Close Encounters of the Unpleasant Kind

Off leash dogs seem to be a big issue for a lot of my friends, but they are especially horrible for those of us with reactive dogs.  I was asked to write about ways to avoid them/fend them off.  Ask and ye shall receive, my friends!

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I often joke that basic trips outside even to go potty are like military operations.  Just for a 2 minute potty break, I put a sturdy collar on Inara; open the door while blocking Inara and look up and down the street to see who/what is moving; snap her cable (the Beast or Monster one that’s made for half-ton dogs) onto her collar and do a quick double-check of the street; release her and then stand on the porch shivering my hiney off as she sashays around the yard looking for the PERFECT place to poop.  And walks?  Oh lord, talk about a mission!  I time them for when there should be less dogs out on the street or in their yards.  I know which yards are more likely to have dogs out.  I know which houses have dogs that sound like they’re going to bust through a window to get to us.  I’m constantly scanning (while acting relaxed for Inara’s sake) for off-leash dogs.  It’s a mission.

But even people without reactive dogs often worry about off-leash dogs.  You have a split second to determine the other dog’s intent and decide how you’re going to deal with it.  What are some options?

  • Avoidance – If the dog is far enough away, turn and go the opposite direction.  Why subject yourself to drama if you can avoid it?
  • Emergency U-Turn – This is similar to avoidance, but generally happens when the dog is closer and you need to make a quick escape.  This is simply a cue for your dog that means, “let’s do a 180 and dash!”  You want to make the cue word for this a word that is likely to automatically come spewing out of your mouth when you turn the corner and see a dog right in your face.  Yes, swear words make excellent Emergency U-Turns cues!

These next few are for when things are going downhill in a big way.  The other dog either kept coming after you turned, or it came out of nowhere and you have no chance to escape.  Some of these options you run the risk of getting injured by placing yourself in between the oncoming dog and your own, so you need to decide which ones you are actually comfortable doing.

  • Throw treats – I’ve never tried this one, but Patricia McConnell recommends throwing a handful of treats at an oncoming dog to distract them and allow you and your dog to slip away.  This might work for a friendly dog – worth a try.  One downside is that the dog may then follow you for more treats.
  • Sit/Stay/Stop – Put your dog a in sit/stay, take a step in front of them and put your hand up in the universal signal for stop, all while bellowing “stop” directly at the dog.  Oftentimes they’ll be so surprised that they actually do stop, allowing you to back away.
  • Distractions/Intimidation – This is where you consider using the citronella spray (Direct Stop is one brand name) or an airhorn or other item to dissuade the oncoming dog.  Like the treats, citronella spray may work for a rude yet friendly dog, but just be sure the wind is not going to blow it back on to you and your dog.  An airhorn will scare the bejeezus out of everybody in the neighborhood, including you and your dog.  Other items?  An umbrella that flys open at the touch of a button.  Point it at the oncoming dog and hit the button.  Good chance of frightening the oncoming dog, and if that doesn’t work, you now have something to try to fend it off with.  A walking stick raised over your head and waved in a threatening manner may ward off a dog.  If you are going to use an umbrella or other physical deterrent, make sure your dog is conditioned to it so he doesn’t freak out, too.  Disclaimer: If the other dog’s clueless owner is in the vicinity, he or she is likely to get very angry at you for these actions because, as we all know, “he’s friendly and just wants to say hi!”  *rolling eyes*
  • VOG – Breaking out the Voice Of God (you know that voice, the one that comes from deep within you where you sound possessed and every living creature in the vicinity flees in terror?  Yeah, that one) and yelling at the other dog to “GO HOME” or something alone those lines.  This works for me 99% of the time and is my go-to move.  Disclaimer:  If the other dog is aggressive, it may anger them more if you become confrontational.
  • The Straddle – This is useful if the other dog is just cluelessly dumb and friendly but rude and your dog will just not handle that well.  Straddle your dog with your legs behind their belly, in front of their haunches, and hold onto the collar or harness.  Keep spinning your dog in a circle so their side (protected by your leg) is closest to the dog.  This keeps the dog out of your dog’s face while still allowing you to keep an eye on what the dog is doing.  You are also able to swipe one of your legs out at the dog to shoo it away if it gets too close.
  • The Ninja – This is the last resort, and this is one where you do risk injury to yourself.  Strongarm your dog behind you on a short leash so they can’t get past you and kick with all your might at the oncoming dog while yelling at it in the VOG.  Yes, you may actually make contact with the dog, though most are quite nimble at avoiding you.  Do this until the dog goes away or somebody comes to help you.

To add insult to injury, so often the idiot owner will be sauntering behind their dog calling out, “it’s okay, he’s friendly!”  Oh my, there are so many responses to this.  The easiest is, “mine’s not!”  You can also try, “my dog is contagious!”  Or on occasion I’ve resorted to, “my dog will eat your dog!”  Subtle?  No, but the guy kicked it into high gear to get his dog.  And yes, they will inevitably get angry at YOU.  Which blows my mind.  Just make sure you know the leash laws in your town so that you can tell them exactly how many laws they are breaking and that you’d be happy to call the police.

If possible and it is safe to do so, try to get a video of the off-leash dog on your cell phone.  This can be helpful as proof when the police are called because you were threatening their widdle fwuffy poopsy doopsy that just wanted to say hi.  If you know which house the dog came from, make a mental note of that for animal control.  “Is it really necessary to call animal control, Liz?”  Yes, it is.  Because if nobody does so the problem is going to keep happening, and the next person may not be as lucky or skilled as you.

There are several options above.  None of them are perfect, and none of them are perfect for every situation.  You need to quickly assess and decide on a course of action.  And you need to decide on a course of action that YOU are comfortable with.  If you aren’t physically capable/willing to put yourself in the midst of it, DON’T.  Figure out what works for you.

Feel free to leave other techniques that have worked for you in the comments section!

On a happier note, I’ll leave you with a photo:

Can't remember where we were going or why she was up front, but she was happy and cute!
Can’t remember where we were going or why she was up front, but she was happy and cute!
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