6 Ways to Deal With an Off-Leash Dog

There are many reasons your dog may not appreciate being rushed by an off-leash dog while he’s on-leash. Senior dogs, dogs recovering from injuries, and shy or fearful dogs might find the unfettered attention of an off-leash dog upsetting or overwhelming. Even the friendliest dogs may not like interacting with another dog in a social unequal situation. Leashes can be a source of many issues.

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When you encounter an off-leash dog, keep these things in mind:

  • Know that it is always okay to protect your dog: Most urban and suburban environments have leash laws, and if your dog is on a leash you are right in keeping your dog safe. You are also completely within your rights to report off-leash dogs to your local authorities.
  • Evaluate the situation to see if the owner is nearby: If he is, tell him to call his dog. Many people will respond by telling you that their dog is “friendly,” but regardless of their dog’s behavior, if their dog is not under their control and is upsetting you or your dog, it is a problem.
  • Remember, you can choose whether to let that dog meet your dog.

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.

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1. Give the loose dog something better to do

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.

2. If that doesn’t work, 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. 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.

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3. Use a spray product if he comes close

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.

4. Don’t use pepper spray

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.

5. But if you must pick up your dog …

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.

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6. Protect yourself

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!

Photo: Cat typing on a keyboard by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Sara Reusche, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.


heather g.
heather g4 years ago

In BC, Canada there are many aggressive, foul-mouthed individuals who refuse to use a leash. By-laws are virtually non-existent and then they are not properly enforced - especially where I live. On three occasions I have observed how elderly, frail people have been knocked over by unruly dogs with their owners. They didn't even call their dogs or help the people that had fallen.

In West Vancouver the following took place within our lift: A man with a large dog allowed his dog to jump on a frail, elderly lady. She fell forward and knocked her head as she went down on the floor. He then stepped over her as he exited the lift.

I've travelled quite extensively, but have never come across people who behave like this..

Melwin Donnar
Marshall M4 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Angela Ray
Angela Ray4 years ago

Leash laws are established for good purposes; not only to protect the pet itself safe, but to protect other pets, children and people in general. I hope everyone is considerate of others when having their pets in public.

Mary Deforest
Mary Deforest4 years ago

Many times, if you have your dog sit-the other dog loses interest. I have hounds and drag them to a telephone pole, where they start sniffing. The loose dog will go the other way.

Unfortunately we have been attacked several times where we had both vet and doctor bills. So my dogs are very leery of an off-leash dog. I carry the recommended spray-which usually works, but I've had the dog owners come out and just about attack me- I think cursing and them saying they'll whup me if I spray their pit qualifies as a threat.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

thank you

LMj Mallory
James Merit4 years ago


LMj Mallory
James Merit4 years ago


Alison A.
Alison A4 years ago

Thanks for posting.

R Susan Stecks
RS Stecks4 years ago

I'm sorry to say, a lot of people who live in my neighborhood that don't leash their dogs when they walk them, don't care if their dogs come towards my dog. I am disabled and unable to pick up my dog and I have trained my to be my service dog. My dog is often muzzled so is unable to defend herself when such a dog comes up to us.

I have called to these people to get their dog and often they drag their butt to call their dog off, some have even laughed Its upsetting to me because I feel like my dog and I are helpless. So, I will start taking my citronella spray with us. I have always thought about warning the person with the loose dog before I use it. Is it realistic to warn them?

I am a bit afraid that if I were to spry their dog it would bring about a fight , and at the same time if I didn't spray their dog my dog would be attacked. I don't know if I should ask that here, but what does one do in circumstances like this? Would throwing a ball work? My dog doesn't like balls, so I don't think she's go for it.

Does the umbrella protection work for all dogs or just small ones that are off leash?

I don't mean to sound helpless but my dog was attacked, this past May, by someone who didn't have control of their dogs even on a leash. I was unable to protect my dog, it happened suddenly. My dog is 45 lbs, they were 120lb each. Again I am disabled so unable to pick my dog up.

Thank You