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The Doggy Dilemma: Navigating Unexpected Off-Leash Encounters

At A Glance

Encounters with off-leash dogs can be a harrowing experience. So, what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog?

You can start by being pawsitively prepared:

  • Always stay calm and observant
  • Do not try to run away. That will only make matters worse.
  • Use voice commands and if that doesn’t work try to divert the other dog’s attention with treats.

Last Updated on: Apr 05, 2023

Picture this: you’re out on a peaceful walk with your furry friend, enjoying the fresh air and the sights and sounds outdoors. Suddenly, you spot a dog in the distance bounding towards you. Even worse – it’s off-leash and charging straight for you and your pup.

What should you do? Do you run? Do you stand your ground? How do you keep your dog safe?

Encounters with off-leash dogs can be scary, leaving you feeling vulnerable and unsure of how to react. But there are ways to handle such situations and keep yourself and your pet out of harm’s way.

In this article, we’ll explore some helpful tips and tricks for handling these unexpected encounters, so you can walk your dog with confidence and peace of mind.

custom oil-painted dog portraits by Poshtraits

What Do You Do If An Off-Leash Dog Approaches You While Walking A Dog?

Walking is good for your dog and you. It makes your dog happy and provides it with much needed physical exercise. And going to the dog park can also strengthen your bond with your pet. It allows both of you to burn off some steam and pent-up energy.

But what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog? You don’t know how both dogs will react-even if yours is a well-socialized one.

An off-leash dog can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous, and whether you’re an experienced dog owner or a first-time walker, it’s important to know what to do when an off-leash dog approaches.

By following the right steps, you can defuse a potentially dangerous encounter and keep both yourself and your pet safe.

First Things First: Pay Attention To Your Surroundings

You might not be able to tell from a mile away if a random dog is going to approach your pooch. But it is best to stay alert and cautious the moment you spot an off-leash dog from afar.

Situational awareness will help you figure out a plan of action in a calmer state of mind, even before the dog has actually approached you.

Keep Calm

So what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog?

Staying calm can be hard when you see a random dog approaching you. But keeping your calm will make your dog feel like everything is fine and help it stay calm, too.

“A calm demeanor will translate to your animal and will hopefully facilitate a more benign interaction”, says Anita Patel, DVM, IndeVets Georgia.

two dogs with their owners

Observe The Other Dog’s Body Language

The body language of the approaching dog can reveal a lot about its intent. A happy and friendly dog will have a relaxed face, ears, and body, soft, squinty eyes and a tongue that’s hanging out. You will also see its tail wagging happily and in a relaxed manner.

Although you may not have warning bells going off, keep your dog from greeting an unknown dog, especially if you have a fearful or anxious pet.

Even a friendly dog can become hostile with a dog that behaves skittishly or reacts defensively. You also can’t be sure if the other dog is vaccinated or has any transmittable diseases.

Be wary of a dog that exhibits a strong or defensive stance, like staring at your dog, forward ears, a closed mouth, a stiff body, a high and tight tail wag, and stalking movements. These are signs that it considers you or your dog a threat or prey.

What’s important is that you are aware of your pet’s body language, too. Dog parent Akiko Yoshida says, “You have to do your homework to know and understand the body language and energy created by dogs when they meet each other being a responsible owner.”

Understanding how dogs communicate through their body language, and most importantly yours, will help you determine the urgency with which you’ll need to act.

Walk Away

If you feel the off-leash dog looks belligerent and may harm your pet, walk away from it. Do not make the mistake of turning your back and fleeing from the spot. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, doing so will only make things worse, probably instigating the approaching dog to react aggressively.

Instead, calmly move backward or away at an angle without turning your back or making eye contact.

Also avoid tightening your pet’s leash while doing so. Otherwise, it tells your dog that you’re uncomfortable and will put it on guard.

For this strategy to be successful, your dog must be well-trained to listen to you. So, if you haven’t already, enroll your pet in dog training and obedience classes.

Body Block and Use The “Stop” Command

If an aggressive, off-leash dog approaches you and your pet, you can protect your pet by stepping in between the two dogs and creating a physical barrier between them.

Alternatively, put your hand out in a stop-motion and command, “No!” or “Go home!” in a loud and firm voice. This may prompt the other dog to hesitate, back away, and keep its distance.

You can also use other voice commands, like “Sit!” or “Stay!” to distract and calm it. Continue to stay between the two dogs as you back away with your dog in tow.

Carry Treats When You Head Out

Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, and member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board says, “Because you never know what type of creature you could encounter while strolling in the park or a new place, it can be smart to always carry treats with you on your walks.”

But how do you protect yourself from a loose dog with the help of treats?

Treats are a great way to distract an approaching dog. If it listens to your voice commands and sits or steps back, throw a couple of treats on the ground. You and your pet can then quietly make your exit while the dog happily munches on the treats.

However, if the off-leash dog does not listen to you, toss a few treats in its direction. This will startle it and break its focus, allowing you a little time to escape with your dog.

While using treats to distract off-leash dogs is not an ideal strategy, it does the job of distracting the enemy, giving you that little time to make an escape.

Use An Umbrella As A Physical Barrier

It might help to carry an umbrella with you when walking your dog. So, if a hostile off-leash dog comes near you, you can use a physical barrier to prevent the dog from making contact with or attacking your pet.

Pop open the umbrella in the direction of the other dog when it starts rushing toward you. This will block it off and scare it away.

Alternatively, you can use a stick to keep random dogs at bay. Use the stick to prevent them from getting closer, but never hurt them with it.

If these techniques don’t work, look for an actual physical barrier, like a fence or a wall, and cautiously get to the other side without alarming the off-leash stray dog.

Avoid Picking Up Your Dog

When an off-leash dog approaches you, your first instinct might be to pick up your small dog immediately. This strategy could work, but only if you pick your pet up subtly and stealthily to prevent triggering the stray dog’s prey instincts.

Avoid eye contact and make slow, deliberate movements so as not to alert the stray dog.

Communicate With The Owner

If you know who an off-leash dog belongs to and the owner happens to be around, express your concerns to them. Tell them their pet goes around unsupervised but its aggressiveness could be dangerous to people and other pets, including yours.

If you notice a dog roaming around unsupervised and cannot find the owner, your next best option is to call animal control.

dogs fighting

How Do You Safely Break Up A Fight Between Dogs?

“It is important to recognize that even well-mannered dogs can react aggressively if confronted by another animal during a walk”, says Casey Robinson, DVM, and the IndeVets Detroit area medical director.

Here’s what to do if a dog attacks your dog while walking:

Splash Some Water On The Dogs

This brings both dogs back to their senses and distracts them long enough for you to break up the fight and pull your leashed dog away from the scene.

Try The Wheelbarrow Method

If the off-leash dog’s owner is accompanying it, you can ask them to try the wheelbarrow method with you.

This involves each dog owner pulling their respective dogs’ hind legs at the same time.

Tug On Your Dog’s Collar

The simplest thing you can do to prevent a dog interaction from escalating is to pull your dog away by the collar.

Check for injuries as soon as you’re at a safe distance.

Take A Deterrent Spray With You

Some dog parents carry a can of compressed air or citronella-based spray with them when walking their dogs. These deterrent sprays can scare away aggressive dogs or break up dog fights. Most dogs detest the smell, but the sprays aren’t harmful.

Do not use pepper spray on dogs. Not only is it inhumane, but the pain can also make hostile dogs even more aggressive. It can also hurt you and your pet.

Use deterrent sprays only as a last resort, as they can end up scaring your dog, too.

Things You Should Avoid In A Dog Fight

The first thing you can do to avoid getting involved in a literal dog fight is to avoid taking your dog for a walk if they are aggressive or untrained. This makes them more likely to act out when they’re surrounded by other people or animals or in a different environment.

If you’re already in this situation, remember not to pull on either of the dogs’ tails to get them to stop-this will only aggravate them further. And while it’s okay to be a protective barrier from a dog that’s a bit further away, do not use yourself as your dog’s shield when you’re trying to break up a fight-this will only lead to more injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Best Method To Retrieve A Dog That Has Gotten Off-Leash?

The best method depends on the situation. Trained dogs may obey commands like “Come here!” and “Go home!”.

If you’re a pet owner, you may need to physically guide or carry away your pet and put its leash back on. To do this easily, turn your back slightly on your off-leash dog as if you’re about to leave. Chances are your dog will want to follow you.

How Do You Deal With Stray Dogs While Walking Your Dog?

Start walking away as slowly and naturally as possible so as not to alert either of the dogs. Refrain from abruptly turning around and running away, as this would only prompt the off-leash dog to run after you.

Walk at an angle away from the stray while keeping a close eye on it. Use a body block, or splash some water on the dogs if they are already engaged in a fight.



Meet Paul, a devoted dog dad to the delightful French Bulldog, Cofi. With a flair for humor and a deep understanding of Frenchie quirks, Paul brings a lighthearted touch to his writings. His relatable stories and practical insights are a blend of laughter and valuable advice and resonate with fellow dog owners.

Through his words, Paul aims to celebrate the joys and challenges of being a dedicated pet parent, reminding you that life is simply better with a four-legged, snorting sidekick by your side.