There is one potential danger during every dog walk that I dread: the approach of the unleashed dog – whether friendly or aggressive.
Taking the dogs for a walk has always been an enjoyable bonding experience for me and them. Until I rescued Louise, a fearful dog, I never even realized how stressful a walk could be just around the neighborhood. The stress comes from all the off leash dogs that we encounter along the way, even though my county and community have strict leash laws. Sometimes I feel like I am the only person in the world worried about what is coming around the corner, but I know I am not.
I love my walks with the dogs, don’t get me wrong, but I do my best to be prepared so that my ‘walk bubble’ with the doggies is not interrupted by unforeseen events. I try to:
- Go out at a time when I think there will be very few other humans walking dogs (10-12 and before 5). This, of course, is impossible on weekends, but I can try.
- Constantly survey the landscape to see what is down the road, coming and going.
- Take a wide berth around any sharp turn as not to walk into danger.
- Know most escape routes (whether circling the same court 5 times or walking all the way up on someone’s driveway until a dog has passed on the main road).
- Have handsfree walk pack, not just with poop bags, but high value treats, alarm horn, and Louise’s front harness if I’m using just her collar.
- Only use 6 foot knotted flat leashes, so that my dogs are always near me and under my control.
The dogs and I encounter unleashed dog in the neighborhood all too often (at least once a week). Occasionally it is a dog that darts out the house door or gate, but mostly it is owners who think their dog doesn’t need a leash, regardless of laws, and walks them all over everyone’s property with little control. Then there are the people who are on their own property with their dog, gardening or something but think that their dog will stay there unleashed even if others pass by (which is a lot of what we are encountering lately.)
Most incidents end fine, however, all incidents burst our ‘walk bubble’ no matter how well prepared I am. Though I am always vigilant to warning signs that something is coming, loose dogs can happen upon us very fast. My best warning signs are when one of the dogs starts intense staring down the lane or I see hackles going up. This usually prompts me to either make a quick U-turn or try to put a car or tree between the trigger and the dogs. Lousie and Sofie aren’t growlers and by the time they are barking, it’s too late to take other action. So, even before leaving the house I have a plan about how I will handle the event of an unleashed dog approaching us. I have learned that emergency situations are best actioned when practiced, especially with a 60lb reactive dog, a 55lb anxious pup, and a 15lb biter.
Here is what I do.
- Protecting my dogs is my responsibility. I try to teach my dogs that I will handle this situation, not them. This is only learned through practice, not in the moment.
- To practice control before I need it, I make the dogs ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ at different times along any walking route. I do this because I find that having them ‘Sit’ by me, usually with Louise behind me, is my best means of control with 3 of them. This works up to a point because when the situation is too hot, too close, Louise can break out of the ‘Sit’ and lunge to protect me. I keep trying though.
- I try to evaluate the situation as quickly as possible to assess if an owner is nearby.
- If a dog approaches that my dogs know and that all my dogs like, it is not a problem.Tails wag and everyone just sniffs and goes on about their way.
- If a dog approaches that I know, but one of my dogs doesn’t like or they haven’t met formally (friendly but loose is still a problem for Louise and Charles), I tell my dogs to ‘Sit.’ I get between my dogs and the approaching dog. I tell the approaching dog to ‘Sit!’ and ‘Stop!’ and throw some of those treats from my walk pack toward the approaching dog but away from us, hopefully distracting them long enough for their owner to collect or call them away. This works much of the time.
- If there is an owner around, I yell that “MY DOGS ARE NOT DOG-FRIENDLY!” Many people think their dogs are friendly, so what’s the problem? I read a suggestion that said to yell “My dog is contagious!” maybe I will try that next time.
- Protect the little guy! Since Charles is <15 lbs and can be killed with one bite, my concern is getting him to safety. I practice picking him up on regular walks to get him used to this type of quick grab (‘Charles, up!’). I know this is not always advised because the approaching dog could then go for him in my arms, but I have not figured out another way to keep him safe and I am dealing with too many size differences to leave him at risk. I do worry that Charles might bite me accidently because he gets freaked in overwhelming situations, but I think that is better then him getting killed.
- I stopped wasting my energy on educating people on leash laws or neighborly behavior. I like Trainer Annie Phenix‘s view regarding the owners of unleashed dogs. She says don’t waste your energy yelling at them or being polite. “By allowing their dog to be unleashed where leashes are required, that owner has by default demonstrated a lack of concern for his own dog and yours. You may feel like screaming obscenities for their lack of care, but that wastes both emotion and time. It can also ramp the dogs up even more.” And, the last thing I want to do is get my dogs riled up more than they will already be in this situation.
- Paws Ability Dog Training recommends that if you “feel fairly confident that the oncoming dog won’t be dissuaded, try to startle the loose dog. 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.” Though I do this, I need to practice my firm voice.
- Because I have multiple dogs and no hands available, carrying a walking stick or umbrella is not an option for me, though many people say that helps. I have thought about an air horn or spray product (not Pepper Spray) to carry in my pack, but that is a lot to handle when no hands-free. I still haven’t tried any yet.
Luckily, we have never encountered a truly aggressive dog on a walk. When that day comes, I do think about dropping the big dogs’ leashes, if I am out of all other options. I want Louise and Sofie to be able to defend themselves. I worry though that because of Louise’s reactivity she would be seen as the aggressor. Believe me, I am not going to test this theory and hopefully will never have to. It is sad that we can’t just stay in our ‘walk bubble’ around my little suburban neighborhood.
Note: I am not an animal trainer or certified animal professional. I am a dog owner telling my story. I am not giving advice, I am only telling you what I do. I recommend that people get training from certified professionals when it comes to aggression or issues with their animals.
Other posts in the Loving Fearful Dog series:
DogDaz Zoo: Loving Fearful Dogs – Was She Abused?
DogDaz Zoo: Loving Fearful Dogs – 4 Control Methods On A Walk
Do you like these kinds of posts from DogDaz Zoo? Let me know and we definitely will try to add more to the series. Thanks for reading.
Just another DogDaz morning at the zoo ❤
Photos: Louise, Sofie, & Charles photos belong to DogDaz.com
All other photos are from Google Images