It’s okay – he’s friendly!

dog off leash

By Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA

As I was walking down the street the other day, I heard this:

“No! Stop your dog! Get your dog! Nooo!”

and then, “I’m sorry! Ralph! Ralph! Come! Ralph! RALPH!”

As I looked up, I saw a pretty friendly-looking Lab running off-leash towards a woman and her on-leash dog. The woman was obviously frightened about this strange dog heading for her dog. The owner of the Lab collected him in time, and the crisis was averted.

  • Was she worried because her dog is not friendly?
  • Was she scared because she didn’t know if the other dog was friendly?
  • Was she simply vigilant because all dogs are required to be on leash?
  • Was her dog hurt? Did she know the other dog? Did she know the other owner?

Does any of that matter?

Yes, of course it does, but the important part is to know how to manage this situation as it occurs. It’s never ideal because the off-leash dog is a wild card, but here are some ideas to keep in your dog walking toolbox:

  • Have good treats with you on the walk and, if needed, throw them at the oncoming dog. There is a good chance that the dog will take interest in the treats and give you a chance to get further away. Distance may decrease the dog’s interest in you, or give the other owner time to get to their dog.
  • Carry a stick or umbrella with you, especially if this happens regularly. Waving the stick or opening the umbrella may stop the dog in their tracks or get them to retreat.
  •  Don’t forget that a dog may be trained to Sit, Down or Stay, and though you never know what they know in this very heightened context, it’s worth a try to stick out your hand, call out “Sit” or “Stay”. They may stop.
  • Don’t run. This may only cause the other dog’s prey drive to kick in.
  •  Try to stay calm. Your dog is only going to feed off your anxiety and that leash not only connects you physically, but emotionally as well.
  • As a last resort – and it’s not ideal – if the strange dog gets to your dog and your dog is of comparable size, you need to drop the leash and let them defend themselves until you can get help. When one dog is on-leash and the other off, the one who is on-leash is severely handicapped at this point. You need to let them use their whole body to communicate and deal with the other dog.

Do you have any other tips or things that you’ve tried when approached by an off-leash dog?


Nicole-Stewart-and-Finlay-220x300Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA, is the Director of Training at AnimalSense / Paradise4Paws.  She strongly believes that dog training is as much about the people as it is about the dogs. Her favorite place to be is at home with her human family and her steady Clumber Spaniel, Finlay.

This post was previously published on the AnimalSense blog. 

How I became a dog trainer

NancyBy Nancy Paolucci

One of my favorite activities at the lake is to run around it first thing in the morning. It’s quiet, there are very few cars, and it’s a great way to start my day. However, I am fully aware that I am always scanning to make sure I won’t be ambushed by an off leash dog. This happens often because many people don’t have fences and just let their dogs out in their yards.

I have a confession – I am a dog trainer and I am afraid of off leash dogs.

Maybe afraid isn’t the right word, but I am definitely cautious and always have been. I walked to school every day in grade school and can remember the wave of fear that came over me when I would see a dog coming my way. So how did I become a dog trainer, who has three dogs and at times are surrounded by more, often very large dogs like malamutes?

It all started with two cats. I moved in with my husband and he had two amazing “dog” cats. You know, the friendly ones, who come when called, love to be petted and were very social. They were amazing brothers and when they both died within months of each other we knew we would never find such awesome cats again. Plus I am very allergic, so we decided on a dog for our next family member.

That’s when my life’s path changed and I didn’t even know it!

Abby, a setter mix, came to us and stole my heart. She’s the sweetest dog you will meet, but Abby came with some baggage in the form of anxiety – something I didn’t realize could happen to dogs.

After adding another setter to our family a few months later, I started training them and reading books by Pat Miller and Patricia McConnell. I couldn’t get enough! I knew I wanted to be a dog trainer, but how? I looked into all of the online programs and some local in person courses. I reached out and had many conversations with a local trainer who started her own program and over the next year attended a number of her open houses. It’s a big decision to change where you are going in life and it took me a couple of years to actually make it happen, but the first day of class at FetchFind Academy, I knew I was in the right place for me. I have to remind myself every day that I am a DOG TRAINER;  it doesn’t seem real!

As my breadth of knowledge continues to grow, that fear of dogs begins to change into more of a cautious respect. My family continues to laugh and wonder how the little girl who was afraid of dogs now spends her life being surrounded by them. This is the place I am meant to be and I couldn’t be happier.