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Staying Safe: How to Protect Yourself & Your Dog, and What to Do If The Worst Happens

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

I’m sure at some point or another you have been out for a walk with your dog and an off-leash dog has run up to you. At this point, it usually goes one of two ways. Either everyone is friendly and tolerant and after a quick greeting you are able to continue with your walk, or there is tension that might result in an altercation. As the weather turns warmer and we are able to start getting out and enjoying it with our dogs, we wanted to outline some basic tools and techniques to keep you and your dogs safe! We had the opportunity last year to go to Micheal Shikashio and Trish McMillan’s Aggression Seminar, and they had some great additional tips and tricks that we want to pass along to you.

Before you even head out for a neighborhood walk or a hike at your favorite park, you should make sure that you have everything you need to protect yourself and your dog. Below is a list of helpful gear to have with you on your walks.

  • A bag of tasty treats (if you have done any work with us, you are probably already doing this!)

  • Extra slip lead

  • Bottle of water

  • Spray shield (A citronella spray)

  • Airhorn

  • A break stick

Of course, your best defense is to prevent an altercation from happening in the first place. If you have your safety gear with you the next step in prevention is to know your surroundings and be able to identify safe places or objects you can use defensively.

There are a few things to look for while out that can come in handy if you find yourself in a scary situation with an unknown dog.

  • Car or truck you can climb on or put your dog on

  • Garbage or recycling bins

  • An empty yard with a fence

  • Any loose clothing items you can stick in the dog’s mouth like a hat, jacket or bag

So, what should you do when you spot an off-leash dog approaching you?

First, remain as calm as possible and scan your surroundings. What are your exit strategies? Are there any vehicles or other physical objects you can use, like garbage cans or fences? Are there any people around? If you are far enough away you can try moving quickly away from the dog, encouraging your dog to stay with you. I usually throw food behind me to hopefully slow down the approach of the off-leash dog or stop it entirely. You will have to use your best judgment to gauge if this is a situation where you are far enough away that turning and moving away is safe. This will depend on the distance, and how fast the off-leash dog is approaching.

If they are too close for you to safely turn and walk away, stay facing the approaching dog while also trying to keep your dog on a short leash behind you. This is also the point where I am usually saying “STAY” in my low calm voice while I chunk handfuls of treats AT the dog. I am saying "Stay" because that is what comes naturally to me, sometimes I try “Sit”, but the important part is my low serious tone and frontal body position while also trying to keep myself between the off-leash dog and my own dog. I am actually trying to hit the off-leash dog with those tasty treats, ideally in the face to stun them enough that I can start slowly backing away from them and towards whatever my environmental objects are that I have identified. If there aren’t any, then I am continuing to throw handfuls of treats on the ground slowly backing away and calling for help.

Now, let’s say the dog did not care one bit about those extra tasty treats you chunked at them and is approaching with hard eyes and ears pointing forward at you or your dog. This is typically when I would start getting ready to use my spray shied. Spray shield is a Citronella spray in a can and usually, the spray can reach up to about 12 feet. Dogs generally find the citronella smell offensive and this might be enough to stun or startle them enough to buy you more time to get away.

If you have a small or medium-sized dog you might pick them up so you are more ready to put them on a car or in a garbage can. But be careful if you are holding your dog, you need to make sure to keep yourself between the off-leash dog and yours. You don’t want the dog jumping up and grabbing your dog and creating bite wounds that are now tears instead of punctures due to gravity pulling the biting dog back down. This is also a time to throw your hat or bag at the dog. If they are close and trying to bite at or grab you or your dog, shove the item right at their mouth instead of throwing it at them.

Let's say that you try all of this, and the worst happens. That dog has now bitten down on you or your dog. What should you do now?

This is the hardest part, but stay as calm as possible. I would usually use my Spray Shield or pet corrector (air horn) first. You want to try to keep your body parts out of it so you also don’t get bitten along with your dog. If the dog is biting you, the more you thrash around, the tighter they might hold or end up causing deep tears from dragging their teeth through you instead of just clamping down. If you are able to, try spraying the attacking dog in the face or up their nose with the spray shield.

You can also try spraying the attacking dog with water if you have a bottle, bucket or hose nearby. If the dog has made contact and isn’t letting go, I would opt for the spray shield instead of the water, but if you only have water that might work as well.

With the above options, the goal is to cause momentary pause where you can get in and grab one of the dogs. I normally go for the one that is doing the attacking. Using the extra leash you have on you or ANYTHING to help restrain the dog. A jacket, a long sleeved shirt, whatever you have on you.

If the dog still doesn’t let go, this is when having a break stick really comes into play, I often find myself looking around when I’m walking to see what I could use as a break stick if I don’t have mine on me. A break stick is used to stick in the back of the attacking dog’s mouth. It is usually flat, about an inch or two wide, shaped like a plastic knife. Stick it in flat, then start turning to pry the dog’s mouth open. It is important that you are steadying the dog between your legs, and holding their head, then begin to pry their mouth open using the break stick.

During all of this, try to keep in mind your environmental tools you can use. If there is a fenced yard nearby that is obviously empty, a garbage can, or truck bed, be ready to throw your dog in there when you are able the separate. Call for help too! A second set of hands will make this all the easier if you can find them.

It is our hope that with the defensive skills we have outlined, you will never find yourself in this situation. Unfortunately, sometimes the worst happens and we want all of you to be able to put a stop to an altercation as quickly as possible. If you are ever concerned about a dog, play it safe and get out of Dodge before you get too close.

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