How to Deal With Off-Leash Dogs & Their Owners

Keep retractable leashes short when humans and other dogs are approaching.
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Off-leash dogs can create an uncomfortable situation for dog owners who obey leash laws. If you encounter an off-leash dog, you may need to take immediate action to stop the dog from acting aggressively. While dog owners should be in control of their dog and follow local laws, if you must speak to a dog owner about his off-leash dog, do so in a calm and friendly manner.

How to Stop a Charging Dog

More often than not, an off-leash dog is charging because he’s excited to meet you, or your dog. Unfortunately, charging sometimes elicits a negative response from the on-leash dog. Charging is not a healthy behavior, and there’s often no telling if the dog coming at you is friendly or aggressive. Cesar Milan recommends walking with a walking stick, or an umbrella, to appear bigger, and more in command of your space. Milan also recommends reacting calmly, but in an assertive manner. Give a friendly shout to the dog’s owner, even if they’re far away, alerting them that their dog is approaching you and you’re not comfortable with that.

Talking to Owners About Their Off-Leash Dogs

If you’re having problems with an off-leash dog, perhaps recommending an off-leash park to the dog’s owner would alleviate the issue. Many communities, such as Prospect Park in Brooklyn, have off-leash dog areas. You won’t have to worry about running into the off-leash pooch again, unless the dog owner truly feels above the law. Another strategy would be to recommend a long-line leash, which can be retracted when people and dogs are approaching. If the dog owner refuses to leash his dog, you may have to contact the authorities to report the incident or avoid the area.

Talking to Owners About Their Aggressive Dogs

Aggression is common in dogs, but aggressive dogs should never be walked off-leash. If a dog owner believes an area is free of traffic, she may turn her aggressive dog loose. This situation, and others involving aggressive dogs, may require you to exchange words with the dog's owner. Dog owners are often sensitive about their dogs. Approach the dog owner calmly, and ask if she wouldn’t mind having a chat. Let her know that her dog’s aggression is affecting you, and that you’d like to help her solve the issue. Recommend that she add a leash to her walking routine, or suggest additional training. The ASPCA recommends identifying what’s causing the aggression, and treating the aggression by eliminating triggers. If the dog owner refuses to leash her aggressive dog, you may need to contact local authorities or find another spot to take your dog.

Dealing With a Stray Dog

Unfortunately, not all off-leash dogs are followed by an owner. Dogs sometimes escape their homes, and romp around the neighborhood unfettered. Carrying treats is a great way to distract the dog. If you encounter a loose dog, command him to sit and toss him a treat. If he doesn’t sit, gently toss a handful of treats at his face or away from you and your dog. This will alert him to the presence of food, and hopefully distract him from further engaging. If you’re worried that a stray dog may be aggressive, you can combat it with a nontoxic spray product designed to scare off potentially aggressive dogs.