By: Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, VSPDT, CBATI
The other day while I was walking my puppy, a neighbor’s dog got out of his yard and bit another neighbor’s dog that was on a walk. The owner quickly reacted and picked her small dog up to try and keep her safe. The problem was the loose dog continuously tried attacking the dog. This got me thinking how to keep our dogs safe on walks in the event a loose dog approaches.
Behavior Effects From A Scuffle, Fight & Attack
Unfortunately, sometimes when a loose dog charges at our dog and starts a scuffle, fight or attack, this can lead to behavioral issues. Our dogs are emotional creatures which is what we love about them. However, scary and stressful events can affect our dog’s emotionally. Our dogs may associate the sight or sound of a dog as something scary, threatening and stressful. These events can cause our dogs to become:
- Reactive when seeing or hearing another dog due to fear, discomfort, and conflict (Barking, lunging etc.)
- Aggressive towards other dog’s causing him to display over-reactive behavior such as: very forward and stiff body language while barking, lunging, growling, and/or snarling. A dog may display these behaviors as a way to protect themselves, protect their owners, and/or to try and increase distance between the “threat”.
- Fearful where your dog may want to try and avoid or run away from the other dog. Some dogs who are really fearful when approached, may display aggressive behavior to increase distance between themselves and the “threat” to keep themselves safe.
- Reactive or Aggressive on leash because a leash limits your dog’s choices. Some call this “Barrier Frustration” where a dog displays reactive or aggressive behavior when attached to a leash or behind a barrier such as a fence or window. This can cause a dog to become frustrated as their option to say hello or run away is limited by the leash.
How To Keep Your Dog Safe
Keeping our dogs safe while on walks is important, but many dog owners don’t typically think of this until an event occurs. The reality is that it is always possible to run into another dog. Many dog owners with reactive, fearful and aggressive dogs take their dogs out for walks just like the rest of us. This is totally fine, but they may not take the necessary precautions to keep their dogs and our dogs safe. Here are my tips on how to keep your dog safe if a loose dog approaches in an aggressive manner.
- Teach your dog a U-turn on verbal cue. Teaching a dog the words “let’s go, this way or U-turn” can signal your dog to change direction and follow you. Make sure to practice this behavior constantly, under many different distractions and in many different environments.
- Teach your dog how to go behind you. You MUST teach your dog this skill in many distracting situations in a variety of locations once your dog learns this skill. The reason for this is because your dog needs to understand how to perform this skill really well in order to do it in a stressful situation.
- Move away!!! If another dog approaches, go behind a car, tree or other obstruction. You can even cross the street. This can help reduce the chances of the dogs staring or fixating on each other as staring can increase issues.
- Getting in front of your dog and screaming “STOP” or pointing in another direction saying “Look over there” as a way to stop and divert the oncoming dogs attention.
- Toss treats towards the oncoming dog’s face as a way to possibly distracting him so that you can safely get out of that situation before something happens.
- Place your dog in a trash can? YUP that is right! Owners with small dogs can place their dog in a trash can that might be nearby, or on the top of a car as a way to remove them from the situation. Many dog owners naturally pick their dogs up, but you are putting yourself and your dog in harm’s way when you are holding onto your dog.
- Toss your jacket or sweatshirt over the dogs. Doing this can startle the dogs, causing them to release which may give the other dog enough time to run away.
- Make a loud noise to startle the other dog. If there is something nearby like a trash can, lawn chair etc. you can use that to toss towards the attacker to try and scare him off.
- Scare the other dog owner. Many people are very casual about their dog’s annoying and rude behavior. One of my previous dogs was very reactive towards other dogs and people did not seem to understand when I would try and move away that this was my polite way of saying “stay the hell away from us!”. I started learning to say “My dog will bite” or “My dog will start a fight, please keep your dog away.” You can also say “my dog is sick, or injured”, “my dog is not friendly” or “my dog does not like other dogs”. Look out for you and your dog and make people understand by being abrupt if needed.
- In some cases, it might be safer to unclip your dog and let them try to run. You could use your leash to try and slip lead the other dog.
- Screaming…can this help or hurt? This is a difficult one to answer. By nature, we as people would most likely scream to get another person’s attention to help us. This could make things worse as it may cause the dogs stress levels to raise. I will say however, screaming is what saved the dog and dog owner I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Luckily three neighbors heard the women screaming for help and removed the dog. Alternatively, making loud abrupt noises might be best or throwing a jacket over the dogs might split them up.
- What if you own multiple dogs and you are walking them together? I suggest if there is an oncoming dog and you own multiple dogs, I would possibly suggest allowing your more assertive dog(s) go while you hold onto your more nervous dog. This suggestion will depend on the situation and circumstances.
- Have Citronella Spray or Halt Spray in your back pocket. These products are a similar concept to pepper spray where you can spray the other dog in the nose or face if a fight occurs. These products should be used as more of a last resort tool. Other tools you can carry can include a SABER Bear Horn, Pet Corrector, or even a can of silly string which you could spray towards the oncoming dog to stop them in their tracks.
Call Your Local Authorities
Calling the police or animal control to report a dangerous incident is necessary. It sucks because you do not want to get people in trouble, especially your neighbors, but at the same time your dog, your children and other’s in the neighborhood could be at risk. Some police departments may take a report, but this does not mean the dog bite/attack will be reported to animal control. (This will depend on where you live.) If this is the case, you may consider calling animal control as well to report the incident. Furthermore, if the dog is loose and no dog owner is around, you should report this as it could be a stray or a loose dog who is fearful and trying to keep itself safe.
Your Dog Is What Matters
Just because an event may have occurred, that does not mean you should stop taking your dog out. Dogs need to get out. Sniffing, exploring and walking are very mentally enriching to our dogs and can help reduce and burn off stress. Instead, avoid those locations where something happened if it stresses you and your dog out.
Some dogs will bounce back from an event like this without an issue. However, some may develop behavioral issues as a result. If this is the case, make sure to reach out to a qualified behavior professional so that they can help you modify your dog’s behavior. Click here to learn more on how to manage your dog’s reactive and aggressive behavior. To find a qualified behavior professional take a look at these organizations:
Anthony De Marinis is the owner of De Marinis Dog Training & Behavior in Long Island, NY. He provides both private in-home and private online virtual training and behavior modification solutions using positive reinforcement-based methods. Anthony has 6 professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, Certified Victoria Stilwell Licensed Positively Dog Trainer, The Third Way Certified Trainer and is a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer. Currently, Anthony has a young Australian Kelpie named Journey. They are learning about agility and nose work together. You can visit Anthony’s website and learn more about him and his services at: www.demarinisdogtraining.com