Handling Loose Dogs.
There you are, walking home with your dog who is very much on-leash and under control when an off-leash dog comes running up to you. Especially for reactive dog owners this is can cause your blood to run cold. It's important to have a plan of action thought through in advance. It with take juggling some spur of the moment decisions and remembering to breath. Here are a few considerations to help you plan for the approach of an off-leash free-running dog:
When you can, Get out of there.
If you don't have to, don't make this off-leash dog any of your business. You have your own dog and your own safety to think about. The moment you sense that the dog across the street or park is actually off-leash start looking for a good exit strategy. If you can't just walk away look for trees, cars, benches or anything else that might help to block your dog from view until the off-leash dog has moved along.
If you see an off leash dog on a city street and it's far enough ahead, You can employ your emergency U-turn. You can review our post on emergency U-turns to get pointers on mastering this safety measure.
Are you cornered?
If you are forced into a confrontation with the off-leash dog...
- Stop and body block. Shorten your leash and step in front of your dog. Lean your body posture forward. Step forcefully to counter the movements of the off-leash dog. Don't give this off-leash dog an easy path to your dog. The forceful posture will often get the dogs attention and cause them to pause and look up. Then..
- Use a calm but assertive tone to shout... "Get Your Dog" or "Call Your Dog". Don't feel bad saying "my dog bites" if it helps bring a sense of urgency to the other owner. Even if their is no other owner, your shouting may elicit the help from a passersby to wrangle or distract the dog to give you and exit opportunity.
- If you are still confronted with the dog you can try leaning your posture forward, stand tall and confidently say "Sit!". Giving a sit to off-leash dogs can often have surprising effects. Alternatively you can say "stop", "stay" or "down". If the dog pauses at all or actually listens to the command you can toss a handful of treats over the dogs head as an attempt to create another exit opportunity.
Safety Note: Throwing treats as a distraction may have actually been your first thought. Although using food as a distraction for the off-leash dog it tends to only be effective in cases where the off-leash dog is actually dog-friendly to begin with. If the off-leash is fixated on your dog and agitated it will then that dog will take treats and will likely ignore them on the ground.
What If a fight breaks out?
Stay calm. If someone is there to help you: Grasp the dogs by the hind legs, lifting as you would a wheelbarrow, rather than reaching for collars or the teeth-end of the dog! Remove fighting dogs from one-another and trade contact information. You may need to create a distraction or interruption before being able to grab the dogs (e.g. air horn, dump water bowls or spray with a water bottle).
If you are in a neighborhood where this happens often you might consider carrying citronella spray and/or a pepper spray like "Direct Stop" by Premier. These kinds of sprays can be a important last resort. Make sure to read the products full warnings and guidelines.
If possible, take pictures of the other dog. Take pictures of any bites and follow up with the other dog owner. Become familiar with local leash laws. Avoid having your dog around other dogs for at least 78 hours to avoid the adrenalin from the fight causing your dog to be triggered in another social interaction. After that, contact your close friends or family who have dogs that your dog likes. Ask them to go on a walk with you or set-up a structured play-date.
Warning: Breaking up a dog fight can be very dangerous to you. These suggestions should be followed at your own risk. Please stay safe.
Dog fights can be as bad or worse then car accidents. Even in the best case scenario, everyone's nerves are left fried. Dog owners left disheartened and scared. Learning how to read canine body language and teaching your dog public safety skills like eye contact can keep you and your pup safe for future walks.
For more info on at-home training programs for leash walking and dog park play contact tuffpuptraining.com.