Monday , 19 February 2018

How To Deal With Off Leash Dogs

Hi Meira,

 I have a problem that I’m hoping you can help me with. It’s not with my dog, but other dogs that are off leash and run up to us. My little girl can sometimes get scared when dogs come running at us, and to be honest, it scares me too sometimes. I live near Atwater Market and Meeka and I enjoy walks along the canal. There are often many dogs walking and most dogs are on leash. I always keep Meeka on a leash too, but there are often dogs running around with no leash on, and the owners look like they have no control over their dog. After a few run ins with a particular dog, I asked the owner to please keep his big dog (a husky) on leash because he scares my dog. It didn’t really go very well, and the owner refused. I just don’t know what to do and I’m scared that something bad might happen one day. I’m hoping you have some advice for me.

 Janice and Meeka



Hi Janice,

Firstly, let me apologize for all the irresponsible dog owners out there. Off leash dogs running up to other leashed dogs is a real problem, especially in certain parts of the city. I’m sorry that you and Meeka have had to deal with it. A lot of the dogs I work with are dog reactive, and don’t take kindly to being rushed by an off leash dog. I know a lot of owners who’ve had to deal with this, and it often sets the dogs I’m working with back a few steps.


The first thing I do when this happens is to ask the owner to call his dog back. Some can, but they are few and far between. You’re right in that most owners don’t have control over their dogs. When I ask owners to call their dogs back, I often hear, don’t worry he’s friendly!  I don’t care how friendly their dog is though, especially if I’m walking a fearful or reactive dog.


What I might do is tell these owners that my dog is scared, doesn’t like being rushed or isn’t good with other dogs. Sadly, this often just falls on deaf ears, but I do want to give the owners a chance. I have told people though that my dog is sick and is contagious though, and it seems to work very well. I know it’s not true, and I know I’m lying, but this sometimes gets the owner to move quickly to collect their dog before it makes contact with mine. And my priority is keeping my dog safe.



I used to have a pointer who was very dog selective. She was much better at off leash greetings. There were a few occasions where I had to warn people that if their dog came too close, that I’d drop her leash. And I’ve done it. I know it’s not the ideal thing to do, and I wouldn’t recommend everyone do it, but I knew my dog well, and she had an excellent recall. It was what I did whenever we came across an off leash dog.


Some people or trainers suggest throwing a handful of treats on the ground before the approaching dog, but I personally have not found this to be a good tactic. Most dogs are too excited to meet the other dog, and the regular treats we carry often aren’t high enough in value to distract most dogs. I also won’t carry higher value treats as this may just encourage the other dog to come even closer.


I never want to hurt or scare a dog, but with off leash dogs all bets are off. My dog is my priority as is his safety. Sometimes moving out in front of your dog, or moving your dog behind you while telling the other dog to Go Home in a loud voice, along with a point can work. It depends on the other dog though. But it’s what I start with, because I really don’t want to hurt or scare the dog, but I do want it to move away.



Moving my dog behind me serves two services. One, it creates distance between the two dogs, and works at keeping things safer, but it also teaches my dog that I will handle these situations, and that he can trust me to do so. Once your dog is used to being moved behind you, they will trust you more, and may even get behind you before the other dog even gets closer. (I actually put it on cue with my dogs.)


I’ve heard some suggest carrying an air horn of sorts or whistle that can be blown loudly. But the chances are that it would scare my dog as well, and I don’t want to do that either. I want my dog under control. What I do agree with are spray deterrents. I would suggest citronella sprays as opposed to pepper sprays though. Citronella doesn’t hurt the other dog, and is used just to startle and stop another dog, while pepper spray can actually hurt the other dog, which may make it aggressive, and may actually come into contact with your own dog, depending on wind direction.



Another tactic that can be very helpful is to carry an umbrella with you on your walks, and open it suddenly at an approaching off leash dog. This will often startle the other dog, making them back off.


Most of these tactics depend on the off leash dogs owner being nearby and collecting their dog though.


When these tactics don’t work, I use my feet to keep the other dog at bay. I don’t kick the other dog, but I have used my feet to keep them back, and have bounced a dog or two off of my foot. This has only happened to me while walking large dogs, but if I was with a smaller dog I might actually pick him up, depending on the situation, as many dogs will try to jump to get at the other dog, so I don’t always suggest this before evaluating the situation.


Most off leash dogs who rush our dogs are looking to greet and possibly play. Though attacking aggressive dogs are thankfully not the norm, it can happen. It takes experience to know how to read if another dog has aggressive intent or not, so learning about body language can be very helpful.


If I’m with a small dog, I may try to get my dog somewhere else, like over into a fenced yard, on top of the roof of a car, or onto a balcony. If I’m with a larger dog, I usually just drop the leash, as I want my dog to be able to defend itself. Not that I am advocating letting your dog fight, but in some situations, it’s your safest bet.



If your dog has been bitten or hurt, and the owner is unhelpful and just tries to walk away, don’t be shy to ask people nearby to help you get his or her information. A lot of people are helpful, especially when a dog gets hurt. If your dog is fine after an interaction, I would still remind the owner that it is illegal to walk their dog in on leash area in public.


Either way, I would call public security and make a complaint. Leash laws are there for a reason, and no one is exempt.


Hope some of these tips help!


Good luck and Happy Training!




Note: Have you ever encountered an off leash dog rushing your dog, or do you prefer to walk your dog off leash…if so, please feel free to comment below!





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  1. I have a pit bull type dog and I have to walk her with the muzzle. I had other dogs run up to her and I have to talk baby talk to her to keep her excited while the other dog is smelling her. I’m trying to keep calm until the owner comes and takes their dog away from her. It has happened that other dogs do launch at her while she’s wearing her muzzle and I have to put my foot up to push the other dog away from her. I don’t enjoy taking a walk through the park anymore cuz I’m always nervous about all these other dogs off the leash.

  2. Thankfully I don’t experience this much at all. I always have Diesel on a leash, it’s a lot for a dog to take in when another dog just runs up.

  3. Great concern Janice glad you brought it up! Nice recommendations Meira – Thank you.

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