“What should I do when approached by an off-leash dog?”
Fewer things make dog owners more nervous than an off-leash dog approaching them and their on-leash dog. It can be nerve-racking for sure as we aren’t sure what will happen when the two dogs come nose-to-nose.
Chances are, the interaction will be harmless. However, there's also the chance that the interaction escalates into a disagreement that leads to the on-leash dog’s owner having to break up and separate the dogs.
Breaking up a dog fight is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s dangerous! Not only can the dogs get hurt, but the person trying to break it up can also be seriously hurt. Dog’s may need medical attention afterward, but commonly the human does too.
I’m sure no one wants a trip to the ER before work because the morning dog walk went south real quick.
Dog altercations can happen quickly. They're adrenaline-pumping, anxiety-provoking, moments, where decisions and actions need to be taken quickly.
Most of us aren’t prepared for this type of situation.
In the video, I mention a few example solutions to preventing an altercation between your dog and a stranger’s dog. I think prevention and situational awareness are your best bet.
Keep in mind, there is no one perfect solution for this kind of thing.
At best, we should be aware of the potential for off leash dogs coming up to us but we should also plan to have a high degree of situational awareness to prevent any kind of altercation as much as possible.
But wait! It’s not just off leash dogs. Other on-leash dogs and other misinformed dog owners can also be of concern - in fact, I’d say this one is likely more common. Just because the other owner says their dog is friendly does not mean your dog and their dog are ok to interact.
The idea of "socialization" leads folks to wanting to get their dog to “say hi” to other dogs when out and about. This is another topic, but the gist of it is: it’s a good practice to teach your dog how to listen to you in the face of other distractions - not necessarily to interact with said distractions. The full explanation is detailed in this video here.
When you arrive somewhere with your dog you should know:
Where you are. You don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the location, especially since part of having a dog, means visiting new places and exploring. But, you should listen to your gut when it comes to exploring new places. For a deeper understanding on this one read the book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.
What the visibility like. Are you visiting a place with big open fields for as far as you can see, or are you on trails in the woods? Is it city scape where distractions can easily surprise you as you turn the next corner? This also comes back to “knowing where you are.”
Who typically frequents the area. Hey let’s face it, certain types of areas and locations are known to have off leash dogs running around. Also, certain types of areas and locations, while it might not be known, may be likely that there are un-trained off leash dogs nearby.
Not all dogs are bad, but most are NOT under control. If an off leash dog approaches, it's probably best to assume it’s not under control, doesn’t listen to it’s owner, and even if seeming friendly, may still disagree with your dog. A dog’s seemingly genuine curiosity for your dog does not mean you’re good to go.
The other dog’s owner doesn’t really know his or her dog - Even if they think he’s friendly. The friendliest of dogs can surprise their owner by displaying behavior resembling an aggressive tendency. Just because most dogs cuddle up to their owners at home and are known to be the “sweetest dog on the planet” does not mean we don’t still have an animal who is primal in nature and capable of far more than their owner will give them credit for.
The situations where the owners are the most surprised and the most shocked, by their dog's behavior, are situations where they thought they had a friendly dog that didn’t “have an aggressive bone in his body”. That’s not to say dogs are bad. But we have to accept that even friendly dogs are still dogs. It’s in a dog’s nature to also have an uncivilized primal side which is opposite to their “sweet cuddly” side.
The point of this write up is not to make you think you should fear going out with your dog. However, part of going out with our dogs means there's a risk we assume, and we should all be aware of certain risks so that we can prepare for them and/or not be caught off guard by them. This kind of question usually comes up because a dog owner ended up in this situation and didn’t previously give any thought to the fact that it can happen.
Stay safe out there!