An Etiquette Question – How to Address Problems With Other Dog Owners


Say you are in a grocery store with your best friend and her child, and you both see the child take something, perhaps a candy bar, and start eating it.  You look at your friend to see if she’s going to say anything to her child, but she just shrugs. Then you notice that another shopper has also seen this, and that person glares at you, as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to do something about this?” You smile and shrug helplessly, and the best you can say is, “It’s not my kid!”

Well, that was me. But it was at a park where a bunch of dogs were playing off-leash, in spite of the signs ringing the park that indicated dogs were supposed to be on leash. I was walking with a friend and her dog toward the middle of the park, toward the swirl of off-leash dogs, and across a narrow zone of people walking their dogs ON-leash and across a busy bike path. Each time my friend’s dog ran right up to a leashed dog (and of course, the humans at the other end of the leash), I would look back at my friend, who always seemed to be doing something else – looking through her pockets, looking at her phone – I don’t know WHAT she was doing!

I whistled for my friend’s dog a couple of times, and he came back to me once. But when he ran up to an older person who was walking a little West Highland White Terrier and who looked up and glared at me as his walk was interrupted by the two dogs greeting, all I could come up with at the moment was “I’m sorry, it’s not my dog!” There was no growling or aggression, but I was so uncomfortable! This isn’t how I would manage my own dogs!

And by the time two people on a tandem bike had to come to a complete halt  to make sure they weren’t going to hit my friend’s dog, who was trotting along on a diagonal on the bike path, and they couldn’t easily ascertain which way he was going to go, my nerves were fried.

I think we can all agree that allowing your dog to run up to other people, and especially people with leashed dogs, is incredibly rude and potentially dangerous. It can set back a training and counter-conditioning program of a dog whose own behavior with other dogs is reactive.  I know that my friend’s dog has been attacked and bitten by an off-leash dog before. So why on earth would she let her off-leash dog run up to other leashed dogs?

After the moment with the Westie, I did say to my friend, “You know, it’s pretty rude to let your dog run up to people with a leashed dog. If their dog was totally comfortable with other dogs, they’d probably have it off-leash.” My friend’s response? “Oh, I know, but XXX (my dog) is totally good with other dogs.”

All I could say is, “Well, this is hard for me to be around…” 

I’ve been thinking this ever since. I guess I’m one of those people who can never think of what to say at the time, who thinks of the perfect thing to say later. But I still haven’t thought of what I should have said and done.  I know what I would have liked to say: “Hey! Put the dog on leash, or keep him with us until we are in the middle of the park with all the other off-leash dogs!” But she’s an adult and I’m not her boss.

But this morning I thought, perhaps someone else knows just what to say in this situation, or any situation where you are with a friend or relative and they do something you feel is very wrong. What’s the perfect approach to preserving your relationship, while expressing your discomfort with what your friend or relative is doing? Because simply deciding never to walk with them and their dog again feels bad, too  – but that’s the best I have been able to come up with so far.

What would you do or say? What would be a tactful but educational approach to take? (Those might be two different answers!)


  1. I have a very small certified service dog and I am constantly running into the problem you described. Even a friendly bump could injure my dog.

    We vacation at the Outer Banks and avoid going to the beaches that allow loose dogs, but people are so rude and still let their dogs off leash. I try to stay calm but I am truly afraid my dog is going to get injured. She is small so I can pick her up, but this is so maddening. In my own neighborhood when I walk I have to have a dog horn, and a big walking stick for protection.

    Sometimes I say to the dog owner “ We have a leash law in this city”. On the beach walk though my husband just lost his temper yelling at the owner “ Are you special….you don’t have to leash your dog?”. The owner responded that his big lab was friendly even though the beach law was leashed dogs only.

    I don’t know why people in general are so rude. Wish I had a better answer. I find going out with my dog stressful as I have to be constantly on guard.

    • I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I have a little Yorkie who is terrified of other dogs due to getting attacked twice, once by a husky who ran out of it’s front yard where it was with its owners. Beanie was about 3 years old and really tiny, so I think the husky thought she was a rabbit. Thank God, it didn’t hurt her as it must have realized this was a dog and not a rabbit. The owners came running over, apologizing all over the place. Ya, WHATEVER.

      The 2nd time a pit bull, literally crashed through its front door, attacked my friend’s huge dog, who fought it off and then jumped on me to get to my dog who I was trying to hold up. The pit bull grazed her right haunch before my friend started punching and kicking it. It was absolutely horrifying. The owner and her TWO daughters could not even control the thing. Apparently, that family had found this dog by the side of a road and it had been in a dog fight, and they decided to take it home. Are you kidding me?? They knew nothing about this dog and were incapable of taking care of an animal like that. And before everyone starts about how pit bulls are wonderful, gentle dogs, it is the owners, I am not saying all pit bulls are bad, but this one clearly was.

      And there were numerous other times where unsecured dogs came running out of yards and houses at me and my dog. Of course, the owner says: “But my dog is friendly and won’t hurt yours”. That isn’t the point! MY dog is afraid and SHE will attempt to protect both of us and go after the off leash dog and THAT is what I am afraid of. Because the other dog is going to protect ITSELF.

      I don’t have any good answers on how to be diplomatic about this type of issue because I am NOT. Many times I have ended up yelling at people because I was so fed up. It really upsets me and drives me crazy when people don’t leash their dogs or if they are leashed, don’t pay attention to them.

      And yes, walking my dog is not enjoyable because I have to be constantly hyper alert for signs of a dog!!

      • So sorry to hear about your dog being hurt. We “Supposedly” don’t have Pit Bulls in the UK as they are a banned breed but we have Staffies and American Bulldogs which look very similar. You have to understand genetic disposition if you won this type of dog as not all breeds are the same and it is ignorant to think this. I have had lots of bad encounters with Staffies over the years of owning dogs and sadly they do tend t be owned by some nasty characters of people who just want the dog because they are inadequate specimens of humanity who need a “hard” aggressive dog to “improve” their image and get respect. A local training club I used to go to had a lady with an extremely dog-reactive Yorkshire terrier attending. the trainer told me privately that the lady had owned 2 Yorkies but one had been killed by a Staffy and the other dog had witnessed this so was understandably now terrified of other dogs poor thing.

      • It’s so frustrating! I too want to just have a peaceful walk with my dog. I’ve resorted to driving to a different location every day to walk my dog because neighbors on both sides of me don’t leash their dogs or don’t keep them in a fenced in area. They let their dogs out unsupervised. Last year the neighbor dog on one side tried to attack my dog as we were walking by. Just last week the neighbor dog on the other side, is thankfully friendly, but tried to follow us walking down the middle of the road. I was afraid he’d get hit by another car. Another neighbor was driving by and was able to get the dog to go back home, but seriously! I’ve been working with my dog all summer on loose leash walking and general good dog manners and it so frustrating when nobody else seems to care enough to work with their dog.

  2. I think I would say that I didn’t want to see anything bad happen to her dog from another dog lunging at hers, or a bicycle hitting the dog, etc. Not the dog’s fault at all but wouldn’t your friend be upset if something happened and she’d probably blame it on someone else…. Sad. I couldn’t walk with her either…

  3. This is adult to adult conflict resolution. Just like with any unacceptable human behavior, there is a best way to handle it.
    (1). Discuss the issue with her when you are NOT with the dogs. Clearer thinking will prevail.
    (2). Approach the topic from the positive side—how much you want time with her as a friend, how you care about her dog, etc.
    (3). Take it on yourself. It’s not your dog but because of who you are (your experience, training, wisdom, etc) you find it difficult to walk together when, to you, the focus is on the dogs and to her, it is a relaxed stroll. You would love to feel that relaxed but experience prevails and you worry about inappropriate interactions and her dog getting hurt…again. Etc…
    (4). “How do you think we can work this out together? It’s not my job to change you but walking like this isn’t working for me”.
    (5). So here’s the rub. If she’s touchy, she might get (a) irritated (b) hurt, etc. But if she can look honestly at herself and realize your concerns are valid, there is room to discuss a future plan of action.
    Good luck!

      • I guess Nancy, it depends what your friendship with her is worth to you, and if you can be kindly honest. At my age, I’ve gotten to the point where I choose to eliminate from my life people whose values do not more closely match mine. It’s stressful for you to be put in that spot. Does she really care about you as a friend and professional? Thats how I would approach this, ask her how she would feel if something bad were to happen while you were on watch.

        I’m not saying to get rid of your friend, but, you, as a dog professional, have a reputation and code you (and hopefully all of us dog professionals do) must maintain. If she knows you, then she should understand this, and caring for you, want to act in a way that would make you value your friendship with her.

        I have a Diabetes Alert Service Dog, AND I am a professional dog trainer. If I went out in public with my Service Dog, and he acted negatively in any way, with a dog or human, that would be on me, my ongoing training and the original training of the dog. If another dog trainer was with me and saw me, or my dog acting in any way against our codes and values, he/she would have a responsibility to speak up. The access of a Service Dog has been a hard won right for people who depend on these animals for their safety and lives, and everyone should defend that right.

        All of our actions (or inactions), whether as a dog owner or a dog professional, either forward, or detract from, the freedoms we as dog owners, have worked hard to promote.

        I hope at least some of this makes sense.

      • It might work to ask her how she would feel if the situation was reversed where a strange dog came running up to hers off leash. Some owners might kick her dog to protect their own. Some owners, no doubt, would file a lawsuit.

        Also ask her what might be the outcome if her off-leash dog ran to a leashed dog and that dog attacked and injured your friend’s dog. The consequences could be devastating. You may know your own dog, but you do not know other dogs. She truly is putting her dog at great risk. Leashed dogs can be especially protective of their owners and can become more aggressive.

        Here’s another thought. What if that dog has a contagious disease and her dog is now exposed
        and yours too, Nancy, when her dog returns.

        Bottom line, I shudder at the thought of the harm that might happen in this situation. If you love your dog, think through the consequences of your dog’s actions and determine the best way to handle them in advance. Mentally, stay 10 steps ahead of your dog.

    • Thank you Donna for this excellent advice on how to communicate respectfully with someone you disagree with. Would it be okay if I post your advice on my own page with credit to you?

    • Wow! I am blown away by your advice. Well done! If only more of us were trained to handle conflict resolution in such a constructive way. Thank you for sharing.

    • Excellent response. In my conflict classes I also mention that people may want to anticipate the response they might get from the person and be prepared for it – and that the response should never be the gauge by which you determine whether your approach was good or not. We can never control their reactions…only our approach. It they get angry, it’s not your fault. I also firmly believe it is never too late to have a difficult conversation – rarely do humans say the right thing in the moment, but after we have processed it without all the emotion we can come up with the right words…hope it goes well!!

  4. That news story out of NYC about a woman who called the police on a black man birdwatcher was actually patly about this problem. People like to let their dogs off leash in the area of the park that they were in and this man who is invested in the natural bird habitat in that area brought dog treats with him to lure off leash dogs away from the birds and to simultaneously encourage the dog owners to come put their dogs back on a leash. He didn’t have a dog himself but it seemed like this was a workaround he came up with to discourage off-leash dogs. Who knows maybe he was also intimidated by dogs who would come upon him in the wooded area and also hoped to appease them if they were startled. The dog owner in this instance got very offended and aggressive toward him so this obviously is not the answer in all cases but minus all the police drama caused by this one woman I thought it was a decent effort on the part of the birder to address the issue.

  5. I would carry a leash with me and put her dog on a leash while I was there or not go with her again. I would also say he may be well behaved with other dogs but he’s sure not well behaved off leash LOL
    There are not bad dogs just bad owners

    • I like this answer, especially the “well-behaved with other dogs but not well-behaved off leash” comment.

      The last sentence says it all…it’s been my mantra my whole life! LOTS of bad owners. I see too many people who don’t even deserve to have a dog. Dog ownership is a privilege. We are so lucky that these wonderful animals allow us into their lives. We owe it to them to be responsible. By letting her dog run loose, she is exposing him to potential danger from other dogs, vehicles, even other people.

      I haven’t read through all the other comments yet, but how about telling the friend, “You’re making me nervous. I’ve seen too many disasters happen when dogs aren’t under the owner’s control, and I’d hate to see anything happen to yours.”

    • My thought too – I’d take another leash (and well fitting/Martingale collar) and walk her dog for her if I decided to walk with her at all.

  6. Such an important topic but I fear you are preaching to the choir; people who allow their dogs to simply run up to unknown leashed dogs are often completely tone-deaf to the pleas of leashed dog owners to keep away from their dogs. When confronted with the comment “oh my dog is completely fine with other dogs,” I am often forced to sternly announce, “but MY dog is NOT. Please stay away from him.” That’s often said as I am turning abruptly on my heel and running away, anything to avoid having my guy bite the other dog.
    As for the appropriate response to your friend, I’d say “I know you want the best for Fido and would never knowingly risk him being bitten again. It can easily happen if an unknown dog is frightened. Perhaps just leash Fido until we reach the off-leash area and he can run free there.”

    • The “but my dog is not” statement doesn’t work either. I had a guy laugh at me after I said that, as his unleashed yellow lab came charging hundreds of feet across a road and parking lot toward me and my two leashed GSD’s. I saw the guy and dog coming. I took my dogs far off the path, across the parking lot, and BEHIND A CONRETE JERSEY BARRIER for God’s sake. Still his dog came, and still he laughed. People are the most repulsive species of animal.

      • Two GSDs against a lab? I would have told the guy he would be responsible for his own dog’s vet bills since your dogs were leashed and his was not, he was warned and you were leaving. No judge would hold you responsible for any injuries to his dogs.

  7. I haven’t experienced the situation where I’ve been with a friend walking their dog off leash, but have encountered many other people doing just that when I’m walking my dogs. I don’t hesitate to ask the person to “please put your dog on a leash”. If they don’t respond at all or say their dog is friendly, I remind them there is a leash law in our area, that having a dog on leash is for the safety of their dog and other dogs/people. It is astounding how many people think that just because their dog is (supposedly) friendly, that their dog is not at risk for being bitten by another leashed dog, or may be spooked by a noise and run into traffic. There is no accounting for a lack of courtesy and common sense!!!

    • I do the same. In fact yesterday my husband and I were hiking up a canyon w our 3 leashed dogs. We were approaching 2 unleashed dogs and their two people. I asked them to please leash their dogs and they just glared at me. One dog had a muzzle on! I then reminded them of the leash law. Another glare. I then said my husband is walking a reactive dog and please leash. Still no response so I pulled out my cell and said I was going to call the police …they finally leashed the dogs. Usually when I first ask people to please leash their dog, they do. Or more often put on leash ahead of encounter. I always thank those who leash up.

  8. I guess it is a matter of education. Some people have only met or owned friendly and well socialized dogs and can’t relate to anything else.

    Having a reactive, anxious rescue dog, I ‘ve done my best to protect her from off-leash dogs (and their owners). I’ve asked them to not let their dogs approach if the dog is running towards us. Sometimes I’ve had to stop the dog myself and stay between them and my dog until the owner catches up. One owner told me I must hate dogs when I asked them to put their dog on leash 🙁 Some people simply don’t seem to understand. If I see an off-leash dog or an absent-minded owner, we simply avoid them nowadays!

    It’s quite hard to educate strangers on the street but if a situation happens, I always tell my dog is afraid of their dog and ask politely whatever I need.

    Maybe you could kindly explain your friend that some dogs are just terrified and go to full panic mode if any, no matter how friendly, dog comes too near, on- or off-leash! So it’s about the other dog, not about their dog…

  9. I have one very social dog, and one not so social dog. Took almost 6 months of rotation and only outside interactions before I was able to allow these two live in the home together. When we are out on leash, I’m not worried about my social one hurting another dog, but DEFINITELY my other dog will bite and shake and if he wasn’t only 20 pounds could do some damage.

    Not only do I walk with an air horn to keep dogs at bay, but I’ve also started walking with a slip lead. If I’m out with just my social dog and another dog approaches I am able to leash up the dog and wait for the owner to come get them. Then I make a point that they are lucky I didn’t have my other dog or it would’ve been another story. Sometimes reminding people that it isn’t about their own dog being friendly, but also that the leashed dogs may not be, can help discourage that.

    I’ve also done things like bring an umbrella, so I can keep my not so friendly dog away from dogs that may approach. The umbrella builds a visual barrier, along with helps keep all dogs safe in the situation.

  10. I have two replies that I use frequently. One is “Yes, your dog does seen friendly but mine has leash reactivity. I’d hate to see your pup get injured for you not following the leash laws” and the other response is for when people are just being jerks “Hey, we’re the ones with the big brains. Let’s try using them.”

  11. Honesty and truthfulness. I would have said “Hey! Put the dog on leash, or keep him with us until we are in the middle of the park with all the other off-leash dogs!”

  12. Personally, because I have always had Dobies, I would put my dog on a leash whenever encountering people, even where they were allowed to be off-leash. I find it to be the considerate thing to do, and did not frequent dog parks. My last girl was timid & wouldn’t hurt a fly, but was attacked once by two Labs, who were off-leash. Unfortunately, consideration of others seems to have become a lost quality. So, I would explain my feelings on the subject & say that she was free to do what she wanted. But, that I could no longer be a party to this behavior because I was uncomfortable with it, and was not enjoying the experience. That puts the problem on you & not her…perhaps defusing the issue.

  13. This is such a great question! I had the same
    type of experience recently when a new group of acquaintances that I met in a puppy training class invited me to join them on a dog walk. One big difference is the place we went was off leash so dogs were allowed to be off leash. The other three dogs- including two rambunctious labs – ran happily down the path in a group playing with each other. My dog stuck closer to me as is my preference when we are in places shared with other people and dogs. Not everyone enjoyed being encountered by the trio racing down the path and one older couple who had to step out of the dogs’ path said something to us about having the dogs on leash to which the owner of the labs abruptly replied that there is no leash law – which is true for that area.

    It bothered me a lot that the other dog owners made no effort to keep their dogs close or under any kind of verbal control when we encountered other people and dogs. Even though the dogs were allowed to be off leash I still felt it would have been more polite to others using the path to exercise a bit more
    control over the dogs when we were around other people. I’m not sure I’ll join these folks again. It’s great for the dogs to have fun but not at the expense of other people and dogs.

  14. My dog barks and lunges at other dogs. I don’t think he would hurt another dog but I don’t want to find out. I have been working with a certified trainer and dog is doing well. My complaint is with people who let their on leash dogs on an extension leash cross more than half way across the street while I am obviously trying to distract my dog as trained and even once when my dog was lunging on leash. Really? What are people thinking. Most people stay on the other side of the street and keep walking but some deliberately interrupt training and put both dogs and owners at risk.

  15. All the previous comments are great and I’ll just add a ‘last resort.’ I live with a wonderful, smart, sweet, gentle, highly reactive Airedale. I walk her late at night or far away from town. However, we have a LOT of dogs in our community and few are on leash. They can appear out of nowhere at any time. After a couple of close encounters with off leash, unsupervised dogs at 11 pm, I started carrying a canister of the citronella spray Spray Shield. I carry it to protect Rose and I carry it to protect the other dog. And I carry it EVERY time we go for a walk. Not an answer for your friend dilemma (and I have a particular neighbor just like that), but a last result protection for both dogs.

  16. Yes, this is an unfortunately all too common situation and likewise, I often can’t think of the perfect response in the moment. I think tone of voice is the most important point here. If I see an unleashed dog approaching I do try and call out, in as friendly a manner as possible, “Hi there, please leash your dog”. Say it with a smile and a friendly tone and many people will try and call their dog back. Thank them if they do. If they don’t, deep breath and try to protect your dog/move him away. If the person is apologetic, I’ve tried explaining why my dog is leashed and they may just keep it in mind next time. If they’re not, keeping your calm is still going to be most effective. As a trainer, I’m trying to keep reminding myself to train the people too – reward the behaviors I want. Rules of punishment apply equally too – no point yelling and screaming if they can’t understand what they did wrong.

  17. I think you approach it from the direction of her dog being injured. Since you said that has already happened once, it should not be so hard for her to imagine the way things like that get started and the dangerous result of an unintended dog fight. Or maybe talk about the vet costs for a dog injured in a dog fight or a bike accident. And on top of that, she’d be liable for damages to the other dog, or the people on the bike(s). Most of us want to do what we’ve always done, or what is the easiest thing. You just need to make being on leash look like the easiest thing when all consequences are taken into account.

  18. I see this in my neighborhood with a leashed dog! Totally out of control, on too long a lead, with a pet parent who can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t love to have her dog running up to them, bouncing around, tangling leashes with other dogs, etc. Sigh. Some people just don’t get it.

  19. “I’m afraid it is rude to have your dog off- leash in this situation. Shall we go somewhere where he can be off leash?”

    ” This is not a an off-leash area. I Know your dog is a friendly sweet dog, but other people’s dogs might not be. They might be trying to manage their dogs behavior. It is making other people uncomfortable and I’m afraid it is making me uncomfortable as well. Would you put yours on leash for me? Next time we will find an off leash park.”

  20. I would say before going that you are “uncomfortable with having dogs unleashed in a leash area. Can we agree to stay leashed until we reach the unleashed area?”

  21. I like the approach of discussing this issue away from the situation. I have an 85 pound dog who is not normally dog aggressive, but I’ve had to do some gymnastics at times when he’s approached by an off-leash dog who may, or may not, be friendly. It’s all about one being on leash, and one not. Too many people in my small city get defensive when I ask them to keep their dog away. I don’t know what my dog may do, and, at 85 pounds, I don’t want to find out.

  22. I would say: “Let’s put him on a leash…” and then either add “… because of the bicycles” or “because of that out-of-control dog over there” or “because it’s an leash-on area” and then reach to the dog and put the leash on.
    I feel like the “Lets put him on a leash” instead of “Put him on a leash, please” would make it sound less bossy to the friend.

  23. One idea: Change YOUR walking path so as to avoid the other people and dogs. You don’t have to make it explicit it’s about the dog at all, just say, “I’d rather go this way.” Another aspect here that you skip over in your story is that you watched your friend unleash her dog in spite of the park rules. That was an opportunity to say something.

    Personally, I think it’s a bad friend who lets you fuck up without telling you about it. Especially as a dog professional, you can use your reputation and best practices as an excuse. “I can’t have someone recognize me in the worst case scenario. You’ve been on the other side of that worst case yourself.” But the better way to confront is after you’re away from the scene, and at a time when your friend will pay attention to the conversation. “In my line of work, it’s almost a cliche that every offleash dog that attacks another dog has an owner saying, ‘but they’re good with other dogs!’ And they may be good with 99% of other dogs, but every dog dislikes some other dogs, and the owner wasn’t paying attention to their dog when the worst happened.” You can talk about best practices, too, for offleash time, including paying attention, having a good recall. The best advice I have for having a difficult conversation is to “sandwich.” Compliment your friend’s dog training, give her some hard truth, then say something else positive.

  24. I’ve said: “I know Fido loves other dogs … but looks like he’s overwhelming that one … you might want to leash up!” Any protests from Fido’s owner? Follow up with “Yeah, but that little dog has her tail between her legs and the owner looks really worried!”

  25. First of all, say the truth with love…THEN I would very nicely, in an UN-condescending way, state that she may believe her dog behaves, but no one knows how another dog will behave when her dog runs up to it…this is the dangerous part.
    You do not know what the OTHER dog’s experiences have been; he could attack this dog to defend himself. It is not fair, also, to have your dog running on the sidewalk from side to side when others are trying to anticipate where your dog’s going to go; it is dangerous for those on bikes, for elderly, etc.
    My dogs know the command, “Stop and wait” and they must stand to the side I am on and WAIT for bikes/people to pass. If another dog is coming, we step off the sidewalk, turn our backs to the sidewalk, and wait…just in case.

  26. When one has friends that see the world radically different than we do, and we know this in advance, then our plans with them can compensate for their point of view. So it’s like a compromise without their awareness. Knowing her likely behavior, the next time she suggests a dog outing, suggest one of the places where you are likely to encounter no dogs, but they’re permitted off leash. For me this is generally BLM or National Forest lands where hunting is permitted, because many hunters use dogs, so they are permitted loose, as long as they are under basic control. When I hike with my dogs off leash, I carry treats in a pouch and recall them often. They are generally within sight and have excellent recalls, thanks to all of our off leash hikes with treats. This may seem like a wimpy solution, but it’s really a win-win for all.

  27. Your experience, as evidenced by all the other comments, is a common one. I am different than you, though. Recognizing that the only behavior you have control of is yours, you certainly can say and should say what needs to be said and, in the future, avoid being in a similar situation. The problem (in my opinion) with individuals, who don’t speak up, is they are complicit in any adverse outcome. Does it matter if the offending dog, that caused someone to fall off their bike and break a leg, is owned by your walking buddy? You could have done something. And chose not to. Silence is not golden, and it can have significant consequences. If your friend’s dog is unleashed and causes someone to get bit (breaking up a dog fight) or to fall off their bike, you could also be liable financially, and certainly morally/ethically, right along with the owner. When children are involved, there are even further consequences for not speaking up and doing what is right. (Some ways, I confess, of speaking up are less likely to invoke rage than other ways and one must be mindful of not becoming a victim of a gun-toting dog owner with a short fuse.) Well, good luck. My solution: I bought my dogs a tread mill and quit walking in the neighborhood park. It’s too crowded (not enough green spaces for people) . Plus, parents or dog owners can be psycho when it comes to what, in their opinion, is in the best interests of their kids or pets. Rules don’t apply.

    • Thank you so much Mary and Kalia for your comments. I have requested to my friend that she keeps her dog on-leash at the reservoir (because I know it’s the rules), and she refuses when we are in the woods. However, I know that Mountain Bikers often go through the area and could get hurt. Also, we were walking through a retirement area today and she took her little dog off-leash and he ran up to an older man who was clearly uncomfortable with the dog off-leash and said something. I told her that many people don’t like it but she just didn’t seem to care. It really bothered me that she just dismissed me and my feelings. I feel that she has done this with some other things too and I am just feeling that maybe the friendship isn’t the best for me at this time.

  28. This question is similar to the negotiation of stay/leave whenever a new dog/owner arrives at our local dog park, which is an open fenced field. Fortunately there are very few of us there at any one time, and conversation about our dogs’ compatibility with other dogs is hard to avoid. On/off-leash, like stay/leave, is something to settle pre-walk, not during. By then, too much can happen too quickly.

    In step with the last few commenters, I always stop for a few seconds when I am very uncomfortable about something I think I must bring up and give myself time to frame it as a question. Usually (not always) that’s enough time for me to control my tone, too.

  29. If you want to keep this person as your friend and still want to spend time with her, I would avoid going with her on walks with her dog and find other ways and situations where you and she can enjoy each others’ company.

  30. I tend to put it in terms they can understand. What if a stranger came up, cornered you, and gave you a big hug? If you protest, they say, “It’s okay, I like giving hugs!” Not everyone likes hugs, and they should be asked first. You can’t ask if your dog’s off leash.

  31. I agree with talking about this away from the “incendiary situation”.
    You might also point out that if her friendly dog causes an accidentshe will be liable. Not just for the damage caused but for lost wages etc and her dog could be deckared dangerous which might have a bad ending for the dog.
    It seems tha when people don’t et it drastic examples are in order…
    Best of luck. It’s easy for us far-removed bystanders to give advice, but very different in the heat of the moment.

  32. I definitely would take a collar and leash and leash him up with the “so we can talk and not have to watch him so closely to be sure he doesn’t get hurt”. When unleashed dogs run up to mine with the “my dog is friendly” verbiage, my reply in a loud voice is that my dog will “have yours for dinner”. That gets attention. Haha

  33. Firstly: Know the law. Know the consequences for the dog and the owner of a dog over which that owner has no control and which dog is then involved in an incident causing damage. Tell them about it. it’s a black and white issue.

    Secondly: Educate them about the following:

    1. environmental awareness as a cool skill to learn so that intelligent (considerate) environmental navigation becomes the practiced behaviour.

    2. the potential outcomes deriving from the owner negligently or maliciously exposing an animal (theirs or belonging to another owner) to psychological and/or physical harm including:

    – injury which can be severe/life threatening
    – profound fear>panic>escape>aggression cycle
    – increased morbidity due to profound stress
    – the risk of the animal being impounded (i.e. separated from its social structure)
    – imposition of punitive ‘control’ measures
    – risk of euthanasia due to a court order

    3. be a responsible citizen and be kind to other people and their dogs.

  34. I had a similar experience in my neighborhood. My neighbors are in their 20’s and barely responsible for owning a house. They used let their dog out in the morning and I would call them to get their dog. Well one morning the guy came over and said “I don’t know what you’re getting all upset about? My dog is friendly.”
    I told him my dog wasn’t .
    Then he said “You’re overreacting. Your dog is perfectly calm “.
    At which point my dog growled and snapped at his dog.. He grabbed his dog and ran back across the street.

    I haven’t had a problem with them since and his dog is always on a leash.

  35. People who have dogs off-lead in on-lead areas are the bane of my life. I would have to be fairly blunt with my friend in this scenario. She should be more responsible especially as her dog has been attacked before. Just a word of advice-shout out “My dog is contagious-please keep your dog away” if you have an on-leash dog an on off-leash dog is running towards them. people don.t care if your dog is nervous but will act out of self-interest every time. I also wear a Go-Pro body camera on walks and take a legal alarm-Trident 3 in 1. We’ve had 3 years of living near a moronic dog-owner who wouldn’t leash his reactive Black Lab near roads and it kept trying to have a pop at my dogs (Crossing the road to do so) but met with my litter-picker first. One of my dogs is consequently afraid of off-lead dogs he doesn’t know running up.

  36. My advice would be to talk about the situation in a neutral setting, using a calm, neutral tone of voice. If that approach doesn’t work/friend insists on remaining clueless in spite of your efforts, just find other ways to socialize with this friend. You “can’t fix stupid” and there’s no need to subject yourself to further stressful situations.

  37. I’ve read all of the comments and they all have good points. My thought: YOUR dog may be friendly to other dogs but MY dog isn’t!! I have a highly reactive dog and any dog running up to her, regardless of how friendly the owner may think they are, is a recipe for disaster. Maybe just a reminder to the friend about this fact would help.

  38. As a somewhat frail elder (with a dog), I have been knocked to the ground several times by friendly off leash dogs (in an on leash park). Their humans were either not paying attention, or had not taught their dog a solid recall. It was not my job to tell a stranger their dog should not be off leash. My goal was to be able to walk my dog without being injured. What worked best was for me to say “what a handsome energetic dog!” Then say, “I am sorry, I am a bit fragile, and should probably just stay home, but I do love walking my dog here. I fear I will break bones if I am knocked over by your friendly dog”. Because I did not make the human feel defensive, they were cooperative & retrieved their dog whenever they saw me. Maybe I modified the behavior of those humans, & they generalized to pay closer attention to their dogs, especially around elders & small children.

  39. If someone says “oh don’t worry my dog’s friendly”. I smile and say “oh, mine’s not!” The expression on their face changes immediately as they watch their dog romp toward my leashed German Shepherd dog. ( which I control perfectly as long as other dogs don’t run up to us). I think they think I should not bring my dog to the park if she doesn’t love strange dogs running up to her ( and me!). But as long as my dog is on a leash I’m not breaking any rules. They ARE breaking a rule. The leash rule. I also had another mixed breed dog (very friendly) attacked by an off leash dog. $2000 and 2 years later she is still afraid of walking in that park.

  40. You could try being quite up front and say “I’ve been struggling to figure out how to bring something up with you, so I thought I’d give you this for your consideration [Give her the fantastic one-page graphic that Lili of Doggie Drawings created, entitled ‘Space Etiquette for Dogs’]. And you could say that you’d like to continue walking together but unless her dog is on lead it is honestly too hard for you to enjoy it.

    You could potentially also say that you understand that owners of friendly dogs sometimes feel really proud of their dog’s friendliness and the opportunity for social interactions that may come from that but that owners of friendly dogs aren’t entitled to impose on the dogs who are not relaxed, friendly extroverts. In the same way that being a friendly human doesn’t entitle you to randomly join someone/everyone else’s picnic in the park, being a friendly dog doesn’t mean you are entitled to introduce/impose yourself on anyone and everyone either.

    And a line along the lines of ‘Friendly dogs create aggressive dogs’, and the accompanying explanation of that might help as well.

    All the best with it.

  41. Personally, IF i was walking WITH my friend, I would tell her that she should put the leash on the dog.
    Guilt by association, I do not want or need.
    If it was a friendly acquaintance I would probably say something too.
    It it was a stranger, I would leave. I used, in the past, to speak out, but I simply don’t need the grief of abuse from strangers.

  42. I’m of a certain age where the communication ‘filter’ is thinner. My response would have been along the line of, “Would you mind leashing up your dog until we get to the off leash area?” If your friend says, “Sure, no problem.” Great. If she gets defensive, that’s important info.

  43. Next time going to the park is mentioned I would say, “Do you want to walk (Fido) or should I?
    I could never forgive myself if something bad happened to( Fido) off leash.”

  44. I would warn her of the financial consequences should her dog cause an injury to someone by knocking them over. and Insurance companies would not cover her if the dog was unlawfully off leash. followed up by a fib that a friend was sued for thousands of dollars for injuries caused by her off leash dog. Also that her dog might be friendly but others are not, that is what I say with my GSD when out leash walking and someone lets their dog come up and says, “its ok he/she’s friendly” my response,”mine’s not and will attack”, that always does it.

  45. Well , unfortunatly people are people as this is the only polite way to put it. They see the world through their narrow prism, what works for them should work for you too.
    I have Kangal dog here in istanbul, she is 82cm at the whithers and weighs about 56 kg. She walk on leash due to the fact of her size , weight and speed ,she can make quite mess if she hits a child, cyclist or runner.
    I have haf chiwawas of leash trying to attack my gentle giant and their owners find it amusing, until i have to roar to them to control their dogs.
    Being the person that brought positive training methods to these shores, i have tried everything under the sun and the only thing that these people understand is being obnoxious and this keeps them in check , and you can go about your walkies😁

  46. I like the idea of sending the link and also simply being respectful that your friend is dealing with a situation she’s not totally equipped to deal with. How do you want to help her? How would you help her through any other situation that you were uncomfortable with? Take that path.

    I’m not being dismissive of accountability but we are not perfect dog owners as we are not perfect parents or friends. It’s a question of intent and the ability to be her friend to help her come around to see the issues.

    My own 2 years in dog ownership as an adult has certainly been an evolution in in navigating adults, dogs and friendships. I had no idea people felt so strongly about so many issues related to dogs. As I have tried to raise a responsible 35 lb rescue from the age of 2 months (who has A LOT of energy not to mention a deformed paw), it’s a lot to learn and manage.

    Feel her out and figure out what’s best for your comfort zone and hers. I continue to do the best I can and be aware of feelings, protocol and also simply the fact my dog is a dog and he’s not always going to be perfect. It’s an emotional whirl but coming from a place of compassion and understanding is always going to get you further. Good luck!

  47. When your friend dismissed your concern by saying, “Oh, I know, but my dog is totally good with other dogs”, that was your opening to introduce the issue by asking her to think about an analogous situation involving humans instead of dogs. Ask her how she would feel if she were the mother of an autistic child, whom she had brought to the park to enjoy the outdoors, but who doesn’t handle impromptu social situations well. All of a sudden another overly friendly child (= her dog) whose parent (= your friend) is preoccupied with their phone or whatever, comes running up to her child, calling out loudly to ask if her child wants to play. Her child is distressed by the sudden interaction and invasion of space, has a meltdown, and they have to leave. The child who was not being supervised has ruined the outing for the child who is shy and withdrawn. Asking her to live for a moment in the other dog owner’s reality, and making the situation relatable on a human level, might help her see the problem with her attitude.

  48. I can’t count how many times i have been on the leash end of issues like this – it’s so frustrating!
    As with horses, as some know (but all horse owners know), there are things to notify others that there are issues – red ribbon in a horses tail means don’t come close we kick. There are other color ribbons for other issues.
    I understand that a yellow leash means that this dog is uncomfortable with others approaching; dogs for sure, and I think people too. It would be really helpful if pet stores (geez if all the pet stores, especially chains, posted this), veterinary schools, veterinarian offices, rescue centers/humane societies, dog trainers, dog parks, popular hiking trails had that posted for the public to see and learn from. Along with any other colors that would be applicable (I vaguely remember this from an older WDJ article). I recognize tho’ that there are always those humans that don’t think, think it doesn’t apply, think their dog is “better”, think they are better and should have to be respectful of others (even when they expect others to be respect ful of them – sheesh – seriously?) A conscious combined effort from several well known animal service/licensing institutions would also be helpful.

    • I am in the UK and we have something called “yellow dog” which means if your dog is wearing a yellow jacket or lead or harness other people should give them space. However, it is not very widely known unfortunately.

  49. I live in NYC and whenever I walk my dog in Central Park there are ALWAYS unleashed dogs.I live further uptown in the 90’s and it is not a supervised area.There are certain hours when dogs are allowed to run free but we don’t go at those times.My dog is reactive and skittish so I would never let him run loose in a park that has access to traffic and roads.It is annoying to see so many off leash dogs in the hours they shouldn’t be off leash and I have told a few people to leash their dogs and of course the insidious “oh he is friendly”response.I just curtly say my dog isn’t – one woman walked away and told her dog”lets not play with that nasty dog”.I think a lot of people have become obnoxious with their dogs and use them as child substitutes.

  50. I know you were just using the child as an example but dogs and children are not the same. Usually when you tell a child that there could be negative consequences from eating candy not paid for at a store. They most times think twice about doing it again but dogs do not get the reasons like that without TRAINING.

    Friend or not, not having control of your dog in any situation is not going to have a good outcome. Any dog off leash should have a strong recall and if it doesn’t then on leash till that is established.

    Your friend is rude by just saying their dog likes other ppl and dogs cause you do not know what others are going through.

    You need to speak up for the safety of not only your friends dog (aggressive and/or leash reactive dog or human) but other people who may be enjoying the fresh air.

    If they can’t see that then maybe they need to re-evaluate why they want the dog in the first place…

  51. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. Its source was the Complete Canine.


    Let’s set the scene. This may become a bit sensitive for some, and I apologise in advance.
    You’re out somewhere. You might be at a restaurant, a bar, a public park on a sunny day enjoying the sunshine with your family. It may be that you’re on your way home from work or trying to catch the bus. You’re just minding your own business.
    Suddenly, a person comes straight up to you. They give you anxiety. What is this person going to do? I don’t know! The person is walking with a friend and the friend sees you’re a bit anxious and calls out to you saying “Don’t stress, she/he’s all good!’’ ��But they keep approaching you. And when they finally reach you they randomly hug you. Touch you. Walk circles around you. Start talking to you. Don’t let you leave.
    What would you call that? Harassment? Assault in severe cases?
    How would this make you feel?
    Now, after the initial shock you find your courage and you ask the person to go away. Leave you alone. But the person doesn’t stop and instead touches your arm or your hair. “Oh come on, we’re alright. I’m not doing anything bad I’m friendly! Just let me be around you.’’��You get upset and might push the person. Shout at them. If you’re a bit more of an assertive person you might punch them. Who knows.
    �Then the person and the friend get upset. Well? WHY are you here then? What are you doing in this public space if you don’t like being around other people? You have no business to be here, minding your own business in this park with your family without allowing me to sit with you, play with you, touch you, talk to you. Actually, you know what you should do? You should be more social! You should go more often to random groups of people.
    Do you see what I did there?
    If you thought any of the above situation is not okay (and I sure as heck hope you do), then why do we think it’s okay to let dogs run up to strange dogs and say ‘It’s okay he’s friendly’?
    What we do in the dog world is the exact opposite what we should be doing. We label the harassed dog as aggressive and the harassing dog as the victim.
    Dogs have emotions. They have feelings. They have their own characters and personalities. There are many, many dogs that are not interested in making new friends or being with dogs they don’t know they can trust.
    And sure, some dogs love playing with other dogs. Those are the extraverted dogs. Just like we have people that LOVE hugging or love making new friends even as adults, but to be honest.. how many of those people do you know? I think if you put it into a % its lower than the people that rather just are with their select group of people and be left alone by random strangers in public spaces.
    So don’t assume the dog your dog is running towards on the beach, is willing to play with your dog. Being in a public space means you need to have your dog under effective control. And if you can’t call your dog back, it should be on a long line until you can.

  52. I haven’t read all the responses so this may already have been said, but a very direct “Mary, would you mind putting Fido on leash until we get to the off leash area? I’m very uncomfortable with him running up to leashed dogs.” Hopefully she’d do it for you, her friend.

  53. This is an issue I fight with my Dad about. He’s 91 and insists on walking his dog off leash in the neighborhood. He does it because he walked his previous dog off leash. I have told him that Dolly isn’t Candy and she will dash into the street and get hit by a car and then he’ll be devastated. I told him if Dolly dies I will never bring Diana and Freyja over and he will never see them again. But he still does it.

    He claims it is because he can’t manage the leash and his scooter. But he did it before he used a scooter when he had no excuse. I think for him it is an ego thing. “Look how well-trained my dog is I can walk her off leash…”

    Well, apparently he has been nodding off in the front yard and Dolly has decided when he does she will just take herself for a walk because she knows the route.

    My Mom tells me Animal Control has been by more than once to talk to him about it. I guess the neighbors down the street have been reporting Dolly off leash. They know who she belongs to and she’s not doing anything except walking around without a leash or my Dad.

    And still he doesn’t get it.

    There are some things you just can’t fix.

  54. Nancy, your response in the moment was good. That your “friend” dismissed your concerns at the time is not. There are some excellent ideas in this thread. Pick one, talk to her, and then decide if you want to continue to be friends. I personally would not continue the friendship with someone who was so insensitive. But I would create a teachable moment first. We need to speak up for the voiceless. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but we all need to do it. Speak up. Let her know why it’s wrong and harmful to have her dog off leash, and that you won’t be a part of it. You could save a dog or person from harm. Best to you.

  55. Ok all the folks with small dogs stating your is going to get hurt by the big dog. 95% if the time the small dog is giving aggressive signals to the large dog. Size does not indicate aggression. Smaller dogs have issues because they are treated like children, held or put in strollers when they should be walking. If you are worried go to a small dog area. No dog of any size should be off leash in a leashed area. It does not matter if your dog is friendly or aggressive.


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