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Panic At The Park: What To Do When An Off Leash Dog Approaches Your On Leash Dog

Updated: Jan 1

“S/He’s friendly!” says the owner of the off leash dog running straight toward you and your dog….

First of all (and probably most importantly!) try not to panic! I mean you can panic a little, but don’t go full blown panic because YOU are the responsible adult in this situation. No one is going to throw you a life raft, so I want to give you some options to be able to throw yourself and your dog a life raft. Unfortunately this is something that occurs in areas where dogs are supposed to be on leash. It’s not a matter of if, but when it will happen. Leash laws are there for a reason (everyone’s safety), but are often ignored for whatever reason(s).

If you have a dog that is a bit fearful/apprehensive/nervous of other dogs while on leash (which is very common actually), here are some ways that you can be proactive:

-Avoid walking your dog at busier times of day when it is guaranteed that other people and dogs will be out

-Avoid walking your dog in areas where you know there will be other dogs (your local, smaller park is fair game unfortunately)

-Places that can be good, alternate options: Cemeteries, larger/more open parks (you have a better chance at seeing an off leash dog and make more time to strategize and make a decision), parking garages, indoor places that allow dogs (such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.-check your local store before heading out, not recommended for dogs who are fearful/apprehensive/nervous around people and/or strangers)

If you want to give your dog a bit more freedom, you don’t need to let them off leash in an on leash area! It seems like a no brainer, but most people either have their dog on a traditional length leash (4-6 feet) or let them off leash. You can get a long line/leash (not a retractable) ranging in length from 15-50 feet. This way your dog can have more freedom to move and run around, but isn’t off leash and you have a life line attached to them just in case.

I often work with dogs in the park on long lines and will even play fetch while the dog is attached to the long line. I recommend that you have your dog wear a harness and attach the leash to the back/shoulder attachment. If you have it attached to the chest attachment of a harness or a flat collar, your dog will be more likely to trip on it. You can never work on recall enough, so make sure your dog has a pretty solid recall, but never trust your dog’s recall 100%.

If you see a dog off leash at an on leash park:

-You may want to leave that park. Turn around and walk the other way. If you continue heading towards the dog, you run the risk of the dog being interested in you and your dog and wanting to come over and say hi. This is more of a proactive method vs. a reactive method.

What do I mean by proactive and reactive?

Proactive: Removing yourself/dog from a situation before it has a chance to occur (not always doable)

Reactive: Handling a situation after it occurs (an off leash dog approaches)

Sometimes dogs can appear out of nowhere and it can absolutely be a scary and stressful situation for both you and your dog!


-Walk your hands up your dogs leash and get closer to your dog

-Place yourself between your dog and the approaching dog (if you have taught your dog a get behind you cue, now would be a good time to use it)

-Encourage your dog to move away with you (but also keep in mind that the other dog may follow)

-If you have food and treats or toys, you can toss them behind the other dog as sometimes the dog will go after the food/toy and you and your dog will have time to move away

-Get big and tell the dog to leave, go away, get out of here-even if the dog is friendly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a good idea to have an off leash dog and an on leash dog say hello. The dog who is on the leash will automatically feel restrained and uncomfortable and it could lead to a not ideal situation such as a dog fight and now you are in the middle.

-If you do see the pet parent nearby, ask them to call their dog. But remember that most dogs don’t have a great recall (and we can’t trust recall 100% no matter how much we work on it) and will probably be more interested in you and your dog than recalling back to their parent (s). You can also ask them to leash their dog. No need to (necessarily) be mean about it (although it IS an emotionally charged topic and situation). Just ask them to do it. Or you can say “My dog isn’t friendly on leash. Please leash/call/keep your dog away from mine”. At least you warned them.

Is it frustrating when I am with a dog on a leash in an on leash area and an off leash dog approaches us? Absolutely! Does it upset me? Absolutely! Do I get frustrated? Absolutely! And all of these thoughts, feelings, and emotions are normal, absolutely warranted, and okay. But the biggest key for me has been letting go of my expectations of the other people (for example, putting your fricking dog on a fricking leash in a designated on leash area) because I CANNOT CONTROL WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DO. I can control how I react, process, and how I keep myself and my dog safe.

So it’s okay to feel those feelings, but try not to sit with them for too long. All of your energy is now going to being angry and frustrated instead of focusing on having a wonderful time with your dog. Your dog needs you. Dogs don’t understand the world in the way that we do. We have to be strong for ourselves and strong for them. No amount of me yelling or screaming at or lecturing someone about it will make them change and go “oh yeah, I should totally put my dog on a leash and not let them run around off leash everywhere because that chick in the park told me too!” To think you have that much power over another person is just plain silly to me. So imma gonna do me and my dog and focus on me and my dog. Now go do something fun with your dog!

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