What should I do when an off-leash dog charges me?

Off-leash dogs

People have asked me what I do when an off-leash dog charges my dog and I while we’re running. Runners have to be especially aware of dogs, since a lot of dogs chase anything that moves.

I run with my weimaraner every week, and I’ve ran with a large variety of dogs through my dog running business. These were dogs with various energy levels and very different reactions towards approaching dogs.

Still, my reaction to approaching off-leash dogs is always the same.

The following is my own “expert” advice as someone who runs with dogs every day and has to deal with approaching off-leash dogs fairly often.

Here is what I do when I see an off-leash dog approaching:

First of all, I do all I can to prevent confrontations. For example, I keep the dog I am running under control the best I can, typically in a formal heel position at my left side.

In addition, I am aware of my surroundings, always subconsciously scanning yards for approaching dogs or people. I am always listening for people or dogs coming up behind us, and I don’t run with headphones.


If I see a dog that might approach us, I slow to a walk or do a quick but relaxed “U-turn” or move to the other side of the street. If the other dog slowly follows us with a relaxed posture or barks but seems insecure, I just ignore the dog and slowly move away. I return to a run once we are about 10 yards away.

If the dog is already charging or if he charges even as we move away, that’s when I turn to face the dog, making sure to use my body to block my own dog. I look the approaching dog right in the eyes with a very confident, upright posture.

I point at him, take a step towards him and firmly say, “NO!” All of this has to happen within about two seconds, but it’s always enough to surprise the dog for a moment and instantly break the tension or excitement. It’s a mind game.

I don’t feel comfortable telling everyone to confront an approaching dog in this way. Most people wouldn’t know how to read the energy of an approaching dog. But I also know many of the people who read this blog are a lot like me and are totally capable.

What about tossing a handful of treats at the approaching dog?

You may be thinking it would be better to use a positive reinforcement technique. You may want to toss a handful of treats at the approaching dog to distract him. If that works for you, great. It doesn’t work for me.

First of all, I don’t bother to carry treats while I run. Second, if I were to fumble through my pocket to grab a handful of treats, I would lose control of the dog I am walking and the approaching dog would get to us before I had a chance to toss the treats. And finally, most approaching dogs are excited about seeing another dog. They don’t give a damn about pieces of jerky.

What about spraying the approaching dog with pepper spray?

I’m not opposed to running with pepper spray or using it on an approaching dog. I just choose not to bother. I’ve never been in any real danger. I have never been attacked by a dog while running.

If carrying pepper spray would make you feel more comfortable, do it. And don’t be afraid to use it, either. A nice spray to the face will teach the dog a thing or two about charging people! And if the owner gets upset, well, too bad. Maybe she shouldn’t have let her dog act like a maniac.

From my experience, though, simply moving away and avoiding confrontations is the best approach. Show that you are not a threat and that you are not interested. If the dog still doesn’t get the memo, then it usually works to turn and address him.

What about those truly annoying owners?

“Don’t worry! He’s friendly!”

Well, f— you. I’m trying to run here. Your lab might be “friendly,” but his tail is straight up and he’s staring right at my dog!

Of course, I don’t actually say that.

Sometimes both dogs truly are friendly and the easiest thing to do is just sigh, let them acknowledge each other, do the sniffing dance for a minute and move on.

What if my dog is aggressive?

Sometimes I am running a dog that is truly reactive to other dogs. Those of you who own leash-reactive dogs know very well how frustrating it is when other people allow their “friendly” dogs to charge your not-so friendly dog.

If the dog I am walking is even the slightest bit reactive to other dogs and some idiot allows his dog to charge us, I always make sure to yell out, “My dog is aggressive!”

Usually that takes the smile off the other owner’s face as he comes running over to collect his dog.

Sometimes your dog might go into a complete tizzy, spinning and snarling. It happens. The approaching dog may have caused the reaction, but your dog is now the one truly out of control. When this happens, the best thing to do is just get control of your own dog and completely ignore the other dog. Then move away as quickly and calmly as you can.

What if there is a dog fight?

What if the dog seriously begins to attack your dog? Fortunately I have never had this happen. If this did happen to me, I know I would make sure not to get my hands in the middle of it. But I would probably try to use my body to block the two dogs from each other. I would also most likely kick the attacking dog in the face, hard.

But one thing to remember is that most of the time dog confrontations sound a lot worse than they really are. It’s best not to freak out and add more fuel to the fire. It’s also best to keep the leash as loose as possible in order to decrease the tension. Often, it’s actually the owner who causes the dog fight by tightening the leash at the wrong time.

Even if there is a lot of snarling or lunging or yelping, chances are there won’t be actual bites. Even if there is a bite, don’t panic. If your dog is up to date on vaccinations, there is not much to worry about.

You may want to make note of where the off-leash dog lives or at least where you are and contact animal control. I keep the local police departments in my phone for that reason. If the dog appears to be lost or ownerless, you may also want to report it for the safety of others.

Details about how to keep your dog under control in “heel position”

No matter what dog I am running with, I generally keep the dog under control, at my left side in a formal heel position most of the time. I do this even if the dog’s owner normally allows him to run ahead, and even if he has basically no leash manners. (Note: It’s OK if you want your dog to be in front of you, but make sure you’re the one making that choice and that your dog is still under control.)

To keep any dog at my left side on a loose leash, I hold the leash close to his collar in my left hand, and I hold the slack in my right hand. The “loop” part of the leash is held with my right hand. I maintain just enough slack on my left side so the leash is not tight.

Some dogs have very good leash manners. Some wear head collars that prevent them from pulling. For the dogs that pull, all I do is keep their collars high on their necks, right under their chins and behind their ears. It doesn’t really matter if they are wearing a flat collar, a martingale, a choke or a prong.

It doesn’t matter if the dog has had no basic obedience training. If you keep the collar high on the neck you should be able to keep the dog under control. You will probably have to stop every few minutes to adjust the collar, though.

Whenever the dog sneaks ahead, I give a slight correction by pulling up. I pull up or to the side, not back. If you pull back, not only does it move the collar to the stronger, thicker part of the dog’s neck, but it causes the dog to resist the tension and pull harder.

Always stay relaxed and prevent tension in the leash. The leash should be so free of tension that you could literally hold the leash with two fingers in each hand and the dog wouldn’t break away. Ideally, you could drop the leash and the dog wouldn’t notice or go anywhere.

What to do if you’re charged when you don’t have a dog with you

This is a scary situation because the loose dog is going after YOU and not your dog!

You can use many of the ideas mentioned so far, but the most important tip is to stay calm and don’t show fear. Say NO firmly in a calm, yet assertive way while the dog is still approaching.

Also don’t scream, yell or make sudden, hectic movements. Stand still and tall, much like a tree. You can put your arms on your hips too, that’ll make you appear taller. If you carry a walking stick or golf club, you can use those as extensions of your arms as well to make yourself appear taller to the dog.

If you behave in this way, the charging dog will be more likely to calm down and loose interest than if you were to run away. That’s because dogs read body language and mirror our behavior. So if you were to run from the dog, you can be fairly certain that the dog would run after you.

Of course there is aways the exception to the rule. Like the dog who’s in a truly aggressive, red zone and ready to bite. In that case, you’ll have to use tools for self defense, such as:

  • A loud whistle when you see the dog coming your way. It could still distract him enough to stop him in his tracks. You can carry one on a lanyard around your neck. That way you won’t have to fumble for it.
  • Pepper spray. Much like the whistle on the lanyard, you need to have the pepper spray readily available, or it will be of no use to you. You could carry it in a fanny pack or clip it to your belt or clothing. Don’t hesitate to empty all of it into the dog’s eyes, especially if it’s a larger dog who can do real damage given his size.
  • Gun. Obviously, we hope it never comes to this. We know you will use your best judgement. If you carry a gun and the dog is truly in a red zone, large, and out to take you down, shoot the dog.

When to report an aggressive or off-leash dog

It’s one thing to deal with an aggressive or off-leash dog. But once you have the situation under control, you may wonder whether or not to report the dog.

If the dog didn’t bite and was “just” annoying, there’s probably no need to report him to animal control. Try to take a picture of the dog if his owners are nowhere to be seen, but only once it’s safe to do so! You could always post it on social media or share it with the local police or vets.

However, if the dog bit you or your dog(s), it’s a good idea to report the incident to animal control. Once you do, they’ll come and get the dog if he’s still around, and they’ll also try to locate his owners. They’ll also check with them/the dog’s vet to see if he’s up to date on his shots, most importantly his rabies shot.

What happens next depends on your local rules and regulations. Some counties require the dog to be quarantined for 10-14 days if he bit someone, and some don’t. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may even consider suing the owner.

Whatever you decide to do, take a moment to try and analyze what caused the dog to come charging your way in the first place. Dogs don’t just behave aggressively because they feel like it. They’re always triggered by something. It could be a behavior towards them, pain, or an object/person they’re scared of.

What tips do you have for dealing with an approaching off-leash dog?

Working with your own dog to achieve a reliable sit-stay no matter what can also go a long way!

What to do when charged by an off-leash dog - Tips you can used today

Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.

Barbara Rivers contributed to this article. She writes regularly for That Mutt and is a blogger, raw feeder and dog walker. She maintains the blog K9s Over Coffee.

Related posts:

Does raised hackles mean aggression?

80 thoughts on “What should I do when an off-leash dog charges me?”

    1. I had a dog run at me and my dog in the park… the other dog was loose and the man said “oh he is friendly” as the dog jumped on me and my dog…. I told the man I do not care if his dog is friendly… I was really mad!!! And I told him off. I have used pepper spray on dogs that came at us with no owner present. It saved the day. Pepper spray is a must really when out walking your dog or just out walking or jogging. Bad dogs… bad people too….

      1. Sharon McGuigan-Baki

        Yes I agree. An off leash dog charged Hannah when she was a pup. I told him no and told the idiot owner to GET YOUR DOG NOW!I scolded him and said he has no business letting his dog run off leash. Other dog owners have had issues with this guy too. I also watch who is around but in this case the dog came from around the corner and down the street so I had no time to move

      2. Lindsay Stordahl

        I’m pretty sure a lot of U.S. postal workers carry pepper spray and are instructed to use it when in doubt. A dog I know was sprayed for charging the mailman. And I don’t blame him. Better safe than sorry.

    2. I am amazed this is all from the perspective of the dog…. Off leash…. Other dog…. What about the person out walking or running charged by an off-leash dog? I had it happen today and the owner was rude. I went up to house later to get an address to report to animal control and she was so out of line and came out yelling and agressive… Kind of like the dog. I went and bought strong pepper spray and if that dog comes near me again I will spray, and kick it. I also would not hesitate to conceal and carry and shoot it. Dog owners need to be aware that not everyone out there is going to react in a nice way when they get charged.

  1. Thanks for this! As you know, I had an incident the other day that I did manage to diffuse, but wasn’t sure how to act in general.

    Also, thanks for the tip about keeping the heel. That’s what we do with Tarski right now, but sometimes I’ve wondered if we’re “cheating”, because he doesn’t do it naturally, on his own. He knows that “heel” means to return to my left side, in a heel position, but only if he’s tired or worried or just in a really mellow mood does he actually stay there with no effort whatsoever from me for any real length of time. It’s a work in progress…

    Incidentally, I’m pretty lucky that when other dogs approach, Tarski totally defers to me, which means I only ever have to worry about the other dog, and not my own. (Did I mention that after that dog came at us the other day, Tarski did the rest of the walk in a perfect — I mean *perfect* — totally slack-leash heel?! I guess once I “protected” him, he relinquished his self-appointed scouting duties… hehe)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Wow, that’s great that he looks to you as his protector. Also great that he doesn’t react much to other dogs. Many, many dog owners would be jealous!

  2. Very good advice. As a dog walker in Kansas, I had the (mis)fortune of being ambushed by hostile strays several months ago. It was a pretty unpleasant situation, but thankfully we were close to my car and the dog I was walking was relatively cooperative in letting me shield her (as opposed to engaging in reactive behavior and making the situation worse). I’ve often been told to carry a stick, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation in which that would NOT be cumbersome and annoying. Treats, I always have but I agree that a little snack bite isn’t going to be nearly as exciting as a dog. Like you point out, being aware of your surroundings and ready to calmly, but authoritatively, respond are the most effective strategies for avoiding problems. I would add that I advise people to not turn their backs on an aggressing dog so that their prey drive isn’t set off even more.

    A MAJOR pet peeve of mine is an owner that has a dog off-leash that they can’t control. Even at the trails that I use, where it is allowed, I find it irresponsible for owners to not leash their dogs if they can’t call their dogs back. I often hike with clients’ dogs on leash because they don’t have reliable recalls, and it puts them at a real disadvantage when they are overwhelmed by overexcited dogs whose owners are, in the distance, trying in vain to call them back. I’ve had otherwise placid, easygoing dogs get snappish while on a leash because some dog charged up at them. I completely understand the desire to let your dog run off-leash, but it needs to be done with caution and respect for other dogs and other owners (or dog walkers) on the trails.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      It’s a pet peeve of mine as well when dogs are off leash and their owners can’t control them. I allow my dog off leash only when I know I’ll be able to control him.

      1. I really enjoyed this article and reading everyone’s remarks. I had dobermans, greyhound, and Rhodesian ridgeback/boxer mix and all of them went through training. Of course the greyhound was already trained and wonderful, and the ridgeback being a hound had to be trained in a more flexible way, being stubborn as she was. But I never had so much fun learning from real trainers “HOW” to do it and correctly. People think they can do it on their own and some can but only to a degree, but it is a lot of hard work that your dog will love you for it. If done in the right way they love it.
        I especially liked where you spoke of an approaching dog and how to handle it. I had to do this and reacted in that the way you said just because I got so mad about it happening over and over and the last time he got right at us, both of mine the Rhodesian and Greyhound were ready to let the dog have it but I stepped up and did just what you said, actually not knowing if it would work or if it was the right thing to do. My dogs calmed down and the other one ran away after a short time of me pointing and yelling at him. I love reading these and am so glad I found it and am going to put your site in our Safety News letter at work. One of the few times I have found really good Information. thank you

  3. Lindsay,

    As you know I adopted Bert. And you have seen that he had issues with other dogs and was quite a handfull. He has since been very good. I have been working with him alot. But your advice on keeping your dog under control is very important!

    We were at the vet just the other day. We were in the waiting room with other dogs and a cat. Bert was fine. Just sitting there wagging his tail and everyone was really impressed with him. (The Vet and everyone that work there love him) Any way when we were leaving we walked out of the back room and Bert was walking along when one of the new dogs that hadn’t been there before we went in lunged, growled and barked at Bert. Well needless to say Bert snapped. A hundred pound pitbull that snaps is a handfull. The owner of the other dog did have his dog under control quickly though and I blocked Berts view of the dog with my body and had to pull him down to get him to calm down. Once calmed down I walked him out. Dr. Tressler followed me and when we were outside she got down and hugged Bert telling him that wasn’t very good behavior for the pitbull community and then laughed stating that it was the other dog that started it etc. A couple of the people in there ran out with their dogs right away taking them out of the equation. That is a smart move too. I don’t know if they did it to be smart or if they just got scared, but either way it was good.

    Things happen in a moments notice and you have to be ready at all times. This is a prime example of where you shouldn’t have a dog that you can’t control. It could have gotten ugly real fast.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That’s a good story. I’m so glad you adopted Bert. He is a powerful dog, and I’m glad he is in good hands. I’m also glad you pointed out that it was a good thing that other people removed their dogs from the situation at the vet. Nice to hear that Bert’s vet is so understanding, too!

  4. Awesome post! As I shared on Facebook, I’m about to start running with my dog and this couldn’t have come at a better time!

    Also, I’d like to echo the “no headphones!” advice. Too many people run with headphones and are oblivious to the world around them. While I think some good music makes the time move faster, safety is always #1 no mater what.

    The simple advice of pulling up or to the side and not back is something that was an AH-HA for me! I have only taken training classes which are horribly opposed to a pronged collar, and my dog works better with the prong collar on. Unfortunately, it does slide down easily so I’ll try this adjustment on our next walk and run!

    As far as leashes go, what do you think of those leashes that attach at a belt type thing around your waist? I see possible issues… ie, dog approaching and unable to give slack when needed, possible lack of control,… the list goes on. Have you tried one? Thought I’d ask!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hey Jen! Although I’m sure some people love those leashes that attach to your waist, I won’t use one because I like to have more control over my dog. I like to be able to give corrections. I have tied Ace’s leash around my waist a few times, but it’s just not for me. I prefer to hold the leash. Sometimes I have him off leash, but that is when we are either specifically working on off-leash training or if we are in a safe area where I know I can keep him under control. I guess those waist leashes are fine for people who just want to focus on running and don’t care what their dogs do. Running with a dog can screw up your running form a bit. I just don’t care about that. Those leashes might also might be great for people who have their dogs trained well to remain in a heel position and have no need to correct the dog.

      1. Ok, you echoed the same thoughts and concerns I was thinking about with those leashes. I’ll save my money. 🙂

        My other thought… even if the dog is perfect at heel at any speed, will they ignore a dog charging at you? And can you give slack fast enough to prevent injury to yourself or your dog… ?
        … I couldn’t!

        As always, THANKS!

          1. Hi! I just had a horrible experience with my neighbors dog, who i walk frequently. Shes made a lot of progress on her leash although recently ive had two separate experiences of her charging other dogs, yanking the leash out of my hands. Today she charged a big golen male, after breaking away from me. The male basically took her down to the ground. And there was a lot of screaming and fighting. The lady with the other dog just started screaming and did not do anything but watch them. I ran as fasr as i could and stepped in pushing on the golden to separate the dogs. Neither was hurt as far as i know. But evetone was shaken i felt bad, very bad. I wont walk cleo anymore now after this. Shes too strong when she charges for me to hold. :…(

    2. Definite no no to headphones!

      Personally I do use a waist lead – and half of the lead is like bungee to absorb impact so if I, or he, suddenly stops, he won’t lose his head! However I do find myself holding it in one hand a lot too – it’s a really long lead so if we’re going down a narrow path or pavement, one of us would trip over it if I didn’t hold it as it would drag on the floor. We have had two incidents where I wasn’t paying attention and Toby went to go left round a lamppost while I was still on the path and I had to immediately shout out STOP as he obviously doesn’t understand the concept that he can’t go round a lamppost a different way to me if he’s on a lead! It was my fault though, I wasn’t paying attention those times and got complacent. It does take all of my concentration to run with him. I’m constantly grabbing the lead so I can guide him to turn left or right, or pull him close to me if someone is coming or the path narrows, and yes usually if there’s a lamppost I do pull him closer to me too! It does make my run more complicated but I love that I get to share it with him.

  5. Great topic Lindsay! After Callie got attacked by my neighbor’s three (!) unleashed dogs as a puppy (she was on leash, and we were on a public sidewalk), I made a point to get educated about what to do when faced with a charging dog because I had felt so helpless then.
    It’s amazing how often we are greeted by unleashed dogs in public spaces. It’s one thing when the owner is a few feet away and they are in their own yard – it’s quite another to think it’s okay to let your dog wander the neighborhood unsupervised. Even if your dog is friendly, it doesn’t mean he won’t approach a dog that isn’t. There’s a reason why there are leash laws.
    I make a point to give space between us and an unleashed dog (like you said – cross the street, make a calm U-turn, etc.). If that doesn’t work and the dog is still following us, I stop and put myself between the charging dog and Callie and shout “Go home!.” The chances that the dog actually understands that command are minimal, but I figure if the owner is within earshot it should at least click with them that “hey, maybe that crazy lady is shouting at *my* dog.” At least it makes me feel better – ha!
    Putting yourself between the two dogs definitely deflates the situation – most dogs will not cross a human gate to get to another dog. I also figure that if somebody is going to get bit, I would honestly rather have it be me than Callie. It’s more black and white if the cops were to ever get called then (nobody can argue that the dog was just “defending” itself then). Luckily I’ve never had it come to that yet.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sounds like we handle these situations in the same way. I’m glad to hear you agree and that these suggestions also work for you.

  6. Great article! I had a bad situation once while walking my shi tzu, Cody, when I was about 14. We had neighbors with really mean chows and they attacked while I was walking him. Obviously, 2 large snarling Chows make short work of a shi tzu, and since there was no way for me to safely walk into the fray, I pulled Cody straight up into the air by his leash and into my arms. Thankfully, he had only minor injuries- if I hadn’t gotten him away faster, it could have been deadly. Those same Chows once held me captive on the couch for four hours while I was babysitting the owner’s daughters- any move toward a phone or getting off the couch and they poised for attack. They are the only dogs I have veer been afraid of in my entire life, and I am still unfairly biased against the breed even 16 years later.

    1. Yikes. Those Chows should never have had the opportunity to go after your dog. And they should’ve been confined when you were babysitting. Yikes! So sorry you had those bad experiences.

  7. After the furball and I were mauled by a pack of 5 unleashed dogs…I now kick first, ask questions later. There is a leash law covering the entire county (with no “under voice control” provision). I assume anyone negligent enough to break the law and let their dog out without a leash is also too negligent to train, socialize, or vaccinate against rabies. I’m also not against running into the street in the hopes of putting a moving car between myself and the charging dog.

    Extreme? Yes. But having one 70-pound dog hanging off your face, another one hanging off your arm and yet another trying to eat your dog will color your perception.

    @Carmen: I’d love to know where you live that the cops will see it as black and white. After my attack the cops said it was okay because the other owner didn’t say, “sic ’em” to his dogs. Never mind the fact that dogs can be trained to react violently to “pink unicorns” or, heck, even “sic ’em” in a language other than English.

  8. The stories I could tell… but I won’t.

    Just amazed, dumbfounded by how many people let their dogs off the leash – dogs that don’t obey their owners. I’ve used pepper spray on 4 different Rottweilers. Thank God that stuff works fast because these dogs meant business. I’ve had to kick dogs off of my dog. Usually I stop, bend down and let loose with a blood-curdling warrior cry right in the other dog’s face and that usually catches them off guard (that old adrenaline makes you do strange things). A few dogs I’ve actually turned the table and chased and yelled at them! See how they like it! Owners probably think I’m a looney.

    My dog has been attacked 4 times (and she’s not even 3 yet) so she’s starting to get defensive when ever she sees a dog – I can’t expect her to remain calm but I do try to keep myself between the two dogs.

    I just fear the day I have to deal with 2 (or more) dogs at the same time. I may have to start gouging eyeballs!

  9. We had to stop walking walking our dog off-leash because he charged people, especially joggers. The best outcomes were when people remained calm, stopped and stood still. I recommend STANDING COMPLETELY STILL when a dog charges. I would NOT recommend glaring directly into their eyes because at least my dog would read this as an act of aggression.

    An interesting sidelight: Our dog charged at almost everyone — except those who were talking calmly on a cell phone and looking away! Somehow he sensed that their attention was elsewhere and always left them alone.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      The eye contact thing really does depend on the dog, and you have to get a good read of the dog’s body language. I understand what you are saying. Making eye contact with the wrong dog at the wrong time could end up with the dog attacking me. Most dogs are not truly aggressive, though. They are more excited and friendly or insecure and trying to scare me away. I avoid eye contact initially and try to act like I don’t care and am not a threat. That’s why I move to the other side of the street or do a U-turn.

  10. Lindsay, you are so right that reading a dog’s body language is the key to a successful encounter. My dog is not aggressive, but he is BIG (a Great Dane) and easily excited/frightened. He never tried to hurt anyone when he charged off-leash, but his idea of “play” is too intimidating and rough for most people. If they stopped moving, he just sniffed them and enjoyed getting petted.

    However, when we are walking him on-leash, he does lunge and bark aggressively if people stare in his eyes.

    I noticed that many people are using this forum to complain about off-leash dogs, so I will explain the other side. Here are some true examples of things NOT to do when you see a dog on (or off) leash:

    1) Do not stand close, stare in the dog’s eyes and shout over and over, “I’m scared! I’m scared!” This behavior makes him scared of you! He may try to defend himself.

    2) Do not squeal in fear and start waving your arms. He thinks you want to play wild games.

    3) Do not walk up quickly right up behind a dog while yelling angrily into your cell phone. The dog thinks you are yelling at us for no reason and may try to defend us.

    4) If the dog owner asks you to keep your children at a safe distance, do not laugh and say, “Oh, I don’t care if he knocks my kids down.”

  11. Well, you make it sound so easy, but… Mostly I avoid confrontation with other dogs and my dog who tends to be aggressive when meeting other dogs while leashed. The gentle leader has helped tremendously, however. Without it, such meetings used to be unpleasant to say the least. Now they are at least manageable. Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible to walk your dog off-leash unless you have an exceptionally well-trained dog which is rarely the case.

  12. Great post. I love dogs and never want to see a dog hurt or in pain. But when it comes to me, my dogs, and my client’s dogs I’m looking out for us as priorities #1-10. If someone else has the rudeness to allow their dog to charge me then their dog is the one that is going to be in trouble. I’ve had numerous occasions where I’ve had to use some Size 12 Nikes to keep everyone safe. Other dog owners hate it but their dogs were the one’s putting us in danger in the first place.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I hear ya! What advice do you have for dealing with an approaching dog? Do you typically address the dog or just get out of the way?

    2. Ty – You are my hero. 🙂 My below comment talks a little about my recent event and I’m still a little frustrated as I don’t know what I should do to deal with this. Shoes seem like a good tool for controlling of inbound beast. Do you let friendly dogs say hello to the dogs? I have mixed feelings on it. I’m totally inexperienced as I only walk/run my dog however I do think I read dogs well. Do I let them say hi? Do I tell the owner off? (tell the owner off and let them say hi?) … or threaten a boot and move from there…

  13. *AHH* thought I’d post again as my husband and I just dealt with the “annoying owner” situation.

    She had no control over her dog, there is an leash ordinance, and her dog was barreling toward ours. I made my point clear that I didn’t want to have them say hello … probably overreacting but dogs not under control by their owners make me nervous.

    I worry about a few things… our dog will pick up on our frustration with the owner and become leash aggressive, “Gee, whenever a dog approaches, Alpha and Beta get stressed out… perhaps I should get stressed out too!”

    But back to your “Well f!@# you! I’m trying to run!”.. that’s how I felt!

    What do you do with the stupid ones? Do you just let them say hello? Do you say anything to the owner?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I guess it depends on my mood. Sometimes I just sigh and let the dogs greet one another and then get out of there.

      And quite often I yell “No!” at the approaching dog. The dog is usually shocked, as is the owner. “What? But most people reward me when I charge them!” I just think it’s wrong to reward the dog for charging. Even though I like dogs and I really don’t mind all that much if a friendly dog approaches, I still think it’s bad manners.

      If my dog ever bolts from me and runs up to someone, I would prefer they tell him “NO! Bad dog!” rather than reward him for disobeying me.

  14. Great post. It should definatly help people on how to handle an approaching dog. One thing I would have never thought about: Why would I give treats to an approaching dog? I don’t know anyone who does it and in my understanding treats are a way to honor good behavior. I’ll keep it like you do and act as a human “gate”.

    Again, great post, you won an additional reader for your blog 🙂 – In case you wonder, I am not a native speaker but I try my very best.

  15. Something else I’ve noticed: I often let my Lab off the leash (in safe areas) because she won’t run off and she comes when called. But other people see us, and think, “oh her dog is off the leash so it must be friendly” so they release their dog and it comes charging up to us. WRONG! Esme isn’t aggressive, but she prefers to be left alone. When they get in her face, she’ll snarl and snap and that usually drives them away. And then the owners get upset at my “aggressive” dog. ??? Sorry, but my dog was just sniffing around minding her own business when your dog races up to her, uninvited.

    I have more trouble with other peoples’ dogs than my own!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yeah, it’s tough. I guess I would just make sure to call her and put her leash back on when you see other dogs. I try to do that as well, even though my dog won’t react by growling or snapping, I still don’t want him to get overly excited when other dogs run up to us.

  16. Two more dogs, two nights in a row. This is getting ridiculous! The first one (beagle mix) ran across the street as its owner was yelling at it. It didn’t seem to mean any harm but still, Esme doesn’t like these excited dogs charging her. A couple snarls and snaps and it got the idea it was not welcome. Then last night, jogging, approaching another dog walker from behind, we were near a school so I went on the other side of the fence that ran along the sidewalk, past the dog and all of a sudden I hear, “Sam! Sam!! Sam!!!” Her dog had just yanked the leash out of her hand, ran to the end of the fence and around it and came after Esme. And it was a big dog, a good 40lbs heavier than my Lab. Lately, I’ve tried to let the leash loose – I don’t want my negative emotions to travel through a tight leash and besides, I figure Esme’s better at reading dog body language than I am. The woman said her dog wasn’t aggressive but it kept bothering Esme and she kept trying to bolt, although she wasn’t overly defensive like I expected (snapping/growling).

    With my other Lab, she seemed to be more dog savvy than I was and I usually tried to let her decide how to deal with the “intruder”. I don’t think this works with Esme. Usually I would try to block the other dog and keep myself between but they are quick and just run around me. After this incident, perhaps it’s my imagination but Esme seemed disappointed in me, like I’d failed her. Does she see me as her protector?

    I’m not afraid of dogs, but I am afraid of one attacking my dog. Maybe I should take more control of the situation and try to push the other dog away with my foot, kick it if I can, or even grab its collar and pull up so it can’t turn on me.

    And pepper spray is not as easy to use as one might think. You need a good clear shot and a steady hand, and a good aim… and it all happens so fast.

    My husband thinks I should carry a whole arsenal of weapons, but when you’re jogging, it’s enough just to hold on to a leash and attend to the dog. If I was a walker, I’d definitely carry a big stick!

    1. wow you would kick another dog? disgusting.. dogs chase after you out of excitement and no matter how much you think your wonderful little darling is well trained, they could do the same one day.
      this blog makes me laugh as all the posters are clearly the very ignorant ones who have no clue over breeds and dog behaviour.

      1. After my dog was attacked I don’t fool with any off leash dog. There are dogs that are going to cause your dog grievous harm – particularly if they are small –, I’m not waiting to see which it will be ever again, for my dog.

  17. Wonderful article. Living in a mountain resort town, I’ve had issues at least 10 times in a decade with off-leash dogs. Often, it’s tourists’ dogs that are a nuisance because they let their canine(s) run free and do not think of the consequences.
    Two days ago, my two on-leash 38 lb. each Brittanys, myself, and brother were attacked by an AWOL owner’s Pit Bull-Lab mix (89-90 lbs). As a devout lover (who has been taken down by two dogs when I was a teenager), I admit this event was frightening. I wasn’t afraid for me–it’s my Britts who aren’t fighters.
    Both my boys allowed me to protect them (the older, dominate dog did not go into defensive mode) and that made it easier. We screamed/shouted at the growling monster (tail up, fur up, teeth showing) who first aimed at my oldest pooch, then was ready to take on my sibling! It all happened so fast but we escaped what could have been a terrible incident.
    Today, I’m going back out there with a new frame of mind. Just when I thought it was “safe” I realize I have to be on guard again. I will not be bullied by an off-leash bully dog (it can be any breed), and I will contact authorities (again), and take control of the situation. Thank you so much for this blog post. Much appreciated.
    Dog lover/author who writes about companion animals

  18. You people who say you let your dogs off leash because you know or ONLY if you know you can control them. YOU don’t know what a dog will do, the dog is an ANIMAL and it is their nature to do what they do. I get so tired of careless humans with animals, you shouldn’t be allowed to own dog or anything else. wake up STUPID.

  19. Today while walking my two 11 month poodles we were confronted by two charging snarling staffy’s and a large cross breed, my Millie is very timid of large barking dogs so I got her up fast, luckily the charging dogs were all bark and no bite. But the attitude of the owner was unreal, I told her she shouldn’t just let them loose to charge at people, her reply, “they are alright” I didn’t know that and told her so, her reaction, “we’ll you do now” .
    What can you do, ignorant owners who know it all, 3 dogs not one leash between them.
    I’m not sure how to protect my little ones if seriously attacked by more than one dog, to carry a stick is cumbersome, pepper spray would be handy but illegal in the UK.

    1. worst thing you have ever done is pick your dog up! this is exactly why your dog is afraid.. this is why as a puppy it is so important to socialise them with other dogs so they learn the ettiquettes of becoming submissive if they are afriad of other dogs.. if your dog shows any unnormal behaviour you should go to a dog trainer. you call others ignorant but sadly it is you i see as ignorant

  20. Lindsay Stordahl

    There’s really not much you can do other than to seriously try to avoid those situations, which I understand are not preventable at times. I hope some of the ideas in the post and comments have been helpful. Thank you for your comment, and I’m glad your dogs and you ended up OK.

  21. I’m not a rules person, but leash laws are definitely a must. I walk two big dogs that are well trained and friendly on a leashed trail daily. Unleashed dogs take the fun out of the walk. Doesn’t matter how well trained they are or not, if the owner has recall, if they’re friendly, etc. If you want to interact ask.

    The off leashed dogs will approach and want to meet, see that my dogs are friendly and then it escalates into play. Not fair. They’re leashed and I’m not letting go – the owners think it’s cute. Reverse the role – leash your animal and I’ll let mine drag you around.

    Visibility of unleashed animals escalates the dogs into a play state and passing becomes unknown/dangerous. So an 1.5 hour walk becomes 2.5 hours because people can’t follow the rules. They have no idea someone is slowing down 1/2 mile back because they’re dog is unleashed.

    Unleashed dogs approach young kids walking and use the restroom in yards- classy.

    If you want to go to a dog park or an unleashed trail do that, if you’re in an leashed area get a leash and use it.

  22. The problem with dogs and leashes is that alot of dogs will see another leashed dog as a threat. they view leashes as an invasion of their personal space. its perfectly normal for one dog to want to meet and sniff another dog and i dont see the problem.

  23. Our garden is unfenced because of local conservation issues. Many people not from our neighbourhood who are walking to the park and woods leave their dogs off the leash. Many of them leave their dogs to run manically wherever they please and often they run into our garden up to our front door. I was twice menaced by a large dog that barked furiously at me as I approached my car in our driveway. I have watched owners walking on as if it is nothing to do with them! My cat which has been sleeping peacefully in the sunshine on our porch has been startled and chased on several occasions, and yesterday by a large white fluffy dog. Next time I see a dog in my garden I am going to confront the owner who is not controlling their animal and warn them that if it happens again I shall notify the police.

  24. Thank you soooo much!!! I’m dealing with this situation right now. I have a Dobie and sometimes can be agressive with otherS approaching dogs. Right now, we can’t go to the dog park…it’s so sad and frustrating because he is a powerful dog with a lot of energy and the only way to low his energy is to make long walks every morning and evening. I’m very sad about that, he used to be so friendly…I hope we may change thus situation. Great advices! Thanks for the tips! We live in Florida and I follow you since a long time. Sorry about my english, it’s not the best!

  25. Where I live people are suppose to keep their dogs on a leash on the trails. They don’t! So I purchased a Black Dog Stun Gun. The noise will scare the crap out of the loose dog and his or her’s owner. Works well when I am trail running and I have not had to stun a dog or aggressive owner with it yet! (It makes a loud static sound) Get one that is small enough to fit in your pocket while running. And keep it charged when not using it. The problem with bear spray or pepper spray is, if the wind shifts you are going to catch the spray!

  26. Last year I was literally knocked off my feet by a charging American Boxer who seemed to go from zero to 50 mph in about 10 seconds flat. It happened so fast I had no time to move. I had a sprained shoulder and wrist for months. It made me become extremely anxious from there on in whenever I saw a dog boisterously heading my way. This transferred itself to my own medium size dog as now whenever another dog approaches me he comes between me and the other dog and ‘sees it off’ with an uncharacteristic growl. He’s most definitely protecting me. My main worry now though is this a stress for my dog and should I try and avoid this happening. I’m worried that maybe one day the dog he is sending off will turn on him instead. What’s the right thing to do?

  27. I’m so glad I read this! I have a great fear of dogs charging me when I walk Willow ( I don’t know why). We have been charged a few times but I have been able to get the other dog to back down and move on, I carry pepper spray but I really don’t want to hurt another dog; I will if I have to. What I really want to do is spray the owner who is not following the leash laws.

  28. Lindsay, great article. My three year old Rottweiler is very leash reactive and prey reactive. I have been desensitizing him very slowly for several months now it is working but very slow. I want him to be like my other three dogs and be able to walk anywhere. I am not sure if we will ever make it. When he was 8 months old I was walking him and my GSD on the beach and a couple of guys decided to have some fun and chase us down in their pickup. Well they got so close that both dogs went off and the Rottweiler hit the truck and lost a tooth. Since then I have had huge issues with him. We are in a dog group that meets twice a week and that is helping a lot.

    1. Wow! What disrespectful people and I feel for you and your dogs. It’s amazing how ignorant people can be when it comes to dogs.

  29. Oh my! I was walking my dog, on leash down my street the other day and my neighbor’s dog was out and off leash. I’ve already had an encounter with this dog myself, where it has bitten me, when I got home late at night and found it wandering around alone and I tried to get it home. So when I saw the dog off leash, I put my pup in a sit (so proud of him for actually listening, training is going well!) and the dog of course approached, yapping away. Meanwhile while I was thinking about how I would handle the situation, the owner came out and approached me. My dog is the size of a small horse, her dog is a small little sassy one, and she looked at me as her dog is yapping at my perfectly seated dog and said that she was afraid to pick up her dog because she thought my dog would bite her. It took every ounce of patience in me to not confront her more about the fact that her dog has bitten me and that her dog should be kept on a leash… I could rant forever! I’ve recently adopted my 9 month old Giant Schnauzer, and it’s been so sad to experience the prejudice against my beautiful, but black, large breed dog.

  30. My dog and I have been attacked 6 separate times in the 2 1/2 years of owning and walking a dog in the neighborhood. The first five times, I panicked and screamed. But this last time I remembered my pepper spray and let off a warning shot towards the approaching dog. Well the owner saw that and he ran so fast to get his dog. He wasn’t really trying to get the dog before that! I hope to always remember the spray from now on. My dog gets so upset whenever a dog approaches us. She is a goldie and to see her fear is so heartbreaking. I can’t really take her out to dog parks anymore or any where else in public where other dogs may be because of these incidents.

  31. My lab had been attacked 3x in his life – my BC/Pyr once – 3 times it was a pitbull – the other time an american bulldog – in each case – I tried to intervene – once receiving bad bite shielding my dogs head from the dog – it is a horrible experience and in each case – the owners were clueless and unable to control the dog – from my viewpoint -I would do anything to save my dogs even risking my own safety – but in my experience – it is always a clueless owner that results in dog attacks…btw they do make dog-attack specific taser guns to defend yourself and your loved fur one…

  32. Awesome post on an important topic. Just recently posted about it as well. Ever since living in the NC countryside in a county without leash laws, I carry a storm whistle on a lanyard around my neck, as well as a spray bottle filled with vinegar I carry in a cross-body bag, and also a clip-on pepper spray for the worst case scenario. Your recommendation of being in control of the dog you’re walking and being calm, yet assertive are spot-on in my humble opinion.

  33. I yell NO if they are coming at us really loud. Then I yell GO HOME. Most of the time someone (owners) or neighbors hear me. At the same time I have the dog I am walking very secure and by my side.
    We also cross the street or turn around. I am always aware of my surroundings in front of me or behind me.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, sounds similar to what I do. I yelled “NO!” at a very calm, sweet dog approaching us off leash just yesterday. Her owners were with her and calling her and she was ignoring them and approaching my weim and I. The two dogs wouldn’t have had an issue but I didn’t want to “reward” her for blowing off her owners.

  34. I do not run with my dog but we bike together frequently. That’s the only time my mastiff mix is on the right-hand side. We often have issues with off leash charging dogs. Normally we keep going, but a few occasions have arisen that I have to stop, which bruiser is trained to sit and I manuever the bike between us and the unruley dog. Normally once off the bike and in a calm position the charging dog calms a bit as well. Sometimes owners have to come retrieve their unruley fur brat. I always have my dog under control, on leash or off, and he is only off leash in public at the dog park and our yards. I can’t stand when the people walking by the house with their dogs let them bark their fool heads off at my dog. Bruiser will only react if they enter the yard, but my toy poodle will go after them and it still is bad manners on their part.

  35. Another deterrent to try. Carry an air horn. They are small and lightweight and really, really, loud. Haven’t met the dog yet that it won’t stop in his/her tracks. Works best if you use it while still in your pocket so the advancing dog thinks it’s a message from the “gods”.

  36. Dog runner sounds like an awesome job! I’m waiting for my puppy to hit the 18 month mark so she can run with me. We have had dog charging experiences while out on walks though, and it’s always nerve wracking.

  37. A month ago I moved into a new condo and last night was the second time this situation happened where one of the neighbors was walking two big German Sheppards which she lost control of as they are two strong and big for her and started charging me and my 9 pound havanese. She yelled out me to please pick my dog up and I did as they charged me and I ran into my courtyard (which I am sure they could jump the tiny gate so I proceeded to run inside my home). The first time this happened I assumed this wouldn’t happen again and after I calmed myself down I let it go. Last night the exact same situation happened. I was taking my dog on a leash out to use the grass in the front yard and there she was with her two dogs. Her dogs were barking and jumping around to try to get to us and she asked me again to pick up my dog. Then she lost control of the leash and the dogs lunged at us. Thankful I made it inside again. I yelled at her that she needs to keep control of her dogs. I felt completely helpless in this situation and not only fearful for my dog but also for myself. What is the best way to handle this situation? I’m not even confident a pepper spray could stop these huge aggressive dogs. I do not like feeling so vulnerable and especially right outside my front door!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Do you know where she lives? Can you go talk to her without your dog and explain your concerns. I think she should walk her dogs separately if she can’t safely control 2 at once.

      1. Thanks for your reply! I was thinking the same thing about asking her to walk them separately. I don’t know where she lives but will try to find out. I also thought to suggest a pincher collar for more control of her dogs.

  38. Great info Lindsay, I take my dog’s hiking and most of the time there is nobody around. but I have run into other dogs every once in a while. It can get scary when dogs run right up to me and my pack.I try to keep moving and get myself in between the other dog and my pack.I find so far is most dogs just want to say hello. I carry pepper spray and first aid with me, so far I have not had to use it. The recall is so important for a dog to know and do. Every dog I walk I spend time once a month working on. I wish for all dog owners to understand it is important that their dogs come when called.

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