Spotting an off-leash dog while walking your own dog is a scary thing. Some states (Illinois, for example) have statewide leash laws requiring owners to keep their dogs on a leash when venturing off personal property. Other states (like Nebraska) require leashes only in certain highly populated areas. Unfortunately, all over the country dogs sneak away from home, and many people trust their pup’s behavior enough to forgo the leash altogether. So what should you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you’re walking a dog? Here’s a list of proactive things you can do, and a few things to avoid, to ensure an off-leash encounter goes well.
Do: Stay alert on walks
We know, we know! It’s so easy to pop in earbuds or scroll Instagram during your walks with Polly, but this prevents you from being able to spot threats—both to you and your dog—whether you live in the city or country and especially at night. Be present with your pup and on the lookout for leashless fiends.
Do: Create distance
Put as much distance between you and the off-leash dog as you can. Moving slowly, lead Polly away from the off-leash dog. This is when carrying a small bag of treats comes in handy. Guide your dog away, rewarding her with treats every few steps. Treats are often more compelling than a distant off-leash pup.
Do: Create a barrier
Move to a place where something large stands between you and Polly and the off-leash dog. For instance, try to get behind a car or a food stand. This makes it that much more difficult for the off-leasher to continue pursuit.
Do: Give commands
You’ve gotta be the adult in this situation, even if that means babysitting someone else’s dog. Firmly command the off-leash dog to “sit,” “stay” or “go home,” three common commands that many dogs know.
Do: Strategically pick up your own dog if they’re small
Dogs that are small enough to be picked up may seem like easy rescues, but be sneaky about it. A large off-leash dog may see picking up tiny Polly as an invitation to play or pounce. If you can, turn your back to make this move.
Do: Learn to read dog body language
Uh-oh, the off-leash dog is heading straight for you. Now what? Look for signs of aggression (standing tall with erect ears and a low growl are key indicators, according to the ASPCA, but all dogs are different). Even if the off-leash dog seems friendly (wagging her tail or rolling over for a belly scratch), continue to keep your distance.
Do: Report the incident
Reporting the incident is important because it helps prevent scary, or potentially dangerous, situations from happening again. Leash laws are in place to keep dogs and people safe.
Do not: Panic
An anxious response to an off-leash dog will only indicate to your dog that something is wrong. Remain calm and do everything you can to keep Polly calm too. Once you’ve made good distance, if you see the off-leash dog is following you, have Polly sit or lie down.
Do not: Run or jog away
Think of the off-leash dog as the T. rex in Jurassic Park: The faster you move, the more she’s going to want to catch you. (Not exactly Dr. Alan Grant’s words, but you get the idea.) Slow and steady wins this race, people.
Do not: Rely on dog sprays
There are some sprays on the market meant to keep canines away, but these can backfire big-time if there is a strong wind. (Basically, it can blow back at you and Polly instead of hitting your target.)
Do not: Rely on off-leash owners
If a person is walking their dog without a leash, they are likely doing so because they believe their dog is friendly and playful. This is both irresponsible and often illegal. It’s impossible know how two dogs will react when meeting for the first time. It’s best to handle the situation as though the other owner is not even there (yes, this will be difficult). Basically, don’t trust the wild cards; act based on the information you know to be certain about you and your dog.
Do not: Be a hero
Worst-case scenario, your dogs get into a scuffle. This sucks, but do not be a hero and jump in to save Polly or break it up. You will most certainly become entangled and could easily get bitten. Call around for help and move people away from the area. The safest way to break up a dogfight is by spraying the dogs with water or tossing a large object between them, like a heavy blanket.