Dealing with an off leash ambush

Regrettably around the world we often hear stories of handlers being ambushed by off leash dogs. Dogs that are often classed as ‘friendly’ by their gallus owners, but deemed the spawn of satan by owners who are working hard at training their dog.

I have heard it said, many times that owners are only enraged by this unwanted intrusion because they are jealous. Jealous that they cannot walk their dog with such carefree vibes, jealous that their dog is socially inept and jealous that they spend 90% of their walks worrying about their dog. Now, in some cases, I get that. But in reality? It’s just not it about jealousy. It’s about making choices. I could easily choose to leave my dogs off lead while running at dogs and people, calling them friendly and scoffing at any complaints while scrolling tiktock and drinking a coffee. As someone who not only walks my own dogs, but also professionally walks dogs for a living, I spend time with lots of dogs that are well socially rounded. On group walks, our dogs are generally non reactive – but it still doesn’t ease the utter rage I feel when an unwanted dog dives into my group of well behaved, uninterested poochies.

Often, I don’t think it’s a case that these dogs are problem free; but that their owners have no interest in considering how others feel, and how their dog is an intruding, unwelcome visitor. It is completely acceptable to be livid, and tell them to fuck off and fuck off further again. However, although it seems the most logical response, it doesn’t really work that well. Blowing your top will cause a number of issues with your dog, and potentially that person; especially if it is happening on your local walk where you meet the same people again and again.

Before you, yourself be reactive, lets discuss some of the reasons this is not the best way to deal with it.

  • The dog in question is a puppy, and it’s a genuine mistake. Yes, sometimes it is an honest mistake and here you have the opportunity to educate the owner and potentially make yourself and ally and your dog a pal. As a dog walker, this is one of the most common situations I come across and handling it politely but firmly has led to many stress free walks for myself, locals and other local walking companies.
  • Your dog will pick up on your vibe its time to loose your shit and join in. This can cause them to become more reactive to approaching dogs/people and if they aren’t already – it can certainly create a sensitivity. Arousal is arousal, whether its rage, anxiety or excitement.
  • Create a negative perception of yourself: the last thing you need when you already have a tricky dog is to also be labelled tricky and part of the problem. I know, they are the one being inconsiderate but blowing your top will almost always allow them to take the higher ground.

Personally, I don’t really care what people think of me. However I have seen first hand how being reactive as a handler and owner can cause more issues than it solves. So, lets have a wee look at what we can do; our steps to success so to speak!

Step 1: Pay attention to your own dog.

Your main responsibility is your own dog. Ensuring they are safe, and as under control as possible is paramount. Ask your dog for a position that makes them feel safe and gives you confidence, such as a peekaboo or heel position. By not interacting with the person and addressing the situation, it creates a little bit of an uneasy feeling. The intruding person will feel uneasy and rejected by your lack of conversing; lack of rage and lack of soothing the situation leaves it the situation to be clearly perceived as what it is; RUDE. By not giving it any attention and continuing to focus on handling your dog, they will soon get out your hair and be more keen to avoid you next time, to not put themselves back in that position.

Step 2: Avoid throwing food.

Adding food to a volatile situation can cause a whole host of other issues, such as resource guarding and poisoning the use of food. Relying on behaviours with a substantial reinforcement history is less likely to cause long term problems or damage to your progress. Also, if it’s a dog you meet regularly the last thing you want is them learning running at you equals a food party!

Step 3: Plan your get out.

Often, staying still and allowing the owner to retrieve their dog is the best way to reduce any conflict. They may walk away, calling their dog while the dog continues to harrass you. Take a deep breath and continue to focus on your dog, and your dog only. You got this!

Step 4: Take time to recover.

Being ambushed on a walk can be extremely traumatic and really leave you shaken up even if no one got hurt. Your worried about your dog, worried about the potential of ruining your progress and worried about how you handled it. Set up a scatter feed for your dog to help them start to calm down. Sit down, take some deep breath’s, have a drink of water and a sweet to encourage calm from your automic nervous system. Give your dog a good cuddle and pet while you both calm down together.

Step 5: Prevention is greater than the cure.

If you are like me, you will want to be as utterly prepared as possible. And there is a way to prepare for these incidences, without putting your dogs in a stressful scenario.

Drilling behaviours, like middle, heel, down etc may seem counter productive to living holistically, and seem like they are taking valuable time away from focussing on your training goals, such as solving reactivity. However, having safe, reliable behaviours for your dog to use when faced with a tricky situation can be the gateway to not only improving reactivity but not loosing your hard earned progress when forced into a situation. You can always control your behaviour, but not your environment all of the time.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with these scenarios? Drop a comment bellow, or catch us on the socials!

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