What To Do When An Aggressive Off-Leash Dog Approaches

I’m sure most people have had encounters with off-leash dogs in areas where they shouldn’t be and most of the time it’s not a big deal when the owner comes running up yelling their dog’s name repeatedly. Apologizing as they pull their dog away or leash them up. But, it is a big deal when you have an unknown dog charging towards you and your dog because you don’t know if the dog is aggressive or not. Which leads me to this week’s topic…

What to do when an aggressive (or non-aggressive) off-leash dog approaches!

When I started my business down in Harlingen, TX I was very deep in the Cesar Millan methodology and went out on Pack Walks with my dogs and my clients dogs everyday like clockwork. Unfortunately, the mentality down there was to just let dogs out to go potty even if there wasn’t a fence. People would just put the dogs outside and close the door. This of course led me to being confronted by off-leash dogs on a regular basis.

I’ve been charged by a Bull Mastiff, German Shepherd, a pack of 3-4 chihuahuas, puppies, Pitbulls, Labs, and so many others I can’t recall right now.

The Bull Mastiff was actually the first dog I had charge me while walking my dogs. It was a frightening moment to be honest because the dog was massive! I had my dogs with me and out the corner of my eye I see this large object growing bigger. As I turn I realize it’s a Mastiff coming in at around 8 to 10 feet and my initial feeling was fear as I had at least 4 dogs with me, but then, like instinct, I stepped in towards the charging Mastiff, snapped my fingers, hissed followed by a firm “Hey” and the dog hit the breaks and ran back towards it’s home.

At first I was dumbfounded because I didn’t even think of what I was just doing. I just reacted and all those hours of watching and rewatching Cesar Millan came through. At that moment, I realized the power of presence and it reaffirmed in my head, “this stuff (Cesar Millan’s techniques) really works!”

So how does this apply to you?

First, there are some things that you would never want to do unless there is an immediate out.

  1. NEVER run away. This is everyone’s first instinct and one of the worst things you can do. This will trigger prey drive and now the dog knows they have you in flight which makes you appear weak. Getting them to back down will be incredibly difficult as they will feel they are in control of the situation.
  2. NEVER turn your back to a charging animal. Much like running away, but to a lesser extent. Once you’ve given your back you are saying, “I don’t want confrontation with you.”
  3. NEVER pick up your dog if you have your dog with you. This is a hard choice and one I suggest people think about beforehand so that in the moment they can act with purpose. By picking them up you are making them and yourself a bigger target. Not only that, but if your dog has a fighting chance, they can at least prepare themselves for the oncoming threat if left on the ground.

There are exceptions to these 3 rules like if there is a fence you know you can jump, a door you can get behind, you’re near your car, etc. Or if your dog is a chihuahua and the dog charging is a much larger dog, clearly your dog isn’t going to win. These are all things I tell people to decide before it happens. It sounds terrifying, but if you’ve already gone through the scenario in your head of how you would address the situation, when you are actually confronted with it, you’ll be able to act more assertively which will empower you even more. It’s like having a fire escape plan and rehearsing it with your family. It allows you to be proactive in the situation should it arise.

If you know your area is inhabited with off-leash dogs on the reg then you can prepare yourself with a can of dog repeller, a blow horn, spray mace, or a large stick each time you go out. Just note that even if you blow the horn, but you are running a way, the dog will be spooked for a second then charge in because it sees that you’re afraid and will pursue again. These tools are best employed while you are facing and stepping in towards the dog. By moving into the dog you are putting confrontation and threat on the brain, paired with a loud sound or stick that you use to hit the ground to emit more threat will cause them to move backwards.

Once you see the dog begin to flush back you can step backwards away from the dog. Again, I NEVER turn my back to a dog that was just in pursuit of me because they move quickly and can easily get to you before you realize it. I back away from the dog with the front of my body always facing them, pivoting to keep it facing towards them should they try to circle around me. This forward body language will keep most dogs at bay as most dogs don’t have the courage to bite or close the gap. It’s expected that the dog may move in again as you are backing up because you are taking pressure off the dog, if they move in, you simply step back in towards the dog and blow your horn or what have you. Repeat this process until the dog veers away or stops pursuing. Once you get a safe distance away, you can turn your back and continue walking.

The reason why this works well is because when a dog or dogs are unattended by a human, they are not empowered to really protect anything. They may be acting out in territoriality or over-excitement and your presence activated it so while they’re stuck in that moment, they’re not expecting the animal they’re pursuing to confront them back so it catches them off guard. I have tried this method countless times using just my body language and a hissing noise and only ONE time did it not work.

The reason it didn’t work was because the dog was with it’s owners and it felt empowered and was over-stimulated. I ended up having to give the dog a few firm kicks to the sternum to get him to stay at bay until the owner’s could run up and grab their dog. He wasn’t aggressive, but I had about 6 dogs with me and wasn’t about to let it become a free for all.

So when sound and presence doesn’t cut it, you have to act fast and employ physical touch. Another example of using touch to keep a dog at bay was Fall of 2017 when I was walking my dogs and client’s dogs down Cermak in Little Village. A lady turned the corner with 3 of her dogs off-leash! I recognized the aggressor immediately as he was the most vocal one so I switched all the dog’s leashes from my left hand to my right hand to bring them away from the threat as he was coming from the front left. As I controlled them I met him with a foot to the chest in which he yelped and ran back taking with him the other 2 as they were merely following his lead.

Should the dog bite and take hold. Don’t scream and don’t try to shake the dog off. Both of these things will turn the dog on and feed into the prey drive. This will also cause more damage to your muscles as they will tear. I would immediately go for the eyes if possible, grab their collar to choke them out, use my belt to act as a collar to choke them out, kick towards the soft part of the body to knock the wind out of them, and any other thing I can think of. But don’t panic!

If the dog is attacking your dog, let your dog’s leash go so that your dog has a fighting chance. If you can and are willing, go for the dog’s hind legs and lift them and begin kneeing or kicking in the stomach region of the dog. You may even be able to reach the dog’s throat or jaw depending on their size. If you can somehow get a leash, belt or other object of length like a bar under their throat, you can do so and put constant pressure on it to choke them out. Don’t feel bad, it’s their life or your dog’s life.

This isn’t abuse. This is about protecting yourself and your dog(s) because if you don’t, they will and things can get messy, FAST.

Hopefully these approaches to addressing the threat before it happens keeps you and yours safe, but remember, it’s not the size of the dog, but the size of the threat that you are emitting so you have to mean it! Your and your dog’s safety comes first so if that dog comes close enough that you need to use your stick to hit them or give them a good kick to get them to back off, don’t be afraid to do so! When using physical touch you have to mean it, don’t hold back or the dog WILL take advantage of your fear.

Think of being charged by a small dog to a big dog. Do you have your dog with you? Do you have something to employ as a defensive weapon? Is your dog big enough to defend itself? Are you willing to fight to protect your dog?

These questions are just a few examples and they may seem a bit much to you, but to someone else, those questions hold answers that are all too real as people and dogs have been attacked by off-leash dogs. It’s better to think them now while you’re not in the panicked state and can think clearly.

Until next time.

Canine Perspective, Inc.

Black and white pitbull with rainbow collar

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By | 2018-02-02T15:44:16+00:00 January 26th, 2018|Behavior, Chicago, Dog Rescue, Dogs|

About the Author:

Chicago's Premier Master Dog Trainer and Behavior Expert. Student of The Miami Dog Whisperer - Richard Heinz. Over 10 years of working experience with dogs. Professional Member of the International Association Of Canine Professionals.

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