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

By: Ruth O'Neil
Last Updated:

Walking your dog is one of the most stress-busting experiences for sure but you need to be careful and aware of the potential dangers that you may come across. There are loads of hazards and issues that may come your way while on a walk with your dog.

Walking Your Dog Is A Fun Activity – You Shouldn’t Avoid It

These include choking hazards, squirrels, and bits and pieces of glass or other material that may harm your pet. But there is one other potential danger that may come in front of you and catch you unaware – that is a dog-free off its leash and approaching your dog. So, What do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking your dog?

This is one of those situations that you might not be able to avoid even if you are constantly scanning what is about. There is not one definitive course of action here, you will have to asses situations on their own merits and act accordingly.

You, as the owner and guardian of your dog, will be best placed to decide what to do but in time you will become attuned with your dogs behaviors and how they themselves are assessing a situation.

You and your dog’s response will largely depend on the type of dogs that are approaching you – some may simply want to play, while some may be advancing on you aggressively.

Every dog is different however, and though some of them would just like to come and play around with your pet, you will have to be careful in assessing the situation and be prepared for any eventuality. You and your dog’s safety should always be the first consideration.

Is it okay to let a dog that you are not familiar with meet the dog you are walking?

In the vast majority of cases the answer is Yes, but you will have to weigh up the situation as discussed below. It is obviously not compulsory to allow an unleashed dog to approach yours but depending on the scenario it will be part of your older dog’s or  puppy’s socialization.

By scenario I mean things like the location, time of day etc. You will have a pretty good feel on whether the area you are in is likely to have potentially aggressive stray dogs or whether the pooch approaching you in the woods is just running on ahead of its owner to say hello. Common sense is a good guide here.

How Should You And Your Dog Behave If An Off-Leash Dog Approaches You?

We will look at indicators and what actions you may take in response to certain situations but you try and remain calm, think clearly and placate your dog where possible. If you have a well rounded and socialized dog then their behaviors may be the biggest indicator of the nature of the approaching dog. 

What To Look Out For If Off-Leash Dog Approaches You And Your Dog

We keep on talking about assessing the need of the situation whenever faced with this situation where an unknown unfamiliar dog is off-leash and advancing towards you when you are walking your dog. But many are puzzled as to what is it that you should be assessing or what exactly are you supposed to be looking for.

Be alert but not fearful (we will cover more dangerous attacks later). There are certain things that you should pay attention to or should be looking out for in such a situation. These can be listed as under:

1. The pace at which the dog is advancing or approaching – The pace or the speed at which the off-leash dog is advancing towards you and your dog is an indicator of their aggressiveness and sometimes their concern. If it is a stray dog, they love to keep their territories marked and any dog leashed or otherwise trespassing into their territory and as such it may come barking and howling at you two. So you need to understand this and accordingly act if the dog is moving towards you and your dog too fast.

2. The behavior of the dog – Though the fast pace of the dog can be a substantial warning for you to immediately act and be cautious or take guard. Some may just come walking towards your dog to play or some just walk past buy without much interest. So you must watch out and look for the behavior of the dog that is approaching you. If you sense no danger there should be no issues but if you see signs of aggression you will have to decide on a course of action accordingly.

3. Is the dog nervous or looking scared? – Many times the unleashed dog may come running to you or walking and may just start barking at you unprovoked. They will be barking from a distance upon seeing you but won’t try to come near you or your dog but may still just try to disturb you and your dog’s walk. These are signs that the dog is scared and nervous with your presence and in such a case you have to understand that and moving away from their sight is the best thing to do.

4. Is the dog approaching you for food? – This is a tricky one to assess. Sometimes the dogs may come looking for a human or someone who can give them something to eat. This is more common with dogs that are usually fed by other walkers or humans. So maybe they expect the same from you too while you are on a walk and may come to you expecting some food. It is therefore always advisable to carry some kind of dog snack with you while on a walk. You never know when a little bit of dog snack may turn out to be a lifesaver both for you and for the off-leash dog.

5. Surroundings and things around you – While on a walk with your dog you must have a look at your surroundings once. This helps in creating a mental picture of what you can possibly do to take guard or get out of the sight of any potential dangers of a stray or an off-leash dog. You can watch out for gates, railings, trees, or even benches around in a park if you have taken the dog out to a park. Being aware of the surroundings always helps in taking the right action in case of any eventuality.

So to answer the question – you should look out for all the above when you take your dog out for a walk.


Possible Actions To Take When An Off-Leash Dog Approaches You And Your Dog

Though there can be many actions that you can possibly take when you see an off-leash dog approaching your dog while walking, here we have listed a few probable actions that you can possibly take when faced with such a situation.

1. Keep Walking and Away – The best thing to do in most of the cases is to simply keep walking while ignoring the dog and walking away in a calm manner. Do not let your dog engage with the other dog. If the dog continues to follow your dog, keep walking, and do not let your dog interact so that any potential altercation may be avoided. Doing this will ensure you and your dog are safe and the other dog may lose interest and leave.

2. Do Not Intervene – It might happen that your dogs might get into brawls and fights with off-leash dogs – if that happens do not try to get in between or intervene. You may end up getting bitten by the off-leash dog and that is going to be severe. Only get in if they both get on the verge of biting each other or be ready to take help from emergency services.

3. Don’t be quick to pick up – When you see an off-leash dog approaching you may be tempted to pick it up quickly, particularly if yours is a small one. Doing so can attract the attention of the approaching dog quickly and it may activate its prey instincts which may lead to a sudden attack on you. If you wish to pick it up, do it in a way that your motion is not visible to the approaching dog. Make sure you minimize the motion so that the aggressiveness of the dog is not triggered.

You do not want to habitually pick your dog up as it may associate any dogs with fear and removal from the situation. Having said that always act with safety first. 

4. Trick the dog out with a treat – Throwing a handful of treats towards the approaching dog may help you buy some time by diverting its attention and walking away. However, this may not always be the best strategy as the stray dogs may start coming back to you thinking you to be a source of food and should only really be used if you have a place of safety nearby. It is always wise to keep a small supply of these just in case.

5. Use a physical barrier – This is probably the best thing to do. If you find that the approaching dog is too aggressive you can try using a stick between you and the dog. In doing so ensure that you are not angering them too much to make them more attacking and aggressive. Keep an eye on the surroundings and try getting behind a gate, a fence, or a car which may also act as a physical barrier.

6. Handle aggression with care – If you observe that the approaching dog is getting nervous upon your sight and is barking and growling ferociously, you may want to move out of its sight immediately. Just start walking the other way calmly without running and calmly. This will calm the dog down and stop the dog from attacking you or your dog. So handling the aggression of your dogs with care is important.

You Might Want To Get Active With Your Dog – Find Some Company For Walks or Runs

The overwhelming message is that the vast majority of dogs that approach you off-leash will only be investigating or coming to say hello. Socialization is important but safety is paramount so hopefully the information within this post will help you assess and manage what to do when an off-leash dog approaches you when you are walking your dog.

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Ruth O'Neil
Owner of two bouncy Cockapoos, Jasper and Harley. whose energy knows no bounds!

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