When a dog is off-leash?

We all have that friend that MUST pet every dog they see (It’s me, I am that friend). Unfortunately, not all dogs are as excited to see us as we are to see them. Recently, I have noticed an uptick in runners encountering off-leash dogs and for everyone’s safety, it is important to know WHAT to do if you find yourself in that situation.
Outside, there is potential to find off-leash dogs everywhere. The introduction of invisible fences has been a positive game changer for many families with dogs, however, it makes it unclear to those on the street if that pooch is safely contained on the property. Even when there is an invisible fence, it is not foolproof! Some owners have the fence extend far enough that it could still put you in line with an unfriendly pup’s chompers.
I ALWAYS see off-leash dogs when I am out on the trails. How many times have you encountered this and the owners say “Don’t worry, they are friendly”? There have also been times I have been told that and still found myself at the end of a growling dog. (I still want to pet it) In most instances, it is not the dog’s fault and owners need to know how to take their dogs out and have fun, while still keeping everyone, including the dog, safe.
Below are some helpful tips if you should encounter an off-leash dog:


Slow Down:
My dogs can stare down a squirrel like no one’s business, but the moment the squirrel starts running they are off and hot on its tail! Your best bet, when you see a dog in a loose leash scenario is to slow your run to a walk, or even stop altogether until you can assess the situation as safe or the dog’s parent intervenes. The excitement of seeing someone running, a moving car, cats, insert moving object here….is something that most dogs cannot resist their natural urge to chase.

Stay Calm:
Dogs are very in tune with people’s energy. Whether you are excited or scared to see a dog, they can sense the emotions which can lead to additional excitement for the dog which would be counterproductive.

Stay Away:
Many dogs have a protective nature over their property. If you see a dog that appears to be off-leash in the yard, the best bet is to put space between you. For example, if you are running on the road and see a dog in someone’s yard the best bet would be to cross the street when passing by. On the trails can be a bit more challenging, but not impossible! Find an alternate trail or circle back.

Be Less Scary:
Like many animals, dogs look to facial features to help identify familiar faces. When we wear items such as sunglasses or hats, it can obscure our furry friend’s view of our face and can lead to increased fear or excitement. There have been times when my dogs have barked at me because of wearing a hat and sunglasses and the moment they are removed I am greeted with wagging tails! Removing your hat and sunnies can help alleviate some stress from the dog and promote a more positive interaction.

“Whose a good boy?!:
Talking in a calm soft voice can help to put a potentially aggressive dog at ease. Making positive statements like “Good dog” or “Where is your ball” can help to change the dog’s current frame of mind. Most dogs are conditioned to this type of positive language. In addition, giving the dog commands such as sit or lay down could be a way to redirect the dog’s attention. Unfortunately, in times when there is a lot of excitement this strategy may not be as effective as desired. DO NOT YELL OR SCREAM AT THE DOG. This will only escalate the situation as it will instill fear into the animal and they may become increasingly agitated or aggressive.

Avoid Prolonged Eye Contact:
Eye contact is something that most dogs struggle with, except their owners as there is a level of trust associated with it. Staring at an aggressive dog may escalate the situation.

Do Not Throw Anything or Wave Items:
They will most definitely see this action as threatening and increase the dog’s fear which will heighten their need to protect themselves.
While these suggested ways can help to de-escalate a potentially dangerous interaction with an unleashed dog, there is no fool-proof technique. The goal is to get out of the situation with both the person and dog unharmed. The biggest thing to remember is to remain calm, cool, and collected to avoid serious injury and be able to run another day!

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