What to Do If You Encounter an Off-Leash Dog


Encountering an off-leash dog can be an unexpected and nerve-wracking experience. Whether you’re walking in a park, jogging in your neighbourhood, or simply enjoying the outdoors, knowing how to handle such situations can make a significant difference. Even dogs who you know may react differently if they are lost, without their owner, scared or reacting to stimuli near them such as other dogs, strangers, wildlife, or excessive noise. Here are some steps to ensure your safety and the dog’s well-being.

Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

The first and most crucial step is to stay calm. Dogs can sense fear and anxiety, which might make them more likely to approach or react aggressively. Take a moment to assess the dog’s behaviour. Is it friendly, curious, or aggressive? Look for signs like wagging tails, relaxed postures, or, conversely, growling and raised hackles.  Understanding canine body language can help immensely.

Avoid Direct Eye Contact

Direct eye contact can be perceived as a threat by dogs. Instead, look at the dog indirectly. This approach can help to prevent the dog from feeling challenged or provoked.

Stand Still and Be a Tree

Stand still if the dog approaches you and “be a tree.” This means standing with your feet together, hands at your sides, and avoiding sudden movements. Most dogs will lose interest if you remain calm and still, as they usually react to movement and excitement.

Use a Firm, Calm Voice

If the dog comes too close or starts to act aggressively, use a firm, calm voice to give commands like “No,” “Go home,” or “Stay.” Most dogs are familiar with basic commands, and a confident tone can help assert control over the situation.

Create a Barrier

If you have something with you, like a bag, jacket, or even an umbrella, use it to create a barrier between you and the dog. This can help protect you and also signal to the dog to keep its distance.

Slowly Back Away

Once the dog loses interest or calms down, slowly back away while keeping the dog in your peripheral vision. Do not turn your back on the dog, as this might provoke it to chase you. Move steadily and avoid sudden movements that could startle the dog.

Seek Help if Necessary

If the dog is aggressive and you feel threatened, look for nearby people who might be able to help. Shouting for help or calling local animal control can be effective ways to get assistance.

Educate Yourself and Others

Learning about dog behavior and educating others on how to handle off-leash encounters can make a community safer for everyone. While designed for youth and developed by the RHS and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the Be Dog Smart bite prevention program has information that can be useful for anyone.  Details are available on our website.

Encountering an off-leash dog doesn’t have to be a frightening experience if you know how to respond. By staying calm, avoiding direct eye contact, and using a firm voice, you can manage the situation effectively. Remember to create a barrier if needed, back away slowly, and seek help if necessary. With these steps, you can ensure both your safety and the well-being of the dog.