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off the chain: trainer nicole larocco on how to thwart an unleashed dog

  • Nicole
  • Posted by Nicole Larocco on
    Guest Blogger of Petplan


Leash laws are in place for a reason, then why do so many people pretend they don’t exist?

Last year, I was on a walk with one of our dogs, Porter.  Now, Porter looks as friendly as they come, an adorable mix of Border Collie and Golden Retriever who, in true Collie/Retriever fashion, has to carry something in his mouth at all times!  But in reality, he’s never liked other dogs.  So we don’t do dog parks, and we practice focus exercises on our walks when we walk past other dogs.  And we’re pretty darn successful! 

During one particular walk, a woman with an off-leash French Bulldog named Charlie headed right for Porter and the extra-large stick he was carrying so proudly.  True to his training, Porter dropped his stick, turned his body toward me, and focused on me when he saw the dog coming.  Charlie’s owner tried to call him back. . . Charlie did not listen.  Charlie rushed right into Porter’s personal space and Porter pounced on him, slamming him to the ground. 

Charlie was unharmed, but his owner grabbed him, shot me a look, and huffed, “Your dog needs to be socialized. . . Charlie only wanted to share the stick!”  Porter and I were stressed out for the entire duration of the walk, and I had to rebuild all of the training that I worked so hard to achieve. We were lucky that nobody got hurt. 

As a trainer, and as the owner of a challenging dog, this blog is really hitting home for me.  For me and many of my clients, walks are about relaxing, stretching our legs, and practicing training exercises with our four-footed friends.  But what happens when things don’t go as planned?  How do you thwart an off-leash dog that is running toward you?  Here are a few tips:

Tell people that your dog is not friendly.  Whether it is true or not, if an owner is walking toward you with an off-leash dog, call out from as far away as you can that you and your dog are not interested in being social with their dog.  If they push the issue (and they do, trust me), simply tell them that your dog may bite their dog if he gets too close.  Whether that is true or not, nobody needs to know. 

Throw some treats.  I always carry treats on my walks; it’s pretty much the easiest way to ensure that my dogs will behave!  And I have successfully diverted an approaching dog by yelling the words “You Wanna Treat?” and then throwing a few biscuits behind the approaching dog’s head.  In this case, the dog will spend a few seconds foraging around for the biscuits while you have time to regain control.

Body block.  If the aforementioned tips did not work, step in front of your dog, hold out your hand or foot, and command “No” or “Sit” in a very stern voice.  Many dogs know these two commands and will stop.

Carry a weapon.  Ok, I’m not advocating for carrying a gun or anything, but several companies carry compressed air products like ‘Spray Shield’ a citronella based product that has been proven to stop dog fights.  Many times, this will stop a charging dog in its tracks.

As a last resort, do whatever you need to do to get your dog out of the situation.  If you notice that you are next to an empty fenced yard, pick up your dog and throw him into the yard.  If the approaching dog is absolutely not stopping, you may need to assess whether it is better for you to actually drop the leash and let your dog handle himself than to have you restraining him on leash. Whatever you do, do not run away.  Running away will only trigger a prey instinct in the charging dog.  It is better to stand your ground than to turn and run. 

Dealing with an off-leash dog is a stressful situation, but remember, if your leashed dog is charged by an off-leash dog, you are in the right.  Do not be afraid to report the off-leash dog and their owner to the local police.  And if the dogs came in contact in an aggressive way, do not let the other owner leave without getting their contact information in case you need to follow up with them.  

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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