Safety First

Sometimes unexpected things can happen while working with or handling dogs; loose dogs may rush a leashed dog, dog play can escalate into a scuffle or fight (which are different), dogs may have arguments over resources, or the “my dog is friendly” dog may not actually be friendly. Unexpected things can absolutely ruin your day if you aren’t prepared. This has to be especially true for those people handling reactive dogs or aggressive dogs and those people who live in urban areas or areas where loose dogs are prevalent.

It is so important that handlers think safety first when working with their dogs. You wouldn’t go miles and miles into the ocean on a boat that had no life vests or escape rafts, why would you go out with your dogs with no type of safety gear? It’s not about packing a huge ‘go pack’ but carrying one or two items that can be helpful in case of an emergency.

I will say that personally I err on the side of caution–if I’m rushed by a dog that doesn’t seem to have a handler around and the dog is not overtly friendly, I assume it is NOT friendly and will take steps to prevent the dog from coming in contact with my dogs. If that means I’m scaring them away with my body, blocking them with an umbrella, sounding the air horn in their direction, or spraying direct stop at the dog–it is what it is. Assuming the dog is friendly is putting my dogs and that dog at higher risk for more injuries. Either the dog is going to attack my dogs right off the bat and one of them will get hurt OR the other dog will be tense or overly “friendly” (rude) and Shayne will react causing an altercation leading to the other dog potentially getting hurt if Rio joins in. If the dog is quite clearly friendly, I try other methods but I can’t hesitate to use some aversive tools to protect my dogs and to protect the other dogs from a serious altercation.

First thing to make sure you have is a cell phone. If anything happens and you are away from your home or vehicle, being able to contact the outside world is incredibly important. It can also be really helpful in quickly calling the authorities if a situation arises where such a call is necessary. On a different note, many times handlers are walking alone with their dog(s) and while a canine can prevent any issues (particularly larger, vocal, or focused looking dogs), being able to call for help or FAKE being on the phone can deter people from targeting a person.

Another product that I keep with me when working reactive dog lessons if we are utilizing live decoy dogs is Spray Shield/Direct Stop. This is the ONLY Premier product that I still buy/use because there is not another replacement product available that is as good. This is citronella spray that can be used to break up a dog fight or stop an attacking dog. You spray directly at the dogs noses and they typically stop fighting and start sneezing and backing away. Some dogs will not be effected by this as strongly as other dogs but I think it’s a good alternative to a pepper spray that can be more damaging to both canines and humans.

Walking with a walking stick can also be a really helpful piece of equipment. A good and sturdy walking stick can be used as a defensive blocking tool, can be used as an object to scare off an approaching friendly dog, can be used stop a dog from attacking, can break up a dog fight by using the stick as a weapon, and can be used like a break-stick (if the right size/shape) to separate dogs who are latched on. It can also be a great tool if walking alone because now you do have some type of ‘weapon’ that may make you more risky a target for human ne’er-do-wells.

Another option for protection from other dogs is a marine air-horn (aka fog horn). These are INCREDIBLY loud and should never be “tested” indoors. These can break up a dog fight and can frighten away incoming dogs–I would say both friendly and some aggressive dogs could absolutely flee if they encounter an air horn. Air horns tend to be a little bit bigger to carry so they aren’t something I carry frequently but you can be darned sure that if I were walking in a populated area at night that I’d be carrying this with me as a way to not necessarily bust the ear drums of a potential threat but to call A LOT of attention my direction if needed.

I don’t love pepper spray, but it can be a very effective tool in breaking up a dog fight and also stopping an oncoming dog. Pepper spray has a big risk of a user making a mistake and spraying themselves or getting in the mist/spray-back (though newer pepper spray dispensers are safer than old school canisters). If you are using it to break up a fight you have to remember that you will be spraying both your dog and the other dog and that your dog may try to flee or otherwise have some side effects of the chemicals. It’s probably more intense than the Direct Stop but it is also a bit riskier in my opinion (as someone who is a complete novice when it comes to using these devices–I had one ‘lesson’ from a friend who is a police officer but that’s it).

You can also carry an umbrella as a tool. It can be used to scare off an oncoming dog if you open it in their face, it can be used as a shield (though remember it’s JUST fabric over a flimsy metal frame), and you can use it (closed) to thwack an oncoming dog to get them to go away, or as tool you can just wave around like a crazy person.

If you are being rushed by a friendly or overly excited dog, another tool you can carry is some smelly treats. As the dog approaches, you throw a handful of food AT the dog–this will startle them and then distract them so you can get away. This isn’t something I would try if a dog were seriously charging me but if a friendly loose dog was rushing towards me, I’d give this a go as a very non-confrontational way to escape the situation.

There are certainly other tools like break sticks, emergency whistles, and the like that you can carry but this list is already long enough!

1 Comment
  1. My mother-in-law actually gave me a personal alarm a few years ago as she knows I am often walking with the dog in the early morning and late evening. I’ve never used it but I should take it with me. It’s pocket-sized so it would fit in a coat pocket. She assured me at was quite loud as she says she tested it in the store. She is definitely the kind of person who would so I believed her.

    I used to always walk with my cell phone but stopped for whatever reason. Probably because I already have so much to carry as it is. But you’re right. It’s a very important tool.

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