Clients often ask what the proper thing to do is if you’re approached by a potentially aggressive dog. It’s a good question and a common enough scenario that pet owners will eventually find themselves in. An unfamiliar dog off the leash might come running up to you while you’re out for a walk with your dog. Being challenged by another dog when you and your dog are out walking is a real cause for concern, especially if you have a small dog or a puppy, an older pet, or an aggressive dog yourself.
So the question is, what do you do? How do you assess the potential threat and act accordingly in order to keep you and your dog safe? Here are 3 possible scenarios of potentially aggressive dogs and steps on how to deal with each one quickly and calmly to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
The first thing that I should point out is this: only a very, very small number of dogs are truly aggressive, and hopefully, even fewer who are off leash will be so. The reason why I mention this is that often times people will jump to the conclusion that a dog that runs towards you is going to be aggressive when they could in fact be the friendliest dog in the world. In this situation, it is very common for people to make a big deal out of nothing. When a dog is excited, they will have lots of energy and will bark, especially if they want your dog to play with them. More often than not, simply letting your dog go off the leash will allow them both to play and the barking will stop! However, if you are not sure or don’t have the time to play, just keep walking as if the other dog does not exist. They will eventually get the message and leave you both alone.
There will be times when you will simply feel like the other dog is not the right friend for your dog. The other dog may be too big or too active, or your dog may be too small, old or injured, or may simply not wish to play. In this case, if you want the other dog to leave you alone then follow the steps outlined above. Simply walk off as if the other dog does not exist. When you do this, make sure to monitor yourself: keep your energy calm, stay silent, and – if possible – don’t pick up your dog. Instead, leave them on the ground and just walk them away on the leash. Picking your dog up will often make things worse. Suddenly the other dog will be following you, trying to sniff your dog from way up around your neck, encouraging them to jumping up! Picking your dog up also gives your dog the message that something is wrong and tensions will often rise quickly.
If you are challenged by another dog – meaning they come running over growling and barking aggressively – the best solution is to turn your back on the other dog and walk calmly and slowly away. Staying calm is your best chance of de-escalating the situation. Once you’ve managed to get yourself and your dog a short distance away from the other dog (5-10 meters away) you can begin to walk quicker. In all my years of dog training I have found this to be the best approach to take when dealing with an aggressive dog. Of course you can try to put the other dog in their place by shouting at them, however there is a risk that your dog shall sense your stress and join in the verbal attack, further raising tension. That is why this is not my preferred approach. Also, be especially wary of this aggressive approach if the other dog is a large confident dog. Challenging this type of dog in this manner is not a good idea in case they decide to take you up to your challenge.
As you can see, the solution to dealing with an aggressive dog is often much simpler than you may think. In fact, I have used this same approach when dealing with humans! People who are looking for trouble are best left alone, calmly and quietly. It is best not to challenge them, unless you really know what you are doing and have the support behind you.
So the next time you are approached by an unfamiliar dog off leash, show your dog through your actions, rather than with lots of words, how you want them to behave. In every situation, it is your calm energy which will bring you through, and silence is the calmest energy of all…which is something your dog already understands.
Doggy Dan is THE expert dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Auckland, New Zealand specializing in behavioral problems in dogs using positive reinforcement that is truly cruelty-free. His online dog training course is the only course endorsed by the SPCA, and it has helped hundreds of dogs and their owners successfully resolve behavior issues, strengthening the bond between dog and owner. Doggy Dan’s website: http://doggydan.com/