I'm thrilled to welcome my good friend Emily Lewis from A Click Away Training and her guest blog post about what to do when encountering an off leash dog on the trail. Emily is a exceptional dog trainer with years of experience helping humans connect with their four-legged friends. Visit A Click Away Training to learn more about her dog training business in Vermont and to get great training tips from her blog!
Picture this. You're walking along a peaceful trail with your dogs, soaking up the nature vibes. Suddenly, a loose dog appears just ahead. You're not sure if he is friendly or a threat. What do you do? Over to Emily:
I've lost count of how many times I've been out walking, hiking, or running with my dogs, and a strange dog has come bounding up to us with no owner in sight. Sometimes we encounter dogs whose owners come running to us from the distance shouting, “Don't worry, he's friendly!”
I could easily turn this post into a rant about irresponsible owners. However, there are plenty of articles out there on that topic. What I'm going to do instead is share with you ways to keep you and your dogs safe in these situations.
The first order of business is to figure out of the approaching dog is friend or foe.
When assessing a dog's body language we look at them from nose to tail. Each body part can play a key role in communication. Important areas to pay attention to are the tail, the ears, the mouth and the eyes. As a general rule, the more tense any of those body parts are the more uncomfortable a dog is. Let's take a little test. Look at the following pictures one at a time before checking at the answer's below.
1. What do you see here?
2. What's different about this picture?
Can you see the differences in the body language between Picture 1 and Picture 2?
1. Fisher on the far right is play bowing to the other dogs. This is a friendly invitation to play. The other dogs are mid action, but still look relaxed.
When looking at dog to dog interactions we want to see wiggly body motions, floppy tongues and wagging tails. Good dog to dog play begins and ends naturally, with breaks being taken by the dogs all on their own.
2. Fisher, the dog on the left, is lying down and licking the other dogs face. The dog on the right is stiff, with a high tail.
That high tail and rigid body are hallmarks of an uncomfortable dog. These dogs will often freeze in that posture, their next move determined by the other dog. That's why Fisher laid down and began licking his face, both appeasement gestures. This is the dog's way of saying “It's cool man, please don't hurt me.”
What can you do with this information when an off leash dog approaches?
If the owner is present I'll simply ask them to leash their dog if I'm not up for a meet & greet.
If an off leash dog approaches and I don't see an owner, I will yell out, “Please come get your dog!” I want them to know their dog has found me.
I look at the dog's body language to see if they appear friendly. If they do, and my dog is social, I may let them meet, then continue my walk.
Sometimes I may want to stop, and allow a play session with the new dog. It's important to remember that a dog who appears friendly, may become aggressive after an initial sniff.
If the dog doesn't appear friendly, or I just don't want them to meet my dog, I'll ask my dog to sit behind me, placing myself between the new dog and my own.
Then I'll give the off leash dog something else to do. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking them for a common behavior like “sit."
If that doesn't work I'll toss some treats in the oncoming dog's face, which should cause him to start sniffing the ground, while we walk away.
My last choice is to startle the oncoming dog. I can do this by yelling loudly or opening an umbrella in his face.
Alternately, I can carry something with me like compressed air or citronella spray (NEVER pepper spray) to keep off leash dogs at bay. My goal is never to hurt a dog, just to keep them away.
Remember that you are your dog's advocate! If you're in an area with a leash law, don't hesitate to report off leash dogs.
All of this being said, be responsible with your own dog. Don't allow your dog's freedom to negatively impact other dogs or people who may be fearful. If your dog is off leash, he should be under your full verbal control.
Emily Lewis is a professional dog trainer living in Vermont with her three rescue dogs. She focuses on creating a strong bond between owners and their dogs through positive training. Learn more at aclickawaytraining.com and be sure to Follow on Facebook and Instagram for great dog training tips!