There are countless reasons your dog may not like being rushed by an off-leash dog when he’s on-leash. And senior dogs, those recovering from injuries, and shy pups or fearful dogs may find the attention of off-leash dogs upsetting or overwhelming. Even friendly dogs may not appreciate interacting with another dog in such a socially unequal situation. Leashes can cause a lot of issues.
When you encounter an off-leash dog, keep these things in mind:
So, how can you stop a dog that’s charging you? There are several different strategies, and I choose the method I think will work best for each individual situation.
Dogs who seem happy and bubbly are often easily stopped by asking them to “sit.” If the dog complies, you can toss a handful of treats to him and make your escape while he’s vacuuming them up. Even if he doesn’t listen, toss a handful of treats cat his face (with the intent to startle, not hurt). When he stops to see what hit him, he’ll realize that there’s food on the ground and devote his attention to eating instead of rushing your dog.
This method has worked really well for a few overly exuberant dogs in my neighborhood. It doesn’t stop them from approaching in the future, but it’s the kindest way to give your dog space without the potential fallout that more forceful methods may cause.
Step in between your dog and the oncoming dog and use a body block. Square your shoulders and hips, and hold your hand out like a cop stopping traffic while saying “no,” “stop,” or “stay” in a firm, low voice. Alternatively, you could carry an umbrella and open it in the direction of the rushing dog, which will both startle him and provide a physical and visual barrier. One of my clients painted large eyes on her umbrella, which would pop open explosively at the push of a button. This so startled an aggressive Puggle in her neighborhood that he never again went after her dog.
Spray Shield is a citronella product manufactured by Premier/PetSafe. It is aversive to most dogs without actually harming them, and can be sprayed directly at an oncoming dog. I carry this product on walks and use it to keep back especially determined dogs (including those who mean to attack my dog). Some people have also reported success using compressed air in the same way. Spray Shield has the added benefit of working to stop some dog fights, so if things do get out of hand you have a safer way to break up a fight than trying to forcibly remove one of the combatants.
Not only can pain make some dogs more aggressive, but if the wind gusts the wrong way the spray could end up getting into your or your dog’s face and eyes, leaving you incapacitated with an unknown dog rushing you. Not a good situation to be in! Running away is also generally not advised, as it will just encourage most dogs to chase you. Picking your dog up is usually not a good idea, although in some situations you may decide it’s a calculated risk you’re willing to take. Doing so may put you at greater risk and can intensify the off-leash dog’s interest in your pup.
While cases of truly aggressive dogs intent on bodily harm are rare, they do happen. If your small dog is rushed by an aggressive off-leash dog, you may be able to pick him up and toss him somewhere safer, such as in a nearby garbage can, inside a fenced yard, in the bed of a truck, or on the roof of a car. You can also take advantage of some of these safety options. If you have a bigger dog or if no other options are available, you may need to assess whether your dog would be safer if you dropped the leash so that he can try to get away from the other dog or defend himself.
If the loose dog redirects on you (which is rare, but does happen), protect your head and neck. Spray Shield will stop all but the most aggressive dogs, and generally these dogs are only stopped by physically separating them from their victim. One of my clients carries a walking stick on outings after one of her small dogs was killed by a much larger dog who jumped his fence. While the stick may not have saved her dog, it makes her feel more comfortable to have something to use to keep an aggressive dog back.
While no single method will work in every case, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better able you’ll be to protect your dog. Remember that it is always okay to stand up for your dog. After I sprayed an aggressive shepherd who was charging Layla off-leash, Layla’s reactivity towards other dogs on walks actually decreased significantly. Instead of snarling and lunging at other dogs, she began to put herself behind me when she was charged by an off-leash dog, trusting me to deal with the situation.
Have you or your dog ever been rushed by an off-leash dog? How did you handle this situation? Please share your stories, tips, and questions in the comments below!
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Sara Reusche is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Certified Veterinary Technician who owns Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota. She has worked as a groomer, dog daycare attendant, animal shelter caretaker, adoption counselor, and vet tech. Sara currently writes, speaks, and teaches. Her goal is to help people enjoy their dogs, and she has a special fondness for anxious and reactive dogs.