How To Keep Your Small Dog Safe From Loose, Off-Leash, Or Out Of Control Dogs On Walks

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Our small dogs may act pretty tough when they see a larger dog, but an actual confrontation can end up deadly.

If you live in an area where there are loose or stray dogs, a possible encounter is always around the corner.

I don’t know how Matilda and I survived when we had daily walks in a neighborhood full of strays. It’s been years since we lived there, but now, she has a growing rivalry with a much, much larger dog in our new neighborhood.

Matilda and the other dog in our apartment complex have always gone absolutely nuts on sight of one another, but I’ve become more worried about it recently because of a very close encounter.

Now, a few times in the past, Matilda has actually seemed to have tension with another dog, with lots of barking, no, screaming… but when they encountered us, both of them actually softened up and politely sniffed one another. So maybe if Matilda and this other dog actually got close, they wouldn’t actually fight… but I’m not about to take the risk to find out.

Our neighbor’s dog is always on a leash, but at the other end of that leash is a very frail old man. I didn’t realize it before, but when this 100+ pound dog decides to move forward, her owner is not able to physically restrain her. He also drops the leash sometimes.

Though it’s wonderful that he’s chosen to continue to care for his dog even though he has limited mobility, and I’m sure she’s a wonderful dog, I have to regard her as a loose, out of control, possible threat to Matilda.

Luckily, I have enough experience with loose dogs to know that they’re rarely an actual threat, especially if you’re always prepared when you go for walks.

Table of Contents

Why You Should ALWAYS Take Your Treat Bag

When you take your treat bag on walks, you’ll find it much easier to get your dog’s attention. You don’t have to have a structured training session during every walk. You can just carry them to reward any unexpected good behavior, or to dissuade your dog from picking up trash.

A small dog like Matilda may be a victim if an encounter comes to a head, but that does not mean that she is not an instigator. Part of the problem has been my failure to make sure she does not bark at the other dog in the first place.

I know that if I call her away and offer treats before she goes into full Tasmanian Devil mode over the other dog, she can actually ignore her.

I recently got this treat bag off Amazon. I’ve been looking for something like this for so long. It’s large enough to hold my phone, keys, and other items, so I can use it as a purse when we go to the park, but the main compartment is a drawstring pouch that I can reach into with one hand to pull out treats at a moment’s notice.

Now that I always have treats, I’m able to call Matilda and Cow off other dogs, squirrels, running children, etc, before they get into an embarrassing barking frenzy. Now, it’s less likely that Matilda will get into an agitated barking contest with her new enemy in the first place.

If we ever do have a close encounter with the other dog, I can throw treats at her, and that will probably distract her and give us time to get away. That would also likely change her mood towards us.

But what if treats don’t work? What if you aren’t able to distract your dog until they’re in a full-fledged attack?

Should You Carry Aversive Tools – Even A Taser – To Fight Off A Loose Dog?

I used to carry a Taser – technically, it was a stun gun, the difference being that I would have had to press the metal prongs into the assailant or dog to stun them. A taser is that thing that shoots out cartridges from a distance, like what cops have.

When you have a stun gun, you can actually discharge it in the air without making contact with the dog to create a loud, crackling ZAP that will scare off even the most enraged dogs.

Over time, this breaks the stun gun. If you choose to do this, avoid discharging it for more than a second at a time.

Now, can you – SHOULD you ever tase/stun a dog?

While stun guns are fairly harmless to humans, they sometimes do kill people. Dogs, as they are almost always smaller than humans, are even more likely to suffer a fatal injury from a taser. Don’t tase or stun a dog unless you’re truly in a life threatening situation, and you think you might be prepared to risk going to jail to save your dog’s life.

Then, there’s “dog training devices” that make a sound, marketed with the intention to scare your own dog.

You can, of course, use a device like that to carry on walks and scare off loose dogs, but I choose not to buy them because I wouldn’t want to support the companies that make them. Besides, they tend to be crazy expensive for what they are – $50 for a thing that makes a loud noise when you hit a button, for example. No need to name them. They’re overpriced crap.

A squirt bottle with water, or a soda bottle full of pennies, can serve this purpose just fine, but aren’t guaranteed to distract a dog that’s in attack mode, and they’re not practical for bringing along on walks.

Pepper spray can easily get into your dog’s eyes.

Shouting would possibly work. Stooping and pretending to throw rocks – or actually throwing rocks if absolutely necessary – has worked for me in the past.

Another idea is to carry a cane or a walking stick that you can use to wave around – and, if absolutely needed, hit the other dog.

The best “weapon” you can carry is an umbrella. At the press of a button – fwoop – you can create a big barrier that should scare the off the loose dog.

Downsides To Startling A Loose Dog

You know that using aversives with your own dog can be harmful to your bond, their mental well-being, and her future behavior.

So what if you scare, or even physically harm, that loose dog?

It might get you out of a scary situation, but if you encounter that dog again, they’ll be all the more agitated towards you, and may successfully attack next time.

I know you love your dog as much as I do. So I trust you’ll understand what I mean when I say I will, without hesitation, seriously hurt a dog that touches even a hair on Matilda’s tiny head.

I love dogs, I just love my own dogs more.

But that doesn’t mean we should automatically resort to drastic, harmful measures to protect our dogs.

Most of the time, dogs are all talk until they’re nose-to-nose.

Your first resort should be to talk softly to the off-leash dog. Most dogs understand simple words like “no!” or “stop!” or “sit!” and might just listen to you if you ask nicely.

The Takeaways:

  • The BEST item to carry is an umbrella. At the push of a button, it’ll open up and scare off the loose dog. It also makes a great physical barrier. If things get intense, you can, if absolutely necessary, hit the other dog.
  • A stun gun can be helpful, but they can be hard to acquire depending on where you live. Zapping it into the air to create a loud sound is enough to scare most dogs. If used ON a dog, though, you might kill them… and end up in jail.
  • Always carry treats. Train your dog not to react to loose dogs, and use treats to divert their attention before they get overexcited. Treats can also be tossed at an oncoming dog.
  • Many dogs know simple cues. A loose dog might listen to you if you speak calmly to them.
  • Report loose dogs. Save the number to your local animal control and call them when you see a loose dog.

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Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.


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