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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23 thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Unpleasant Kind

  1. I also employ the VOG (love that term, by the way) technique–very informative and helpful information to know, especially when emotions may be running high and you need a quick plan of action.

  2. Really good suggestions. Nice to discover your blog! I second calling animal control. When my onleash rat terrier was attacked and mauled, the offleash dog’s owner was contrite, apologized, and paid the considerable vet bills. So I didn’t report the incident. I was sure sorry later after he continued to leave his aggressive dog in his front yard offleash, and we had several near catastrophes later (about which I did call).

  3. We deal with a lot of off leash dogs not only in my neighborhood but also at the parks we take Boomer and Dottie to. What makes it worse is that both dogs can be reactive at times, especially Boomer and then he gets Dottie going. When I’m alone with just the two of them I use the VOG (my voice carries really well so this usually works) but more often than not I’m doing an emergency U-turn.

    Great post, thanks for sharing these tips. I’d like to reblog it here in the next week or so to share with my readers if that’s OK?

  4. You are a brave woman walking two potentially reactive dogs at once! I find walking one exhausting! LOL

    And absolutely feel free to reblog it – thank you!

  5. Great article! Love some of these tips and maybe I will try some of them. Thankfully, my Blueberry is not reactive at all and she will stop and put her head down and stand there in submission until the oncoming dog realizes she’s not a threat and finally goes away. I am like Blueberry – I hate confrontation and am a pacifist but I like the idea of yelling ‘MY DOG IS CONTAGIOUS’ to get the offending owner to actually do something about their dog charging at mine. It never fails – they think it’s funny and laughingly throw a half-hearted “sorry” at me and then become angry when I walk off without acknowledging them at all. Really? I’ve stopped going to more than one park and never walk Blueberry in the neighborhood anymore because of these irresponsible owners. Thankfully, there are enough other places she enjoys going that are mostly free of off leash dogs at least 90% of the time. When I see a dog that is leashed – I am tempted to go up to them and actually thank them for being responsible and obeying the leash laws.

  6. Very good tips. Some I’ve used. Others I wish I had read when a neighbor’s off leash dog kept attacking mine.

    I’ll add one last one that worked for us: After 3 attacks by the same off leash dog, I spoke to an animal control officer. She was really helpful. She visited with the dog’s person for a gentle reminder that it was illegal for her to let her dog run off leash in the city and that she had to keep her dog safe.

    I still see the dog off leash on occasion. But never in my city neighborhood. So it really helped.

  7. We see a fair number of off-leash dogs in our area and while Huffle’s not reactive, it’s still a tense situation to be in.
    About 80% of the small dogs are wound up, and try to attack him, while the larger dogs have all been generally friendly and just too in-his-face. He doesn’t much care but it’s still frustrating to see people not learn that it could be dangerous for one or the other.
    I’d like to report it but since I can’t tell where they live, it’d be difficult to send an animal control officer to speak to them.

  8. Love it! Great tips. I encounter this scenario about 50% of the time my pup and I are out on walks in public leash required areas. My typical verbal response to the owner, whom you pegged perfectly with the “it’s ok he/she is friendly” moronic comment, is that “hey we have both been viciously attacked twice by people who claimed the same thing of their dogs! we are both not okay with unsupervised visits!”. The unfortunate part is that my statement is true.
    Please be cautious that indicating to anyone verbally that your dog might be vicious can put you at risk for legal retribution even if their dog starts an agressive encounter.
    Again, great tips and thanks for sharing!

  9. I have used the umbrella and the treats then finally got a stroller for a fast get away (small dog). I so dislike the he is always so friendly with us to which I always say well imagine that he is friendly with his family, guess what we are not his family and my dog is on a leash guess which of us is breaking the law. My Husband is forever asking me to be quiet but that just isn’t going to happen. The People that let them off leash are always the ones w/o a bag to clean up after the pup.

  10. We live in the woods so what I have done when faced with a Great Pyr (friendly, but huge) while walking my little pit mix (very reactive but not always aggressive) I yelled but it did not stop the advance so I picked up a branch off the ground and kept it back while yelling go home and get your dog to the kid walking him. All the while taking a side angle toward my yard/house. The kid could not control the GP…and he was off leash. There is so much of that in our little neighborhood and yes, the chihuahua/terrier is the worst.

  11. Reblogged this on Adventures of a Dog Mom and commented:
    It seems like off leash dogs are a problem everywhere and more dog owners are encountering them while out on walks with their own pups. So when I saw this post I thought it would be a great one to share. Personally I like to use the VOG (Voice of God) and the Emergency U-Turn, they work best for us. I’m curious what you do when you and your pup run into a dog off leash though. What is your strategy?

  12. She is so adorable:) Lol. Your post is funny and informative. I honestly do not know why a pet parent says, “he is friendly” when the dog is coming straight at you and your dog with body language that says, “I am not friendly”. I am going to start having treats in my pockets, that is a good idea. I have encountered, thankfully, only a few times dogs off leash. None of those times my dogs or theirs got hurt. I think we were fortunate and now I am hyper vigilant because too many pet parents are irresponsible and careless and that can cost my dogs and/or theirs a lot of pain if they were to get in a fight.

  13. I know it is no help in the situation (typist has a reactive dog herself) however that is one of the reasons why we are pushing the yellow ribbon campaign http://www.harringtonspetfood.com/content/UK/info6 the idea is that you attach yellow to your dog to give people a bit of a clue to give your dog some room, not just if your dog is reactive, but if you are training or your dog is unwell, or being assessed by a rescue – the list of reasons are endless! I know it will not cure it but hopefully it may help make a few owners aware that not all dogs are as friendly as their own!

  14. I am SO glad I stumbled across your blog today! My current foster dog is definitely on the reactive side (when on her leash) and my two dogs are as well which makes walking them a military operation as you put it! You have given me some great new tricks which I will inevitable use sooner than later. Thanks!

  15. You made me laugh about 100 times.
    I hate encountering off-leash dogs. It happens all too often.
    With my not dog-friendly foster I once encountered TWO off-leash dogs who approached her abruptly barking. I yelled “Get away” or something and thank god they ran off.
    Once with my less reactive Braylon we had two rude but friendly dogs approach. Even though she loves dogs I didn’t want a “situation” on my hands from her getting unexpectedly rushed so I grabbed her by the collar and faced put her face into my legs until the clueless owners were able to shuffle their dogs away (dogs who had no recall and lost their collars in the process.) I felt stupid for acting so dramatically but I did it to protect her.
    My boy Hades is VERY reactive though friendly and we’ve done some mad U-turns when I’ve seen off-leash dogs.
    Most horrifying my dogs were once attacked by an off-leash dog. No damage done but it was dark and ohhh man was I terrified beyond reason. Eventually my boyfriend kicked the other dog hard and yelled–it finally ran off. It went from my girl to my boy and they each stood up to it. I can’t tell you how sick I felt after. My boyfriend felt bad for kicking it up but the dog literally ran up and started attacking so what else could you do?
    This doesn’t even complete the list of our crazy encounters. My thing I need to learn is how to fake calm in these situations.

  16. Thank you all for so many kind comments! I love knowing that this post was helpful to so many. 🙂

    Emily, faking calm is hard. I can do it until the dog gets close, and then I just get too angry. I know it doesn’t help Inara stay calm, but I can’t help it. Work in progress, LOL.

  17. I loved it! it’s very true, I use many of the techniques you described, but really I usually stick to avoidance otherwise my dog, 80% of times, will get agitated. On rare occasions she would walk past another dog without displaying much interest. I really hate it when another dog insists on approaching us and isn’t taking a hint. Shooing the other dog away, raising voice, growling, that puts my dog in the state of alertness and most of the times she wants to jump in front of me and join the action. What hurts me the most is when people don’t cooperate. Some will see what I am trying to do and will make it easy, others will ignore and force me to retreat.

  18. I think I’ve also developed observational skills around her and now I am 500% aware of my environment when I’m there with my dog. If I don’t do that, she will, she will take on the job of scanning the surroundings in search of other dogs or possible threats.
    I’ve got her used to one command and it works most of the times. If I spot other dog early enough and I think there is a possibility to peacefully walk past them because there is enough space on the pavement, I will start saying ‘keep walking’ in very monotone voice. If she clicks, she will walk in the same manner before she sees the dog, when she spots it but it’s far, when it’s closer, when we’re leveled with another dog and after we walk past it. It’s only after we leave the dog behind that I stop repeating and compliment her. I guess she focuses on my voice and it walks her through the stages – I maintain my voice and stick to the command and she maintains her behaviour, but I need to make sure that it all takes no longer than a minute because her attention span is very short in situations like that.

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