How to Handle an Off-Leash Dog That Approaches You

Published: 4/5/2021
What do you do when an off-leash dog approaches you? If you have a dog who doesn't like other dogs, there's probably nothing more anxiety-producing than seeing an off-leash dog bounding towards you and your dog. Your dog could have had a bad experience with an unleashed dog in the past. Or they might be fearful, reactive, elderly, recovering from an injury, or just want to be left alone when they’re out on a walk. 

Whatever the case may be, even if your furry buddy is healthy and well socialized, you don't know anything about the other dog. Do they have any behavior issues? What is their health history?

It's best to be prepared so that you and your pooch can avoid potentially sticky situations. Because each dog and situation is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but having some tactics in your arsenal can help you protect your dog when you need to.


#1. Be aware of your surroundings

The sooner you spot an off-leash dog headed your way, the faster you can go through your “mental toolbox” and figure out what to do next, whether it’s quickly making a U-turn or putting your pooch in a safer place. 

It kinda stinks that you can’t let your guard down, but staying alert can prevent “deer in the headlights” moments and save you a lot of headache. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


#2. Walk away

In most cases, simply changing direction and walking away from the off-leash dog is enough to make them lose interest in your pup. Be sure to do this calmly and don’t tighten the leash, as this will tell your dog that you are uncomfortable. 

Of course, the effectiveness of this strategy largely depends on how well your pooch listens to you, so enroll them in obedience classes if they’re not yet trained.


#3. Carry treats

Sometimes, you can stop a loose dog from approaching by telling them to “sit”. If they do, you can throw some treats on the ground, and you and your pooch can make your exit while they’re distracted. Even if they don’t comply, you can toss some treats at their face (just enough to startle them, but not hurt them).

Keep in mind, however, that using treats is not an ideal long-term strategy as it can teach off-leash dogs to see you as a food source.


#4. Use a body block
Place a physical barrier between your pooch and the off-leash dog by stepping in between them. Put your hand out and say, “No!” or “Go home!” in a firm voice. Turning the front of your body directly towards the loose dog, i.e., blocking, may prompt them to back away. Continue to stay between the two canines as you lead your dog out of the area.

#5. Use an umbrella

Another thing that you can use to prevent an off-leash dog from making contact with your pup is a push button umbrella. Pop it open as the other dog is rushing towards you—this will not only provide a physical barrier but also scare them away. For even more “startle factor”, you might want to paint eyes on your umbrella. 

Similarly, you can use a walking stick to keep off-leash canines at bay. Again, the goal is to intimidate or scare them enough to stop them in their tracks, but not hurt them.


#6. Carry a deterrent spray

A citronella-based deterrent spray can come in handy when dealing with an approaching dog that’s aggressive or, if worse comes to worst, break up a dog fight. These sprays are aversive to most canines, but don’t actually harm them.

Please do not ever use pepper spray, as pain can make an already aggressive dog even more aggressive. In addition, wind can blow the spray back towards you or your dog, and even a small amount can be very painful. 


#7. Be sneaky about picking up your dog
If you have a small dog, your first instinct might be to pick them up if an off-leash dog approaches. This can work, but it is recommended to hide the act from the other dog as the movement can trigger their prey drive.