3 tips for a safe encounter with loose dogs

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 defense 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 serves the purpose of defending herself against a potential K9 aggressor.

She also added that she wouldn’t want to harm any dog with her stick, but that she would only use it 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 2023. 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’ll be effective in real life.

UNLESS you’re incredibly strong AND skilled in handling sticks or clubs in self defense, I don’t think that a stick is the right tool to keep a medium to large size dog at bay who is 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

I tried to break up a dog fight using sticks from a fire pit several months ago, without much success.

The dogs got in 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 pit close by. I grabbed a forked one and attempted to separate the two dogs with it – in vain.

I finally did what you’re NEVER supposed to do because it can seriously backfire – grabbing a collar with both hands, pulling up on it and maneuvering my body in between the two.

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

Hello adrenaline rush!

Luckily, neither of the pups were seriously injured but only had minor flesh wounds I was able to wash out and treat with Neosporin. That’s an antibiotic ointment from my pet first aid kit 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 again that dogs do live in the moment and don’t hold grudges!

Either way, the one 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. 

Our energy can be a powerful ally in how dogs respond to us.

Since they tend to mirror our energy, they are much more likely to be friendly and respect our space when we emit calm energy, as opposed to excited, nervous, or fearful energy.

Take below video, for example:

Loose Husky dog walking with us

It shows an encounter with a loose Husky in our old neighborhood that went very well.

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.

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

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
  • Bared teeth
  • Growling

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

Later, I found out 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/stray dog comes running your way 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.

That knowledge helps me be a lot calmer than I might be without those tools.

2. Carry A Storm Whistle Or An Air Horn

My first approach would always be 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 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 course of the past 3 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.

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

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

How to DIY A Vinegar Spray Bottle to Deter Loose Dogs

The beauty about this tool is that it’s super easy to DIY.

DIY loose dog deterrent vinegar spray

All you need is white vinegar and a medium size spray bottle with a somewhat decent reach you can bring along on your walks.

That’s it!

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

Actually, I used to dilute it with water, but I no longer do that because I want the maximum effect.

I bought the green spray bottle at a Dollar General store for 2 bucks – you can’t beat that!

Now, I will say that I have been lucky so far in that I’ve never been approached by a truly aggressive dog.

I’m realistic enough to doubt that my vinegar spray would work in that case.

Pepper Spray

That’s why I recently added another tool to my deterrent collection – a compact size of clip on pepper spray I can wear easily attach to my clothes.

I purchased my .75 ounce pepper spray on Amazon.

I decided on this size as opposed to a larger bottle because I still want to enjoy my walks and not have to schlepp along a ton of stuff.

As mentioned above, the pepper spray clips onto my shorts which makes it convenient to carry along and easily accessible in case I’d have to use it.

I took a few moments to familiarize myself with the pepper spray because I had never used one before.

That meant I learned how to work the safety mechanism and also gave it a few test shots in our yard!

Clip-On Sabre Pepper Spray
My clip on pepper spray

Extra Tip: Carry A Taser Flashlight

I will eventually take it up one more notch and get my hands on a taser flashlight.

It came recommended by a good friend who works in the personal security industry, so I trust his advice.

I was initially thinking about my own security when I walk smaller client dogs at nighttime or super early in the mornings.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that a taser would also knock out un unfriendly dog without having to use lethal force.

While I hope that I’ll never have to use it, I know that it will provide maximum peace of mind when I’m walking dogs in the dark and/or faced with a threat.

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

Running into loose dogs does not necessarily have to be scary.

It’s quite possible that the loose dog is a curious, playful, goofy pup.

Maybe they were just bored in their yard and decided to dig out from under their fence and go on a little adventure walk.

Video of Missy & I seeing a loose dog on our walk

Also, similar to Mr. Husky in the video I shared.

Since we can’t, however, accurately predict the dynamics of such an encounter, I like to be prepared for a worst-case scenario and will always carry my:

  • Storm whistle
  • Vinegar spray
  • Pepper spray

in order to be able to defend myself and the dog(s) I’m walking.

What about you, have you ever encountered loose dogs while out on a walk? 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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