like sticks (to deter a dog from approaching or to try to break up a fight should one occur), dumpsters, trash cans, cars, etc. – things you could step behind to attempt to get a barrier between you and an approaching dog or things you might use to put a small dog in, or on, in an effort to make them inaccessible.
Learn about dog body language: Spend some time learning about dog body language. In some situations, the safest option may be to keep your voice happy and chill and to let the dogs meet, but in other situations, the safest option will be to try to deter the oncoming dog and to try to prevent interaction (maybe by loudly saying “No!” Or “Go home!”). You will need to be fluent in dog body language to make the best decision you can on the fly.
Carry treats: Carry treats on you. You should have treats on you anyway when you are walking your dog so that you can reinforce desirable behaviors, but you can also use treats to keep a dog from approaching. In many situations, my first strategy is to launch a handful of treats right at the oncoming dog’s head/nose. Throwing anything at the dog may stall it for a moment, and if they figure out there is a pile of yummy treats, it may give you time to get some distance.
Carry a spray deterrent: I carry Spray Shield, a citronella spray deterrent, on my walks, and it has effectively prevented two situations that looked like they were going to go badly for me. Last year, when my dog was attacked, I had spray shield on me but not where I usually carry it, so it took me some time to get to it. Having that spray shield on me ended up being one of several things that prevented that situation from going from bad to worse.
Carry something with you: Carry something with you that you might be able to put between you and an oncoming dog or use to break up a fight. You can carry an umbrella to pop open and use as a shield. However, you would have to practice this ahead of time and teach your dog that the opening of the umbrella was a positive thing and that they should stay behind it, otherwise it could scare your dog, and possibly even make the situation worse. Carry a break stick to break up a fight or a longer stick-type object to put between dogs. If you carry anything like this, you first need to know how to safely use it in the event of an attack.
Carry an extra leash: Having an extra leash may help you be able to restrain the loose dog.
Teach your dog: Skills like “go behind” can be useful in situations where the loose dog has an owner present who looks like they will be coming to get the dog. The more skills your dog has like walking with you when asked, or turning to go in the opposite direction when asked, the easier it will be to get out of the situation quickly and safely.
Seek medical attention if necessary: If your dog is attacked, call your vet as soon as possible. If you are attacked, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Being prepared and having a plan in place can help you handle unexpected encounters with loose dogs while walking your dog. Stay safe