Off Leash Dogs (A tale of two owners)


Picture this. Someone is on a nice evening walk with their furry friend. The street is quiet, the weather is perfect and they couldn’t feel better about being out in nature and enjoying the walk. They round the corner and see someone talking to a neighbor in the front yard. The next thing they see is that neighbor’s dog come running at them and their pet. We all know how it goes from here. The owner of the off leash dog starts shouting “No Fido! Come Fido! Stop!” and then when that doesn’t work the owner shouts “He’s friendly!”

Of course by this time the off leash dog has made it to the on-leash dog and is barking in his face and generally just being unpleasant. The leashed dog may be barking back by this time, or wrapping up his owner in the leash to avoid the rude dog. Maybe the owner of the on-leash dog tries to get her dog sit and be calm. Inevitably the other owner comes running in shouting things that make no sense like, “naughty Fido, you know better,” which of course is not true at all because if the dog did know better he wouldn’t have done it. By the end, everyone is frustrated and no one is enjoying the pleasant evening anymore.

Does this sound familiar? Which part? Are you the one walking the dog on leash or the one chasing the dog who is supposed to know better? Well, which ever you are, stay tuned and let’s see if we can smooth this whole thing out.

First, I have to make my plea to dog owners who take their dogs off leash knowing their dog won’t stay by them when they see another dog. To you I say, STOP! Stop taking your dog out without a leash just to grab the mail. Stop hoping nothing goes by that catches your dog’s attention. Stop saying “He’s friendly!” Stop making excuses! You know your dog will bolt to bark at other dogs and humans, so be proactive. Use a leash! Even if your dog does just want to go say hi and play when he sees another dog, the other dog and owner don’t know that. Don’t let your dog go up to anyone without that person’s permission. It is the responsible thing to do. In my line of work I see dog-friendly dogs turn into reactive monsters on a leash because of owners who continue to not use a leash when they know their dog is not reliable to voice command. It only takes one or two times of being rushed by an off-leash dog before dogs learn they are not safe on a leash when they see another dog. They know that when they see another dog across the street, it may not stay across the street and so they begin to treat every dog they see as a threat. They whine, pull, or growl the moment a dog comes into view. They want to put up a good offense  because they have had to put up defense in the past. You as an owner have a responsibility to keep your dog on your property and away from passers-by. A leash is cheap and available everywhere. Use it and stop setting your dog and other dogs up to fail.

Now, for those of us who have been bum rushed by an off-leash dog more times than we can count, there is hope. First of all, we have to get past this idea that your on leash dog should sit down and be calm while this is happening. Asking your dog to sit as another dog rushes him is like asking someone to sit and be calm while a mugger mugs them. It is rude behavior. It is stressful to your dog and your dog should not be expected to “take it.”

What your dog needs is to see that you can stop that other dog from getting to him in the first place. This may be easier than you think. I have found that almost all dogs will stop coming into my space if I stand very tall with my head up and chest out, and then say with a firm voice (not angry or hysterical) “OUT.” When I do this, I make a motion with my hand like I am shooing away a fly. Most of the time, the offensive dog will turn around and go home or at very least stay about 10 feet away while it barks. This won’t make you popular with the owner who will be insisting that her dog just wanted to play, but it will go a long way in showing your dog you can protect your space. You must protect your dog. It is more important than not offending the neighbor. If you do not stop that dog from rushing you, your dog will have no choice but to become the one to set the rules and boundaries on the walk and they will do this by reacting to all dogs whether they are on leash or not.

Now once in a while the above method won’t stop an approaching dog. When that happens, there are some other options. First, and most important, stay calm. Always keep your cool so that your dog will do the same. Some people like to carry a small air horn or whistle with them to blow if a dog is invading their space. I think this is fine but I do not recommend mace. Mace can easily backfire and harm you and your dog, leaving you much more vulnerable than you already were. The air horn is a safer way to go.

If the dog does make it to you and there is a fight (this is rare so don’t dwell on it) drop the leash. Your dog needs to be able to protect himself if he gets attacked and you need to be able to step back so you don’t get hurt. Again, this is rare.

Just remember if the dog does make it to you, stay calm. At this point it is also best to stay quiet and relaxed on the leash. Most likely all that will happen is that the dogs will exchange a few barks and or lunges and then it will be over but you must stay calm so as not to escalate the encounter. I also recommend letting Animal Control know about it after the fact. A warning or a ticket serves as a good reminder to owners to leash up their dogs.

And finally, learn to let things go. After you have had a bad encounter it is tempting to let it ruin your walk. Try hard not to let it. Try to deal with the situation in the moment and then let it go and go back to bonding with your dog. The less of an issue you make out of things like this that come up, the less important they will seem to your dog. So after everything is said and done, take a deep breath, pet your pooch and move on.

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