Let me begin by presenting you with a fact: There are no leash laws here in our county in rural NC, resulting in many loose dogs who are bound to cross your path at some point while you’re out for a walk, with or without dogs – just like the other day when I was out walking with Missy:
Dog Walking Hack from Yours Truly: If you come across a loose dog when walking your leashed dog, remain calm. That calm energy can defuse a potentially dangerous situation. Also have something on you to help defend yourself and your dog in case of an out-of-control dog. I always wear a storm whistle around my neck (distract approaching dog & call for help) & carry a spray bottle filled with vinegar (spray at approaching dog – they will very likely stop in their tracks). As of now, I am also carrying pepper spray.
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 served the purpose of defending herself against a potential K9 aggressor. She 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.
Now, her plan sounds good enough in theory, but I don’t believe that it’ll be effective in real life. UNLESS you are 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 walking your own dog(s) who are likely to react to the strange dog.
How do I know that a stick won’t work? Because I experienced it myself. 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 quarrel over a toy in one of my clients’ yards and started biting at each other’s heads and necks.
I neither had pepper spray on me nor my praised vinegar spray bottle, and I had forgotten my whistle in the car. 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 one is NEVER supposed to do because it can seriously backfire – grabbed a collar with both hands, pulled up on it and maneuvered 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. Talk about a serious 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 an antibiotic ointment from my pet first aid kit I have in my car at all times (Neosporin).
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!
Minimal Flesh Wounds After Dog Quarrel Over Toy
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.
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. It shows an encounter with a loose Husky in our old neighborhood which 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 had I been stressed out about seeing him approach.
What helped me stay as calm as I was at that particular moment was the fact that I observed his body language as he approached us and saw no sign of tenseness on the dog – no raised hackles, no bared teeth, no growling. He was actually quite the opposite – his movements were very mellow and he had something goofy about him!
As I later came to find out, he was known as a neighborhood nuisance of sorts because he would dig out under his fence and roam people’s front yards and the streets on a regular basis, several times per week.
In the walk recorded below, he had been walking with us for about 5 minutes at which point I knew that 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 eases my mind and therefore helps me be a lot calmer than I might be without those tools.
2. Carry A Whistle or Air Horn
My first approach would always be to make some noise by blowing into my whistle. As you can see in below picture, I carry mine on a lanyard around my neck and can easily reach for and use it.
I’ve also heard good things about using air horns – I personally prefer the whistle because it’s less cumbersome and can be worn around the neck, but if you’re willing to carry it on you somehow, I say go for it!
I have used my storm whistle many times over the course of the past 3 years, and was able to at least distract an approaching dog every time I did use it.
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 having stopped briefly, continued towards us.
Storm Whistle & Tick Twister On Lanyard
3. Carry Vinegar- And/Or Pepper Spray
It is at that point that 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 do not like the smell of vinegar at all, let alone getting showered in it.
DIY Loose Dog Deterrent Vinegar Spray
The beauty about this tool is that it’s SO EASY to diy. 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. I used to dilute it with water, but no longer do that because I want the maximum effect. I found 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 am realistic enough to doubt that my vinegar spray would work in that case. That’s why I recently added another tool to my deterrent collection – a compact size of pepper spray that clips onto my clothes.
Clip-on Pepper Spray
I purchased my .75 ounce pepper spray on Amazon for $6.99 (free shipping because of my Prime membership). 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.
Sabre Pepper Spray As Loose Dog Deterrent
I took a few moments to familiarize myself with the pepper spray because I had never used one before – learned how to work the safety mechanism and also gave it a few test shots in our yard!
Extra Tip: Carry A Flashlight/Taser Combo
I will eventually take it up one more notch and get my hands on a flashlight/taser combo. 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 walking smaller client dogs at nighttime or super early in the mornings, but have come to the conclusion that a taser would also knock out a K9 aggressor without having to use lethal force. The kind I’m thinking about buying is the Taser Bolt C2 LED Laser Gold Kit, which I found on Amazon for $369.95.
While I do 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. I’ll keep you posted once I’ll own one.
An encounter with a loose dog does not necessarily have to represent a threat. It is quite possible that the approaching dog is a curious, playful, goofy pup who just happened to be bored in their yard and dug out from under their fence, going on a little adventure stroll – much like Mr. Husky in above video.
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
1) my storm whistle
2) my vinegar spray
3) my pepper spray
in order to be able to defend myself and the dog(s) I’m walking.
Have you ever encountered a loose dog while out on a walk? What are your tips to keep such an encounter safe? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!
[maxbutton name=”Newsletter Signup”]
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.
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?
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.
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!
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).
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.