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Off-Lead Dogs

27/03/2018 - Dog Behaviour

We’ve all been there.  You’re out walking your dog when suddenly and out of nowhere, a dog comes charging up to you.  Quite often, the owner isn’t even in sight.  For a lot of people this scenario is a real nightmare especially if their dog is or could be reactive.

So what can you do in a situation such as this?  

Well unfortunately there is no single solution to this question because there are too many variables for one simple answer for every dog that comes running up to you.

To begin with, you don’t know what motivates the off-lead dog to run towards you.  Does he/she want to play, are they defending territory they see as theirs because they walk there everyday?  Is their interest more towards you or are they determined to attack your dog?


Then we have to look to see if your dog is actually inviting the off-lead dog because it’s desperate to play, aggressive, fearful, frustrated.

Are you in turn relaxed, stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry or scared, all of which can send out the wrong signals to the off-lead dog.  Is your dog on or off-lead, or is the lead tight?

Any of these things could be applied in differing orders to result in different outcomes hence the difficulty in coming up with a single answer to the problem.  

What is important and something that few people realise is it could be the same for someone else should your dog be off the lead.

The Law Regarding Dogs In Public

In the UK, the law in regards to how dogs should behave in public is specific but very few people actually know the law or realise they could be breaking it.  Since the changes to the law in May 2014, a dog no longer has to bite to be considered dangerously out of control.  Therefore and because of this, letting a dog off-lead anywhere without that dog having a bomb proof recall could in fact put you and your dog in conflict with the authorities.

The Law States:

It’s against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, such as:

    •    in a public place

    •    in a private place, eg a neighbour’s house or garden

    •    in the owner’s home

The law applies to all dogs.

Out of control

Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:

    •    injures someone

    •    makes someone worried that it might injure them

A court could also decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if either of the following apply:

    •    it attacks someone’s animal

    •    the owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal

Note: A farmer is allowed to kill your dog if it’s worrying their livestock. 


You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to 6 months (or both) if your dog is dangerously out of control. You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.

If you let your dog injure someone you can be sent to prison for up to 5 years or fined (or both). If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.

If you allow your dog to kill someone you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine (or both).

If you allow your dog to injure an assistance dog (eg a guide dog) you can be sent to prison for up to 3 years or fined (or both).

Training A Dog To Be Off-Lead

Too many people think their dog has to be off-lead to exercise properly, or they let their dogs off because they pull so hard on the lead the owner just needs a break from it.  And then there are the people who think they have a God given right to let their dogs off the lead regardless.  The reality though is this, if you haven’t trained your dog to come back to you no matter what the distraction, then you could quite literally be putting your dog and other people and their dog’s in danger which as we now know, is against the law.

So how can you be sure that your dog can be let off the lead safely?  Well for a start, your dog needs to be properly socialised around other dogs and people which means that the owner has a responsibility to fully understand how to socialise their dog.  It’s not just a case of letting their dogs off-lead to meet other dogs.

You need to teach your dog ‘self control’ so that your dog can then control it’s emotions and impulses.

And you must train ‘recall’.  A long training lead is an absolute must in order to teach a perfect recall before you even consider letting your dog off-lead.  A 10 metre long line will give your dog plenty of freedom to move around whilst still being under control.  This is by far a much safer and more responsible thing to do than just letting your dog off the lead and out of control.  By keeping your dog on a long line you will be able to test your recall and if it should fail, you still have control and can just reel him in.

And most importantly, if you know your dog has or could have a behavioural problem, if you know that your dog only comes back to you when there are no distractions, then you simply have no right letting your dog off-lead.

What To Do If A Dog Comes Charging Up To You Aggressively

As previously mentioned, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question but there are things you can try.  Non of these things though are foolproof, after all, there’s no safeguard against fools.

  1. Train your dog to walk on a loose lead and to sit and stay when asked.  If you have also taught your dog self control then it will leave you more time to deal with an off-lead dog charging at you.
  2. If a dog comes out of a driveway or house from behind you, keep walking as the chances are, the further away from that dog’s home territory you are then the dog will be more likely to just turn around and go back home.  If a dog comes out of a house in front of you, don’t keep walking towards it, turn around and walk the other way.
  3. If you have a small dog, if you can, pick it up.  If you have a larger dog than try and put yourself between the off-lead dog and your dog.  Sometimes this is enough to deter the charging dog.  You can also stretch out your arm with your hand open and shout at the dog to “go away”.  As soon as the charging dog falters, walk towards it still with your arm raised to drive it away.  If the owner is in sight then shout to them to keep their dog under control.
  4. If you have treats on you, throwing a handful of treats into a charging dogs face can quite often stop the dog in it’s tracks.
  5. If your dog is attacked, drop the lead.  By holding on to it you could be restricting your dog’s movement or holding it back so it gets attacked even more.  Now that your hands are free, do whatever it takes to make the other dog go away.  That includes kicking, screaming, grabbing the attacking dog by its back legs.  You are well within your rights to protect your dog.  Just be careful about trying to grab an attacking dog or your dog by it’s collar as you run the risk of a redirected bite.

It’s a sad state of affairs when some owners now feel they have to take a walking stick with them just to protect their dog or walk either late at night or early morning.  It really shouldn’t be this way.

It is also incredibly important that dogs under the age of 18 months don’t have a bad experience such as being attacked.  Some dogs will then start to learn that they need to protect themselves from other dogs which will then trigger fear aggressive behaviours.

“It’s OK, He’s Friendly”

A number of owners of ‘friendly’ dogs appear to be under the impression that because they believe their dog is friendly and gets on with every other dog or person, that then gives them the right to let their dog off the lead.  After all and in their view, they are friendly and so wouldn’t hurt a fly let alone another dog or person.  They then, as their friendly, bouncy dog charges up to other dogs and people, shout out “it’s OK, he’s friendly” as if this is enough to excuse their dog’s behaviour.  It is not.

There are many people, not just other dog owners who do not like this sort of behaviour.  It is their right to walk their dog in privacy in public without being bothered by your dog, whether you agree with that or not.  Keep in mind that if your dog races up to someone and does not recall then you are in fact breaking the law.

There can be any number of reasons why people do not want your dog saying ‘Hi’.  Their dog might be reactive because of similar incidents, or recovering from surgery or struggling with an injury or just old or very nervous.  The sad fact is and when dog owners are already struggling to find places to walk their dog, the more you allow your dog to charge around without any control, eventually there will be nowhere we can have our dogs off- lead.

Please respect other people’s right to choice and train your dog to behave in a manner that will not offend.  It may be a small loss of ‘freedom’ for your dog until trained properly but a big win for all dog owners in the long run!