‘Stand like a tree’ is key if you encounter an off-leash dog
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What to do if you encounter an off-leash dog

June 2, 2023

If you or your child ever encounter an off-leash dog – even if it’s one you know from around your neighbourhood – it is still important to be careful, especially if the dog’s guardians aren’t nearby.

Stand like a tree

“If you see a dog running around off-leash, even a small dog, and you don’t know what their intentions are, remember to ‘stand like a tree’ – stand still with your arms at your sides,” says BC SPCA humane education manager, Gillian Ickert Plett. “If we start to run, it may activate a dog’s natural instinct to chase; whether they think it’s a game, or chasing prey. This may increase the chance of a nip or bite.”

Lie like a log

If you’re worried the dog might bite you, or they look aggressive, immediately ‘lie like a log,’ facedown on the ground, with your hands protecting the back of your neck, and your elbows covering your ears.

“Even if you know the dog, they could be lost or scared and not know where their guardian is, which may cause them to behave differently than when they are at home or on-leash with their guardian,” Ickert Plett says.

“Of course, we hope this is never an issue for anyone, but when it comes to dog bite safety and preventing dog bites, these are key steps to know. It is important to know what to do, just in case a situation arises.”

What can dog owners do?

For dog owners who allow their dogs off-leash, it is important to teach your canine to always come when called, or to have a no-fail recall, says BC SPCA manger of animal welfare, Kim Monteith.

“First, you have to train them to know that it’s worth their while to come to you – we all like to get paid, so ‘pay’ your pet with their favourite treat or toy or whatever motivates them the most,” Monteith says. “If your dog is off-leash, always stay focused on them, not on your phone or conversation – it only takes seconds for something to happen.”

Dogs get into squabbles sometimes, just like humans. But if your dog is always getting into ‘arguments’ with other dogs at the off-leash park, or is scared of  other dogs there, it is likely best not to take them to the dog park, as it’s not fair to them or other dogs, Monteith notes.

What if my dog bites someone?

If your dog does bite another person or dog, it is key to be a responsible pet guardian and own up to any potential injury, she adds.

“First, put your dog on-leash and secure them in your vehicle or have a friend hold on to them. Make sure everyone is OK and get all the information you’ll need from the other person or people involved and have a discussion with the other dog’s guardian,” Monteith says. “Don’t just walk away and say ‘It wasn’t my dog’s fault’ – remember, you let them off the leash.”

Education for kids

Bite Free: Dog Bite Safety is offered as a community or classroom presentation for youth, K-12. Bite Free teaches students to interpret dog body language so they can recognize and avoid potentially dangerous confrontations with dogs. Participants also learn how to react to dogs, both on and off-leash, safely.

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