What Do You Do If An Off-leash Dog Approaches You While You Are Walking A Dog – How To Stay In Control

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A devoted pet parent, pet store manager and animal shelter volunteer. Read more about me here.

You can never be 100% sure how your dog will react in unfamiliar territory, in the presence of strangers and other dogs, so it is always the best decision to walk them on a leash. It is perfectly fine to feel a bit anxious if a loose dog is approaching your way.

Your mind will start racing with questions like is the dog friendly? Will it bite? Is it astray? Where is his owner? Is he protecting its territory, or he just wants to play for a bit? All those questions are legit, but they can make you edgier and turn the encounter into a nerve-racking experience.

Dogs can sense fear and anxiety, so you might even trigger some bad behavior along the way. So if you ever wondered what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog, the answer is in this article.

Last Updated: October 4th 2023

What Do You Do If An Off-Leash Dog Approaches Your Dog Wag?

what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog

You need to follow a few simple rules every time you see an unfamiliar dog approaches you. Do not get me wrong, being approached by an off-leash dog isn't always a negative interaction, but you must be aware of your dog and how well is he behaving when interacting with the unfamiliar dog.

Every dog is different, and though some of them would just like to come and play, you must be careful in assessing the situation and be prepared for any eventuality. Remember, you and your dog's safety should always be in priority.

Rule One – Choose the right environment to walk your doggo

First thing first, you must realize that leash laws are in place for a reason, and if you want to keep yourself and your doggo safe and sound, you should respect them and always choose the right environment to walk your dog. 

This means that if you want to take your dog out off-leash, you must use designated off-leash areas and parks in your city and avoid messy situations. I get that letting your dog off-leash is a great way to teach your pooch how to socialize with other dogs and the people, but this can be tricky as well.

There is no guarantee that a generally well-behaved off-leash dog won't feel threatened in the presence of another dog.

If you are aware that your dog is not dog-friendly or it gets scared and aggressive easily, you should not walk him in the area designated as an off-leash ground.  In this case, it is your responsibility to leave an area and prevent any possible attack.

Rule Two – Stay calm

This rule is the hardest one since we are all afraid of the situation in which you and your dog can get injured. Remember, the dog responds to your behavior, so the calmer you are, the calmer your dog will be.

You should always be practicing situational awareness with your dog while you are out walking since you need them to be very responsive to your commands. The earlier you spot the dog approaching, the easier you will take control over your dog, and it will be easier to prevent any problems.

Rule Three – Learn to read dog body language

A happy dog with friendly intentions will have a very loose and bouncy body, you will notice how their ears and face are relaxed, and an open panting mouth is always a sign of a friendly doggo. Let's not forget that happy pooches will always sport a relaxed "full-body wag" of the tail.

But even friendly dogs can become unfriendly if your dog reacts defensively. It is always best to avoid any kind of encounter if you are not so sure how your dog will react. You can't be sure if they are healthy or up-to-date on their vaccinations, so it is best to stay away. If the dog is friendly, you will easily keep him away from your doggo with some good old food bribe, so always keep treats by your side.

On the other hand, dogs that are approaching in a more intense way are up to no good in most cases. They will intensely stare at your dog, their closed mouth, ears pointed forward in alert mode, high and tight tail wag, their body will be stiff, and their movements will be preying-like.

That is a dog that you should be worried about. This intense body language means they see your dog as a possible threat and that they are hyper-focused to deal with the threat. In this case, you might need to rely on the block and startle techniques to protect yourself and your doggo from approaching dog.

Rule Four – Move away and place your pooch behind you

The safest bet is to simply walk a different way with your dog if you have time and place, of course. Distract your dog with a treat and force their focus on you as you walk away from the loose dog. Make sure you are keeping an eye on the loose dog to see if he is stalking you.

In case you do not have time nor place to move away from the loose dog, you need to try distracting the approaching dog. Look around for someone who can help you call the dog away. Try to find an easy escape route, and if there is none, then consider a safe place where you can put your dog so that other dogs can't reach him. This will allow you to safely manage the other dog, especially if it is way larger than your tail wager.

Teach your dog to stay calm and on the spot where you put him so you can handle the situation without worrying about him jumping in between you and the approaching dog.

Rule Five – Stop or block the dog's approach

There are a few simple ways you can try to stop an off-leash approaching dog.                                                 

The first thing you can try is to tell the dog in a loud, firm voice to "Go Away!". The next thing is to step forward and put your hand in stop motion – do this only when you are sure that the dog won't attack you. Always use your body to block space and access to your dog and stay like this until you get out of the way of an approaching dog.

Like I already said, food always comes to the rescue, so try to throw treats at the dog to distract him. This will buy you some time to get away with your dog.

Block and startle is the best defensive strategy.  You can use an umbrella, a can of compressed air, or citronella spray in case you are handling an extremely aggressive dog. These startle techniques should be used as a last resort since they are extremely stressful for your own dog as well. Never use a pepper-spray not only because it is inhumane, but it will back towards you and your own dog, and in most cases, it will trigger and intensify the aggressive behavior of a loose dog's.

Rule Six – Don't pick up your dog

Picking up your dog might seem like a logical thing to do when he is in danger, but this can be a good way to deal with the threat only if you can do it slowly and carefully; however, if you move too quickly, this will for sure trigger a dog's prey instincts and he will attack.

That is the main reason why you should avoid picking up your dog and if you must pick up your pup, turn your back to the off-leash dog to hide and minimize the motion as well as chances of triggering an aggressive response.

Rule Seven – How to handle aggression

When the dog begins showing aggressive behaviors such as barking or growling, it means your presence is making him nervous. In some cases, the dogs may start backing away instead of approaching, so if this happens, move away from the dog's sight slowly. Never move towards it since this way, you will, for sure, provoke an attack and make the situation worse.

How To Safely Break Up A Fight Between Dogs

You must be aware that sometimes a fight is inevitable and that you must act calm even when it comes to it. Honestly, it is a very, very bad idea to try to pull them apart by yourself, so always the first lookout for someone who would like to help you.

The safest way to break them apart is that each person will grab one dog's back legs since this will, for sure, startle them, and they will let go. When they let go be prepared to immediately pull them apart. In case they stay clamped onto each other, try shouting at the dogs. If this does not work, try blowing an air horn or whistle. The unusual sound will break their focus. The last resort is to try spraying citronella spray or cold water on them.

I need to remind you once more to try to make an effort to remain calm since your panic or panic caused by bystanders will only fuel their rage.

As I said, the fights are sometimes unavoidable and when they happen, make sure you take your pup to your veterinarian to get all the medical care he needs since you can never know if the dog who attacked him carries some infectious disease.

How do you protect yourself from dogs while walking your dog?

So what should you do if you come across a loose dog while you're out walking your dog?

In short, stay calm and move away from the approaching dog as soon as you can and maintain a safe distance. Suppose he is to close, stop moving, and do not make any eye contact. Ignore him so he will lose interest in you.

Your instinct might tell you to run away but do not move fast, do not try to run since this way; you will trigger him to chase you. Do not try beating him with a stick or anything else since this way; he will, for sure, try to bite you. Do not yell at the dog; instead, use a strong voice and try to tell the dog to back down.

Distract him with food or find something else that he might be interested in chewing, such as a water bottle or some toy. Use the distraction you created to slowly move away. If he still does not back up, protect your torso, your neck, and face with your arms and try looking for someone to help you.

Can I Trust My Dog Off-Leash?

Well, you must consider the possible risks, of course, but never let your dog off-leash if you did not master the basic commands such as:  

  • Loose leash walking   
  • Come heel while on and off the leash
  • Some kind of reliable recall and emergency recall
  • Leave it
  • Drop it
  • Watch me
  • Stay
  • Go to your place

Not only encountering other dogs is a risky situation when walking your dog off-leash. You need to avoid walking your dog without a leash if you know your dog is a car-chaser to avoid car accidents. Also, if your dog is noise-phobic, walking it without a leash is not the smartest idea since every unusual sound might startle him and trigger him to run away.

Some dogs are just too adventurous, and they get carried away, so they might ignore your callings and commands. If you know your fur baby is wanderlust, do not walk him without a leash, instead, buy a longer leash and provide a bit more freedom for him to explore. If you have any doubts, then you and your dog are not ready for off leash walking season.

In The End

what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog

Every dog loves to run, play, and explore the world without being restrained, so you have to understand that some owners do allow their dogs to walk without a leash. However, it is not recommended to let the dog off the leash unless in an enclosed area specifically designed for that activity type.

You have every right to walk your dog without the fear of a off-leash dog attacking or scaring your fur baby, and since not all dog owners think like that, it is only up to you to learn how to protect yourself and your dog from the encounter.

Make sure you always know your surroundings and learn to control your dog regardless of the distractions. Be well prepared to deal with other pets (and people) and bring some kind of protection, so in case you get attacked; you can handle the situation properly.

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About the Author

A devoted pet parent to two lovely creatures – Charlie the Cat and Jimmy the Dog – a full-time assistant pet store manager, and an animal shelter volunteer. I've gathered knowledge about pets for almost a decade, and it all started in a small store called Jack's Pets.

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