Set the scene…you are walking your dog, interacting or playing, your dog might even be on lead, or at the very least is engaged with you and not looking to meet and greet…in the distance a loose dog approaches, directly, attempting to interact with your dog, who is not really in to it…
Regardless of how this interaction goes, it’s not appropriate behaviour.
You are, I am sure, a ‘socialised’ person. This means that you can pass other people without having to approach them, attempt to interact or touch them. Strangers running up to strangers, attempting contact, especially if one person is clearly not looking to interact, would be weird and concerning human behaviour.
Same goes for dogs. A socialised dog doesn’t need to greet every dog, doesn’t get excited by the presence of other dogs, and can read another dog’s signalling without having to get right up in their face.
This negatively impacts a dog’s comfort levels and behaviour, and is probably not great for either dog involved.
Dealing with Uninvited Approaches
Not only does this behaviour present risks for your dog’s safety, but also yours. Lots of your first reactions may be borne out of panic, and that may not be helpful.
Picking up your dog, trying to move them with the lead, or even putting your body between them and the interloper, may increase the tension or arousal in the situation leading to an escalation in their behaviour.
When your dog is at risk, you might be tempted to put yourself in harm’s way, to attempt to prevent your dog being injured or scared.
I get that. As much as I might advise you don’t do that, to be honest, I am going to do whatever I need to do to protect my dog from inappropriate contact with another dog who may potentially cause injury or stress.
- picking up your dog may cause the other dog’s arousal to increase, pursuing your dog up into your arms. This may lead to a more persistent ‘attack’, with the dog frustrated and trying to reach your dog, and may lead to injury to you as the other dog attempts to get to your dog, or re-directs onto you.
In a panicked state and being lifted and losing control, it’s also possible that your own dog will re-direct on you or catch you with his teeth or claws.
If you must pick your dog up, try to tuck him inside your jacket and turn your back on the other dog immediately.
It might be possible to put your own dog up on to something high such as a log, a rock or even on a vehicle.
Regardless, keep your balance, and possibly implement some of our other recommendations to reduce the impact on you, and your dog.
- restraining your dog on lead may offer some protection in that your dog doesn’t have the opportunity to go after another dog, but dogs on lead are more likely to react and aggress when they feel under pressure.
But when another dog comes close, we can feel the temptation to tighten the lead, and even use it to move our dog out of harm’s way.
Doing so may cause your dog’s reaction to escalate faster and increase in intensity.
If your dog is in an interaction with the other dog, them being moved suddenly and stiffly may cause the interaction to go south fast.
Moving them by the lead, may even cause greater damage and injury should there be a bite.
Your dog being on lead may very well contribute to an interaction becoming more tense, more serious, leading to more harm.
Dropping the lead and allowing your dog to move and escape may well offer greater protection as your dog can move faster without you, but may put your dog at greater risk in other ways. Your dog running may even increase another dog’s interest, leading to intense chasing behaviour.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, loosening the lead, may be your best bet, especially if the other dog’s intentions are social, albeit obnoxious.
Keep the lead loose, stay at your dog’s shoulder, and move with your dog as he moves or circles may help. Stay calm, hum or sing softly to yourself (“Happy Birthday” is a great one to sing as it’s hard to be tense during that one!), and be ready to move.
- you moving between your dog and the approaching dog is often a go-to move…indeed I have done it myself. Sometimes this can be enough to deter an overly-exuberant greeter, but sometimes it may just draw the other dog’s attention to you, making you the focus.
Where an interaction has begun or where there is tension, you moving may certainly cause fireworks.
Although we are tempted to try and intimidate the other dog so that they move away, this doesn’t always work as intended, instead leading to an increase in arousal and a lowering of already impaired inhibitions, possibly in both dogs.
We can teach a dog to move behind us on cue which might help to diffuse tension, and paired with some of our other recommendations, may help to cool the situation.
Being proactive, and looking to keep interactions low key is probably going to be safest and most comfortable for everyone, but this requires time and space, which you might not always have.
- assess the situation – how is your dog feeling, how is the other dog responding – how direct, tense and intense are they, how much control does the other owner have, how responsive is your dog, how well will you be able to escape?
- scan your environment for signs that loose dogs may be present, such as people who look like dog walkers and other dogs in the distance, listen for dog tags and paws on concrete.
- walk in places that require dogs to be on lead, that offer you good vantage points with lots of places that you and your dog can escape to that provide visual barriers
- remain alert close to blind corners or concealed entrances, which might reveal loose dogs suddenly
- keep your dog’s attention on you with trained cues for simple behaviours such as hand targeting, and high value motivators such as food rewards and toys.
It’s best to avoid stationary behaviours such as stay, sit or down, as this can cause your dog to feel less well able to control the goings-on.
Remember, the introduction or availability of high value motivators may cause your dog’s discomfort to increase as he attempts to keep the other dog away from his prized possessions. It may also make you more attractive to rude dogs looking to score a treat from a stranger, or take another dog’s ball (someone else’s is always better, right?!).
- get your dog sniffing – head down and sniffing can communicate a desire for a calmer, slower interaction among dogs which may be heeded. Your dog staring and making eye contact with another dog, may encourage it to approach.
- walking away calmly and/or taking sudden direction change can help to keep your dog focused on you and less likely to interact with another dog, and may cause the other dog to give up in its pursuit
- this is the opportunity for you to have your dog behind you, and you between your dog and the other dog, before tensions rise and direct approach is imminent. It may also give you time to call to the other dog owner, asking them to get their dog.
The other owner
While some of you will scoff at this, sometimes another owner may not be aware of the distress their dog potentially causes.
Culturally, among dog owners, it’s presumed that their dog running directly up to another dog or person is just an expression of their dog’s friendliness and joie do vivre. This interaction may be a teaching moment, if there’s enough time and everyone is open to discussion.
- call to the other dog owner and ask them to get their dog, to leash their dog, to remove their dog
There’s no point asking them to call their dog as doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that their dog will return to them.
- as frustrating as it is when they say their dog is “just being friendly”, (we, of course know different), it’s best to stay as calm as possible so as not to increase the tension, or possibly get their back up, making them less cooperative
- if your requests are not successful, tell them that your dog is not friendly, is sick or old, or is “contagious”
- muzzle training your own dog, and having them wear a muzzle is a sure-fire way to get other dog owners to avoid you…
- taking out your phone and really or mock filming them will often cause them to remove their dog and move away quickly
- informing them that you will do what you need to do to protect your own dog, should they be unable to remove their dog immediately, is a last resort but threats may be necessary
Sometimes you won’t have time for any of the above, and are left with no choice but to react and to hope that you can minimise emotional and physical damage to all involved.
Repellents & Shields
Some you might be able to carry with you, but you may also be able to use things you find around you.
Repellents might include:
- compressed air (Pet Corrector)
- small aerosol can, citronella spray
- water gun or spray
- a Dog Stop alarm (very loud!)
The problem with these is that they will only be effective when the other dog is quite close. Outdoors the wind may blow a spray back into your or your dog’s face.
If something is designed to scare away another dog, it may also have that effect on your dog possibly leading to a greater level of distress in association with that context.
Shields might include:
- an umbrella with a button pop
- a length of cardboard, like a flattened box
- a clipboard, sheet of Styrofoam, chopping board
- your bag
Shields might act to intimidate a dog sufficiently that they move away, or may give you a few seconds to redirect and escape.
Again, anything intended to startle an oncoming dog might also distress your own dog.
Carrying a small back pack is a good idea, not only to carry things safely and out of reach, but also to use as a shield or as something to redirect a persistent interloper.
Carrying a walking stick, or even an umbrella folded up may be enough to deter other dogs. Swinging it or cracking it on the ground can help to move them away.
Swinging a lead or line, or even the heavy handled end of a retractable leash may also help. Cracking the line in the air or on the ground may also cause sufficient startle to halt an approaching dog.
- turn your attention to your dog immediately and keep them engaged
- move away briskly, keeping your dog moving away, rather than directly
- keep yourself between your dog and the other dog as you move
- toss treats or something (such as pebbles) into the dog’s path (not at them), across their eyeline
Tossing something bigger like a stick, or even your bag or jacket.
- using a shield or repellent, and then using the couple of seconds it buys and get out of there
- stepping forward and shouting “NO!”, “STAY!”, “SIT!”, “GO HOME!” or growling – might just buy you a couple of seconds of redirection so you can get out of there
- get something between you and the other dog
Although the temptation is to ‘go big’, try calm and cool first and attempt to diffuse. Up the ante as needed.
- grab collars
- put your hands in the middle, or near mouths
- pick up a dog
- hit, kick, or punch
- put your body or body parts in the middle
No magic wand
There is no one solution that is going to work every time. One of these may work in one context, but may be ineffective in another. The key is to have plenty of tools at the ready, and to practice when there’s no panic, so that you are ready when the shi1t hits the fan.
Sadly, loose dogs, under poor control, are an every day occurrence for the majority of my clients (and my friends, and me!), many having dogs who have been injured and are seriously distressed by other irresponsible owners’ actions (or lack thereof). Not only that, but a number of friends and clients have been hurt, frightened and injured by these dogs themselves, as they try to do their best to deal with the onslaught.
Understand that it’s not appropriate for dogs to behave like this (just as it wouldn’t be OK for people to behave this way), and that your dog is allowed to say they don’t want another dog in their face by ignoring them or even snarking. In that context, that’s appropriate behaviour. Do your dog a favour, and get them out of there quickly and calmly.