Encountering off-leash dogs

Photo by Anne Cutler.

I recently took a walk with a friend on a big section of a popular trail in town that runs along a river. The trail system spreads for miles around the city and it’s a very popular route for dog people, for obvious reasons. In just an hour of walking, we saw tons of people with their dogs: A pregnant woman with her older shih tzu and pomeranian puppy; a little boy with his all-white American bulldog; an elderly man and his elderly mixed breeds; a parade of labs; a woman and her chubby Australian shepherd; a woman and her very vocal dachshund; a young guy and his Great Pyrenees…

The one thing that did surprise me, however, was how many of these dogs were off-leash, despite the fact that there were many signs posted along the trail stating that all dogs have to be leashed. None of these off-leash dogs seemed particularly “dangerous”–the two old dogs were so slow that they were barely walking, and the young lab who was off-leash was so fixated on the stick in his owner’s hand that he wasn’t looking at anyone else. We also saw a young male spitz/collie mix who seemed to either be a stray or to have been left behind by his humans, because he wasn’t with anyone. (He ran off in the woods before we could get that close to him to look for identification tags.)

Confession: I can be as guilty as the next person about sporadically breaking leash laws. Dublin and Dally are never leashed when we’re at the park in my hometown, mostly because the park is sparsely populated. If we do ever see a dog, we leash them, but they’re usually romping free, and Dublin, for one, is extremely responsive to verbal commands. I’ve hiked a trail with Bo off-leash, too, but it wasn’t an official trail, so there were no leash laws governing it. In general, though, I always leash and try to use common sense about it. It’s safer for everyone. So, I know this. I just wanted to admit my hypocrisy up front.

But. On this particular trail, seeing these many off-leash dogs did make me a little nervous about using this trail in the future. It’s not like it’s a sparsely used park or an unofficial path in the forest; this is a heavily trafficked trail system, used by all sorts of people: Dog people, young families, teenagers, bikers, runners, and even the city’s homeless.

What if we have a dog who isn’t great with other dogs rushing up to him or her? Our dog would always be leashed, but you can’t control an unleashed dog from rushing forward. (*Side story: Zoe and I narrowly escaped a potentially frightening situation like this. I was walking her in her neighborhood, and a young German shepherd was loose in his front yard. There were college students standing out in the yard, too, but none of them were looking at the dog, who started to charge toward us, growling. I stopped behind a hedge and shouted over it, “PLEASE leash your dog!” Thankfully, they heard me and grabbed the dog and we could continue without fear for our lives…)

How do you prevent this situation from escalating–an unleashed dog rushing up to your leashed one? Have you ever encountered this before?

14 thoughts on “Encountering off-leash dogs

  1. Pet peeve!!! Yes. I have on more than one occasion.

    Once while walking Kyuss, on leash, through the neighbourhood, two notorious barking dogs happened to be loose. Their owner managed to grab one before it ran over but the other came charging up, hackles raised, growling. Her yelling did nothing to deter him.
    I had my then 4 month old daughter in a sling so I was extremely unhappy someone could be so careless.
    Kyuss is great with other dogs thankfully but I did not want a confrontation to start with my daughter on my chest. The dog was a smaller dog, perhaps 20lbs at most whereas Kyuss was easily 80lbs+ at the time.
    When the dog came close enough, I think he suddenly realize the size difference, being that Kyuss towered over him, looming with his hackles now raised.
    I had Kyuss’ leash held very loosely, ready to drop it at a moments notice if something were to happen. I was not going to risk injury to my daughter if the two went at it. Thankfully the dog’s owner managed to run into the street, yelling enough to discourage her dog. She didn’t catch him, but he ran off in some other direction. The B**** didn’t even apologize.

    I vowed then on, that I would not walk in the neighbourhood with my daughter in a sling by myself. If something were to happen, it would be too difficult to stop the situation with her attached to me.

    On another occasion, two different small dogs came charging into the street while I was 7 months pregnant with my son and my daughter in a stroller. This time, I didn’t even let the dogs come close, I put Kyuss into a sit/stay and booted one of the dogs in the face. They ran off back home while their owner sat there with her jaw wide open.
    I didn’t ever see those dogs outside again off leash…..

    1. *Thumbs up* Can you believe these people though? They bring such an inconvenience to you yet they don’t even apologize. Situations like this could escalate to being hazardous in a matter of seconds. You would think they’d have the decency to atleast apologize.

      1. No kidding. A simple “I’m sorry” would have done wonders in both situations. I would have even apologized to the second woman for kicking her dog in the face. (I don’t enjoy hurting dogs, but if I feel threatened you can bet your boots I’ll react)

        Also, in both these situations, the dogs were off leash and their recall was terrible. Doesn’t it always seem the ones with the bad recall are the ones who are most often off leash? Strange…

      2. Yes! Well, I’m sure they got the message from that kick though.

        It is a shame that owners of smaller breeds allow these ongoing bad habits. Although, I love it when I pass by their apartment with their dogs barking at the window. I definitely take advantage of that to train my girl around these barking dogs. We’ll have maybe 15 minute sessions by their window. Hey, if they allow them to act like that, then I might as well take advantage of it for our benefit. lol

  2. Very interesting topic. I have a German Shepherd and I’m thankful that those college students were able to control their dog. Of course, the only one that can prevent these situations from escalating is the owner. Only the owner knows their dogs best (responsible owners) and know their temperament. Small dogs have a bigger bark than their bite so people around my apartment complex always have their dogs off-leash even though we have leash rules. People that own large breed dogs, such as myself, know the damage that can be done so should be more aware and responsible. I’m not saying small dogs should get the luxury of being off-leash but the owners should be more aware and considerate.

    I’ve encountered many off-leash small breeds rushing up to my girl. All I can do is brace myself and grip the leash hard and pray my dog doesn’t react (rarely does). If the dog coming with an aggressive approach, I’m ready to protect my dog at all times. Fortunately, all of my encounters were with friendly dogs and so they just exchanged sniffs.

    1. It is rather sad that most small dogs get away with so much more due to their size. Us owners of larger, more powerful breeds focus so much on training our dogs to be good citizens so people can see how gentle and sweet they really are. Whereas, the owners of small dogs, have the mentality that their dog is already cute and “sweet”, and bad behaviour just makes them that much more quirky and interesting. Shame…

      1. I definitely agree, Penny. I get SO frustrated with owners of small dogs who don’t give them an ounce of training or try to restrain them. It really gets on my nerves.

  3. This is also a pet peeve of mine. Ya see, I was raised up in the South. I remember those dogs sicced on the Freedom marchers. Many of my black neighbors are afraid of dogs because of that. So that’s why I am adamant that dogs should be on leash.

  4. As someone with a very reactive dog who does NOT like unfamiliar dogs in her face, this is one of the most annoying things we encounter. First, I actively avoid walking her in places that I know have a lot of unleashed dogs. It doesn’t particularly matter to her whether the other dog is friendly or not, so I have to walk places where I’m less likely to encounter off-leash dogs. It’s unfortunate, because there are great trails that are supposed to be for leashed dogs only, but people just don’t follow the rules. If I know it’s a place like that I just don’t go, no matter how much I’d like to.

    My second strategy is that I carry DirectStop every time I’m out with my dogs. It’s a harmless citronella spray that is a very good deterrent. I absolutely WILL spray any dog that gets too close. I don’t care if there’s an owner present or not. If their dog is off-leash and not responding to the owner’s recall, they get sprayed. It’s not worth the risk to let them close to my dogs. I don’t feel the least bit bad about it, either, because there are leash laws in place.

    1. Nicole,

      Where do you get DirectStop, and have you used it? Do you think it would deter a dog charging at your dog? We have a terrible problem with “off leash dogs” in the area and lots of them do run at you and your dog. I have a fearful dog who barks back and then the whole situation worsens.

      1. It looks like they’ve rebranded it as “Spray Shield.” You can get it at most Petco and Petsmart stores, and Amazon.com. Probably lots of other places, too.

        It will stop most dogs. The very, very aggressive dogs that aren’t going to stop for anything probably won’t stop for this, but I’d say for 99% of off-leash dogs it will work.

      2. Thanks Nicole, I am buying some, no sense walking feeling so defenseless against the people who will not leash their dogs. I have seen people walking their dogs carrying a 2×4 – that is crazy. I wondered why… but now I know why. I have to go to remote areas to begin with to this dog, and those areas people tend to do it even more. Thanks again!!

  5. I used to work at a campground where i had to walk around and constantly tell everyone to put there dog back on a leash. Everyone would always say the exact same thing. My dog is different. My dog is peaceful and well trained. But you know what happened. One of those peaceful well trained dogs went into the wrong campsite where a dog was on his leash and the dog on the leash KILLED the dog off leash. And you know who got no sympathy? The ignorant jerk who left there dog off his leash.

    I always told people keep your dog on a leash for its own safety but people never think like this.

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