Toronto dog walking expert on how to deal with off-leash dog
I am one of those people; when safe, my dog is quite often off-leash. She has never demonstrated any aggression toward another dog and obeys my command without fail. I can walk off-leash with her and when we see another dog, I can confidently use the command ‘leave it’ to prevent her from approaching the other dog. I anticipate the frustration that other dog owners experience when an unwelcome off-leash dog approaches while having their own reactive dog on-leash. It’s a stressful situation for them and I have encountered many dog owners who yell out warnings that their on-leash dog is reactive. In which case, no problem; I put my dog/s leash back on.
But how do we deal with those instances where the owner of the off-leash canine is nowhere in sight; or where their dog does not obey their commands? On occasion, while dog walking in Toronto we have experienced the approach of an off-leash dog where no command was given at all.
Unfortunately, there is no one solution on how to deal with an off-leash dog coming your way. As all dogs are individuals, they all have their own agenda approaching you and your dog. Some may be genuinely friendly, others hesitant, some in protective mode and others literally dangerous.
This is an issue that every dog owner has to deal with throughout their dog’s life.
What are the Dog’s Intentions?
The vast majority of dogs will show their intentions via their body language.
A dog that is being friendly will approach you and your dog with a relaxed, wiggly body and very likely a happy wagging tail. The dog’s movements will be gentle, loose, and relaxed not rigid.
The dog that is in protective mode, protecting his or her house, yard or even his favorite park is protecting its territory as they understand it; they will be barking, going back and forth, moving very quickly.
A dog that is ready to start a fight is usually up and forward in his body language. This dog may move very slowly but will have an intent stare with few blinks; often the hair on its back is raised, ears may be flattened and the tail is rigid.
When I have dogs on-leash and an off-leash dog approaches, the first thing I do is stand in between the off-leash dog and my dog/s; unless I am familiar with the dog or its owner, I do not let off-leash dogs interact with my on-leash dogs. Too many times I have seen a dog that is supposedly friendly and thus harmless according to the owner, turn unfriendly.
Making space in between the off-leash dog and my dog/s lets my dog/s know that I have the situation under control, and they need not react. Once you have done this a few times, your dog will trust you to take control and handle the situation. My dog will actually go behind my legs in this scenario. Yes, my dog is the supposedly scary Rottweiler and she is the one who will not fight back. Although we have had a few close calls in her lifetime with unfriendly dogs wanting to challenge her, each time I have managed to keep her safe. On one quite serious occasion, a much larger dog than my Rottweiler charged in full attack mode, pinning her down, while she cried and did not fight back. I used my purse to get the other dog off of mine and then waved my purse ferociously back and forth, left to right to create space while yelling with a firm and deep-pitched tone ‘NO’ until the other dog was grabbed. These few minutes felt like forever, and thankfully my dog was only shaken up with no major injuries. If a dog approaches and is in attack mode, remember to be the intermediary, keeping a space between your dog and the off-leash dog.
I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to carry a stick or umbrella while walking your dog, but that is really not a practical answer and seems a strange and drastic solution to be burdened with on a day to day basis for something that will but seldom if ever occur. Another suggestion I’ve heard of is to carry spray; but if you do, please carry the citronella spray so you do not injure either dog. If your dog is small and you think a dog is intending to attack, simply pick it up. If your dog is too big to be picked up, and creating space is not working for you, your last resort may be to drop the leash.
Walking your dog should be enjoyable. So unless I know the park very well and the dogs in the neighborhood that frequent it, I avoid places with off-leash dogs and our Toronto dog walkers practice the same method. If you are concerned about off-leash dogs approaching, for the most part, you can usually avoid them by choosing to walk elsewhere. Thinking about how you will react in advance will prepare you to cope with an aggressive scenario with a calm and clear intention. Remember always, that dogs can feel your energy; if you start to freak out, it may very well escalate a situation rather than nullify it. So try to be calm and remember to make space.