Walking your dog is meant to be a nice casual and calming experience, however sometimes things can go wrong that are out of our hands.

What do you do when you are enjoying your on lead walk with your pooch and an off-lead dog runs towards you? Many people are unsure what to do in these situations and sometimes our actions can make it worse. Here are some tips on how to deal with this situation.

Dogs meeting on a walk


Why put a lead on your dog?

It is the law – unless you’re in a designated off-lead area. Even if you have the friendliest dog in the world, not everyone does. A friendly dog running at a nervous or fearful dog will cause long-term side effects for the unsuspecting dog.

Local councils charge owners for walking their dogs off-lead

If you are aware of regular dog owners who disregard the rules – or refuse to leash their dog when asked – please report it your council. Penalties under the Dog Act 1976 range from $200 to $5000. Walking your dog off-lead is like saying, “I don’t need to wear a seatbelt because I am a perfect driver”. You cannot control what the other cars do, and similarly, you cannot control what other dogs do.


So what should you do if an off-lead dog runs towards you?

When enjoying an on-lead walk with your pooch and an off-lead dog runs towards you it can be hard to know what do in these situations - Sometimes our actions can make it worse. Here are some tips on how to deal with this situation.

1. Don’t be shy! Yell out to the owners of the unleashed dog

Ask them to put their dog back on their lead immediately. Phrases like 'please call your dog', 'my dog is scared of other dogs', or 'my dog will react' could help you get your message across. You will often be greeted with the owner saying, 'It’s OK, he is friendly.' But running up to another dog and ignoring requests to go away is not ‘friendly’, it’s rude. Even the most social of dogs can be caught off guard at another pooch running towards them.

Dog taking treat from owner

2. Carry a distraction

There is no sure-fire way stop a dog running at you but here are a few tips that may help in that situation.

  • Carry high value treats like chicken, cheese or meat. Throwing a handful in the direction of an approaching dog could distract them long enough for you to walk away with your dog calmly.
  • Carry an umbrella! It can be used to open as the dog approaches – startling them, and forming a shield for your dog.
  • Carry a water bottle (the squirty kind). Squirting water in the face of an approaching dog could startle them enough to stop, or buy time for the owner to leash their dog while you walk away with yours.


What happens if it all goes bad?

Stay calm and try not to panic. If you panic, this is likely to make the situation worse as it can make the dogs even more stressed and reactive. It is important that you do not try to physically separate dogs who are fighting.

If you cannot call your dog away, try these distraction tactics from a distance:

  • Try to distract the dog with a loud noise like a clap or a loud metallic noise like jingling keys forcefully.
  • If you have something like a large coat with you, you could throw this over the fighting dogs.
  • If you have a water bottle, you could throw water over the dogs.
  • It is best not to shout at or make eye contact with the dogs because they may feel more threatened and it may worsen the situation.

Once you have been able to distract and separate the dogs, make sure you get your dog back on the leash (if they got away from you) and away from the other dog as soon as possible so they can calm down.


Remember: It is not your fault

If an off-lead dogs runs at you and that dog or your dog attacks, it is important to remember that you are not at fault. The person who did not have sufficient control of their dog is legally responsible and will be liable for all vet costs for any injuries to your dog and any humans caught in the crossfire.

Don't forget to:

  • Call your local council as soon as possible to report the incident.
  • Take photos of all injuries and the dog, and gather as much information as possible.
  • Remain calm! Making accusations and getting worked up will not help the situation.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible at your vet or doctor for those who have been injured.
  • Ask any witnesses for their details.

For more, check out RSPCA's Dog Conflict Toolkit.

*This article is based on advice published by our friends at RSPCA Queensland.