What to Do If an Off Leash Dog Approaches?

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Picture this scene: You are walking your little pup through the park, leash on their collar with you directing them. All is calm, and your dog is very well behaved, so you give them a little treat to say “Good job! So well-behaved!” All of a sudden, out the corner of your eye, you notice another owner walking their dog – without a leash.

Panic takes hold of both you and your poor dog, as that careless owner allows their dog to approach you and potentially harass and start a fight with you and your dog. What to do if an off leash dog approaches? Let’s take a look.

The Laws

Leash laws exist all around the world, and no matter where you go, you’re likely to encounter them. Put simply, all you have to do is have a leash on your dog when out in the general public. This law isn’t in place to be an inconvenience or to keep aggressive dogs at bay (although it partially is). It’s to keep dogs under control in a civilized society.

This is because you have no way of knowing how your dog will react when another, completely foreign dog appears. No matter how friendly you think your dog is, things can change in seconds when it comes into contact with another dog that it may perceive as a threat.

This doesn’t give you an excuse to accuse a leashed dog of inciting a fight, because, in a situation where your dog just wanted to “say hi” and was off the leash, you will always be in the wrong. The leashed dog might not have been friendly with other dogs, but you let your dog approach them regardless.

This is why laws exist to keep your dog on a leash: to minimize the risk of unfriendly dogs coming into conflict.

Stay Alert

The best solution is to diffuse a situation before it even arises. This means constantly staying aware and alert of your surroundings, even when in a generally safe place such as a dog park. You never know when an irresponsible owner may be lurking around with their dog somewhere nearby, on the loose.

In addition to your surroundings, pay particular attention to your dog and their body language. Dogs are vastly more perceptive to humans and will pick up if something is amiss much quicker. It pays to learn what the different body language signals mean, as it can act as an early warning sign of approaching danger.

If you or your dog notice anything, be proactive, and turn around. Avoiding confrontation is the best solution. However, sometimes that leash-less dog is just too fast and has taken note, or you or your dog just didn’t notice in time to make a quick getaway. Now, what do you do?

What to Do If an Off Leash Dog Approaches

They Approach

Sometimes you won’t have time to get away, and the dog is now approaching. Don’t panic and watch its body language. If it is walking over, panting, you’ve got some time to get between and diffuse a potential situation. Even if it looks friendly, you have to block its path or somehow stop it from coming closer to your dog, as you have no idea which way the interaction could go. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

For when you are confident that the dog is not entirely aggressive, you can get in the way before it reaches you and your dog. Put a hand out to indicate it must not come closer. On most trained dogs, this will do the trick in putting them off.

One quick action that could also work is to throw a small treat to the approaching dog and use the distraction to get away. This will only work on less energetic or aggressive dogs. When the dog is focused, it won’t be as easy to get them off your case.

It can be handy to always carry an umbrella with you. When you see a dog approaching, you can pop open the umbrella to create a physical barrier between you and the dog, while keeping your own pup behind you. The sudden opening of the umbrella might startle the approaching dog, keeping it at bay. A can of compressed air can serve for the same effect. Just be sure to use these as a last resort, as they can be stressful for your dog too.


Leash laws are in place for a reason, and should always be followed. There is no good reason not to follow them, and if you willingly choose to go against them, you deserve any fine, lawsuit, and payment of veterinarian that comes your way because of your carelessness and poor ownership of your dog.

If you are in the position where a leash-less dog is approaching you, try your best to distract it or get some form of barrier between them and your dog. This could mean yourself, an umbrella, or a fence. In emergencies, startle tactics can help too.

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