A loose bulldog running on a grassy area dragging a blue slip leash behind him

Loose Dogs: 3 Tips For A Safe Encounter

Loose dogs are a common occurrence here in rural NC.

That’s because there are no leash laws here in Lee County and the surrounding counties.

Of course the result are many loose dogs who are bound to cross your path at some point while you’re out for a walk, with or without dogs.

As a result, many people carry large sticks on their walks for self defence purposes.

I wasn’t entirely sure what they were meant for until I asked a lady I see walking in my neighborhood on a daily basis.

She confirmed that her stick is to defend herself if an aggressive dog runs at her.

She also added that she wouldn’t want to harm any dog with her stick, but that she would only use to keep the dog away from her.

3 Tips For A Safe Encounter With Loose Dogs

3 Tips for a safe encounter with loose dogs

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated in 2024. It contains affiliate links I may earn compensation through at no additional cost to you. 

Now, the lady’s plan sounds good enough in theory, but I don’t believe that it would be effective in real life.

Unless you’re really strong and skilled in handling sticks or clubs in self defence, I don’t think that a stick is the right tool to keep a medium to large size dog away from you if they’re truly out of control.

Especially when you’re walking your own dog(s) who are likely going to react to the strange dog.

How do I know that a stick won’t work? Because I experienced it myself.

Here’s What Doesn’t Work to Break Up Dog Fights

I tried to break up a dog fight using sticks from a fire pit back when I was a dog waker and pet sitter – without much success.

The dogs got into a fight over a toy in one of my clients’ yards and started biting at each other’s heads and necks.

Talk about a stressful situation!

All I had available was my body and some longer sticks that were sitting in the fire put close by. So I grabbed a forked one and tried to separate the two dogs with it – in vain.

Then finally did what you’re NEVER supposed to do because it can seriously backfire…

…I grabbed a dog collar with both hands, pulled up on it and manoeuvred my body between the two dogs.

Thankfully, my approach ended up working because the dog whole collar I didn’t grab lost interest and walked away.

Hello adrenaline rush!

Luckily, neither of the pups were seriously hurt but only had minor flesh wounds that I was able to wash out and treat with Neosporin.

That’s an antibiotic from my pet first aid kit that I have in my car at all times.

By the way – the pups were totally fine with each other several minutes after the incident.

Goes to show that dogs do live in the moment and don’t hold any grudges!

Either way, the lesson I learned was to always have some kind of tool on me that would efficiently break up a dog fight or stop a lunging dog in his or her tracks.

When I say “on me”, I literally mean on my body, within easy reach, and not sitting in my car or at the bottom of my cross-body purse.

3 Tips For A Safe Encounter With Loose Dogs

Now, here are my top 3 tips to keep encounters with loose dogs safe:

1. Stay Calm & Breathe

I believe that staying calm and taking a deep breath can defuse a potentially dangerous situation.

That belief was reaffirmed by the dog trainer whose dog group training classes I’ve been taking in 2023 and 2024.

Our energy is a powerful ally in how dogs respond to us because they mirror our energy.

So they’re much more likely to be friendly and respect our space when we’re calm as opposed to excited, nervous or fearful.

I recorded the video below when I was out walking my two Boxer mixes in my old neighborhood in rural NC.

It shows an encounter with a loose Husky that went very well.

Loose Husky dog walking with us

See how calm all 3 of us are? This was the first time I ever saw him, just about 4 or 5 weeks after we moved to the NC countryside from D.C. suburbia.

I believe that this initial encounter could have had a different dynamic if I had stressed out about seeing him approach.

Also: Read The Loose Dog’s Body Language

What helped me stay as calm as I was at that particular moment was his body language.

When he came closer, I didn’t see any sign of tenseness on the dog, nor any:

  • Raised hackles
  • Growling
  • Snarling

He as actually the opposite: His movements were very mellow and he even had something goofy about him!

Later, I found that he’s known as a neighborhood nuisance of sorts.

That’s because he keeps digging out under his fence and roams people’s front yards on a regular basis, several times per week.

In the walk I shared in the video above, he had been walking with us for about 5 minutes.

At that point, I knew I could safely pull out my cellphone and record our little pack walk.

It ended up being an interesting, fun encounter!

Now, I know from experience that staying calm is easier said than done in a situation where a loose or stray dog comes running at you (and your dogs) and you’re not quite sure what to expect.

Especially when you can’t interpret the dog’s body language from a distance.

For those instances, I found that having tools on me I can rely on to stop an approaching dog in his or her tracks provides peace of mind.

It also helps me be a lot calmer because I know I have something to fall back on to protect me (and my dogs).

2. Carry A Storm Whistle Or An Air Horn

My first approach is to make some noise with my storm whistle.

As you can see in the picture below, I carry mine on a lanyard around my neck and I can easily reach for and use it.

Lanyard Holding Storm Whistle And Tick Twister
My storm whistle-tick twister combo

I’ve also heard good things about using air horns for safety, but I personally prefer the whistle.

That’s because it’s less cumbersome and I can wear it around my neck.

But if you’re willing to carry it on you somehow, I say go for it!

That said, I’ve used my storm whistle many times over the years.

Some dogs would actually stop dead in their tracks, look our way, and then decide to turn around and disappear.

Others were more persistent and, after they stopped briefly, continued towards us.

3. Carry Specific Sprays

At that point, I would pull out the vinegar spray bottle from my cross body bag and start spraying them.

Dogs don’t like the smell of vinegar at all, let alone getting showered in it.

It has a decent reach and has worked every single time.

You can also use a water bottle with a sports cap, for example like this one.

I learned about that option in our group dog training classes.

2 Things Helped Me & My Formerly Reactive Dog Avoid Getting Charged by an Off-Leash Dog

About the vinegar spray bottle – I buy the cheapest white vinegar I can find at the local grocery store and then fill my bottle with it.

I used to dilute it but not longer do because I want the maximum effect.

Pepper Spray

You can also carry a clip on pepper spray.

I’ve clipped it to my clothes, my cross-body bag or my treat pouch, depending on what’s more convenient at the moment.

I recommend you take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the pepper spray if you’ve never used one before.

So learn how to work the safety mechanism and test-spray it outside.

Clip-On Sabre Pepper Spray clipped onto shorts

Extra Tip: Carry A Taser

You can take it up one more notch and get your hands on a taser, or a taser flashlight.

Or a two-in-one pepper spray-stun gun.

This came recommended by a good friend who works in the personal security industry.

3 Tips For A Safe Encounter With Loose Dogs: Bottom Line

So, what to do if a dog runs at you (and your dogs)?

Stay calm but be prepared and know what to do.

I also highly recommend group dog training classes where you practice calm behavior with your own dog(s) in stressful situations.

As far as helpful tools to have on you, I recommend a:

  • Storm whistle
  • Pepper spray
  • Vinegar in a bottle with a sports cap

What about you, have you ever had a dog run at you while you’re out walking? What happened?

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below this blog post.

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.







12 responses to “Loose Dogs: 3 Tips For A Safe Encounter”

  1. Crystal Avatar

    A good method for deterring a friendly or neutral dog that you don’t want approaching you (due to a fear of dogs, the dog you are walking being dog reactive or dog aggressive, or any other reason) is to throw a handful of kibble or treats into the dog’s face as they approach. Most dogs will stop to eat (assuming they aren’t aggressively charging you), giving you a chance to change directions and slip away.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      That’s an excellent idea, Crystal, thanks for mentioning that! You’d just have to make sure to bring your treat pouch along. I’d have to opt for treats since my pups are on a raw diet 😉 Have you had to use that approach?

      1. Crystal Avatar

        I’ve used it a few times, and it works well. As I said, it wouldn’t work on a charging dog probably, or a dog intent on doing harm, but just as a distraction for friendly dog that you don’t want to encounter, it works well. I tend to recommend it to people like joggers who don’t want to get chased by dogs while running, because it is pretty easy and normally gives you a little bit to get away.

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Good to know that you’ve had success using that method, and yes, it’s easy enough for joggers or bikers to carry along in a treat pouch. Fairly inexpensive investment in their security, too!

  2. Beth Avatar

    We use SprayShield (citronella spray) for any dog that’s approaching us without a human close behind them–it almost always gets the dog to stop in it’s tracks or at least keep a distance from us until we can turn down another street and they decide they don’t want to stray that far from home. I’ve also used a stick–ages ago when walking my childhood dog–and you’re right, if you wait until the dog is on your dog, it’s too late, but if you throw it in the direction of a dog coming towards you, it often deters them. The loud noise and the flying object tends to startle them enough to get them to change their minds (even if Barley gets amped up in agility and wants to visit her classmates, our trainer will drop a jump pole on the ground between Barley and the other dogs and it will get Barley to change direction and remember she’s supposed to paying attention to me).

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Very interesting to hear you mention the citronella spray, Beth, and especially to learn that it seems to work! I’ll have to add it to my collection. How is the reach of it?

      Also very interesting to hear about the stick. I hadn’t thought about just throwing it in the general direction of the approaching dog. That’s essentially taking it up one notch from the whistle or air horn because of the add-on of the flying object. My only concern would be that I’d have to stick around (actually no pun intended!) longer than I might feel comfortable in order to get it back. Or, in case the stick doesn’t work, that I won’t have another means of defending myself. Do you carry a stick and the citronella spray when you’re out walking?

      1. Beth Avatar

        I don’t carry a stick now–but when I was kid, my mom and I always had one. We just used something out of the brush pile at the back of our yard so that if we had to throw it, we didn’t have to stick around to get it back.

        The citronella spray goes a pretty good distance when it’s full–I’d say at least 10 feet. It sprays far enough that a dog has never gotten close enough to make Barley feel uncomfortable.

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Ok, that makes sense to use a disposable stick, so to speak. I’ll keep that idea in mind for sure – when I’m hiking in the woods, it should be easy to find a suitable stick to carry along.

          10 ft is a really good reach. Definitely buying one.

  3. Jan K, Wag N Woof Pets Avatar
    Jan K, Wag N Woof Pets

    I’m always looking for the answer to this! I do have a citronella spray but have never had to try it out. There is a leash law in our town, but I know people don’t follow it and there are two dogs that run loose in the neighborhood at times. They are nice, friendly dogs but if my dogs are on leash, they may not care about that. Cricket does not like loose dogs approaching her (which we found out the hard way in the past), it doesn’t matter if they’re friendly or not.
    I like the whistle idea too. I had also read that carrying an umbrella to open could be good too, but I fear that will scare my dogs more than the other ones!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you for your citronella spray and umbrella tip, Jan! I just looked up the citronella spray because I hadn’t heard of it yet and was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s also available as a clip-on (just like the pepper spray), so one could access it quickly. I can see a large umbrella with an automatic opening system working quite nicely – but as you mentioned, only as long as your own dogs wouldn’t be afraid of it. Then again it might keep them from reacting to the approaching dog – so it could work as a shield (literally) between the two (or however many) different dogs.

      You just reminded me about a lesson I learned from my basic obedience teacher Rhonda. She explained that there is an immediate imbalance between leashed and unleashed dogs, and that it is safest to let go of your own dog’s leash should you find yourself in a situation with an aggressive dog attacking you and your dog.

  4. Anna Avatar

    Thanks for sharing, Barbara! So many tips. I loved your encounter with the Husky. Also, we live in a rural area with lots of loose dogs. However, our worst encounter was with a leashed dog who’s parent couldn’t control it.
    I LOVE how you take full responsibility for managing your energy and have your tools ready.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you, Anna. I always try to be aware of my own energy, and of course there are days when I’m less calm than I know I should/could be when out walking dogs. It’s on those days that I’m extra grateful for the tools I carry on me. Regardless of energy though, it’s super annoying to run into loose dogs when out on a walk. I’m sorry you had that encounter with the clueless dog owner. Those moments can be so frustrating.

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