Doggo Defense: Leashed Dog vs. Unleashed Aggressor

Here are some tools and tactics for protecting your pooch on daily walks.

by posted on June 28, 2024
Horman Doggo Dog Aggresssion Lede

My wife and I recently learned that an aggressive dog down the street has been getting out and attacking other dogs in our neighborhood. Some of our neighbors had already contacted local authorities by the time we heard about it. The response they received was frustrating: Until the dog in question attacks and harms a human being, don't expect us to do anything about it.

When it comes to defending a human life from a canine attack, the legal, ethical and moral lines are clear. If you or a loved one is in danger of losing your life or of being subjected to grievous bodily harm, then the use of force can be justified. This is true in both the courts of law and the, often more fickle, court of public opinion.

But in cases of dog-versus-dog attacks, the lines are not so clearly drawn. Our primary concern was what to do if an unleashed dog attacks a leashed dog out for a walk with its people. This is the most likely situation we might have to work through. What kinds of tools and tactics are available to the leashed dog's human companion? Are there effective options that are less likely or unlikely to cause any lasting harm to the unleashed dog?

With these questions in mind, I set out to learn more. I am neither a lawyer nor a member of any canine-related profession. Instead, I'm just a fellow furry-friend fan who wants to keep our aging 14-pound mixed breed pupper from being used as dental floss by an unleashed dog during our evening strolls. It should be noted here that some of the products listed below are restricted or illegal to own or use in some parts of the country. Make sure to review local regulations and to consult with the professionals who understand them before making any purchases.

A Note on Human Nature
I have a family member who is a professional dog trainer. He was kind enough to act as one of the consultants for this write up. We've used his services and, because we are family, he felt comfortable sharing something that he might not say so plainly to other clients, "With rare exceptions, there really are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners." Basically, he said, they lack the information or motivation to learn what their dog needs or to invest in proper training. Instead, they tend to assume they are good dog owners in the same way as most of us assume we’re good drivers. But this doesn't necessarily mean that they don't love their dogs. In fact, letting their dog run freely and unleashed may be one of the ways they show affection for them.

Much like automotive fender benders and playground scuffles between children, a dog-on-dog confrontation can lead to emotions running high on both sides of the event. The majority of dog owners we'll run into are pretty reasonable, especially when it's clear who is in the wrong. Most of the time a fairly calm conversation can take place, information exchanged, plans made for resolution or restitution and we can all get on with our day.

But in some instances, there is the possibility of an angry or even a violent response from a dog's owner if some degree of force has been applied to drive it away from your pet. Just know that if you protect your leashed dog that you may face a hot tempered response that could include yelling, threats, phone calls to law enforcement and maybe even a fist fight. But remember, we may well find ourselves on the other side of the aggressive dog equation some day. Let's do our best to be kind and understanding of our fellow dog fans with the goal that all parties involved, 2-legged and 4-legged alike, make it home safe and sound.

Concealed-Carry Handguns (Don't Shoot Scruffy!)
Don't shoot. Period. Firing a concealed-carry handgun represents the use of lethal force that can almost never be justified except to defend human life. When one dog attacks another in a public space, like a residential street or a park, the risk of a bullet striking an innocent bystander is simply too high. And don't expect the law to be on your side since firing a gun within city limits will violate a variety of regulations. Just drawing a gun in a situation like this can lead to a whole heap of legal hurt, especially if the unleashed dog's human thinks you are pointing a gun at them.   

If you are out in the boonies, or on a wilderness trail, and your pooch is set upon by a coyote, wolf, mountain lion, bear or feral dogs, then that is a different situation (which will not be addressed here). If you and your dog are out and about in a suburban or urban setting, then a concealed firearm is strictly for your self-defense only. Strike it off of your list of doggo defensive options.  

Pepper Spray
While researching this write-up I came across various reports of folks who opted to pepper spray a charging unleashed dog. In some cases pepper spray was their intended canine defense plan while in others it was the defensive tool they had on hand at the time. Pepper spray has proved to be an effective deterrent for human assailants, angry dogs and even bears. Used properly, it will work. However, it can be a problematic option when it comes to stopping neighborhood dogs.

Although the chances of pepper spray causing lasting harm or death are relatively low, it’s still a possibility. Like humans, older dogs or those with certain medical problems may not survive a dose of capsicum oil. Some companies offer sprays that are specifically formulated for animal attacks and are listed as EPA approved for dogs. Nevertheless, the risks still remain. And, depending on the type of spray used, the cloud of chemicals released may blow back on you or your dog as well. Whatever your reasons for carrying pepper spray, make sure you understand how to use it.

What is more likely to happen when using pepper spray to stop a dog-on-dog confrontation is an angry dog owner reacting badly due to their dog’s suffering. The burning sensation caused by pepper spray, if left untreated, can last between 30 to 60 minutes. I’ve read accounts of dog defenders who were punched, kicked and in one case, had to turn the spray can on the enraged owners to protect themselves. I'm not ready to take pepper spray off the table at this point in regards to dog defense. It definitely has its place but I've still got more research to do. In the mean time, here are a few other options to consider.

Stun Gun Flashlights
One of the dog trainers I found online surprised me at first when he suggested a rechargeable, pocket-sized stun gun with built-in flashlights as a charging dog deterrent. These days there are a variety of small, potent, rechargeable units to choose from with prices around $30 to $40. Some are even designed to look like the kind of small, hand-held flashlights commonly carried for evening walks.

This trainer explained that dogs have a self-preservation switch that is flipped by sudden, surprisingly loud noises and lights. The goal of using a combination stun gun and flashlight is not to zap a charging dog per se since placing one’s hands in the path of snapping teeth is a bad idea. Instead, activating the device to produce the loud, crackling noise and bright light of the electrical arc while waving it towards the charging dog can be enough to startle them and cause them to retreat. This is usually enough to do the trick and it has the added benefit of no lasting discomfort to the dog, unlike pepper spray, with no physical contact that could result in the human getting scratched or bitten.

Air Horns
This is an option Editor-In-Chief Ann Smith mentioned that had previously flown under my radar. These are the small can air horns commonly used for boat safety, signaling and the like. They are readily available through a variety of outlets for around $15 to $20. And as far as I know, unlike firearms, pepper spray and stun guns, there are no legal restrictions against owning or carrying these little but loud devices.

Like the crackle and light of a stun gun, an ear splitting blast from one of these horns will most likely startle a charging dog and cause them to turn away from the noise. This is another option which is effective without physical contact. It does not cause any harm or lasting discomfort to the canine and they are relatively easy to carry around. Some trainers say this is the doggo defense they personally prefer. But be prepared for your leashed dog to be startled by the horn as well.

Hiking Sticks & Canes
Years ago, in the neighborhood where I grew up, there was an elderly neighbor lady who we often saw out walking her little dog. On those walks, she carried the rubber-gripped shaft of an old aluminum golf club with the head removed. She fearlessly handled that thin, light-weight shaft like a WWI British general wielding his riding crop! The bigger neighborhood dogs that sometimes wandered the streets (it was much more common in the 1970s) knew to leave her little dog alone. They learned the hard way that she would go to work on them about the head and shoulders if they got too close for comfort. But in most cases that was not necessary. She would just wave the shaft around, making herself look bigger, while shouting at the wandering dogs to ‘just go on, just get along home,’ and that would usually do the trick. She was such a class act!

Although this particular neighbor's pet defense implement was a bit unconventional, her tactics were sound. Dogs, like muggers, are not interested in hard targets. A charging dog faced with a loud human yelling at them to get back while waving a stick around crazily is most like to back off. And if they don't, modern aluminum hiking poles or old fashioned wooden canes will do nicely for those who use them.  Because walking sticks are built to be light weight, they will intimidate and sting but are unlikely to cause any lasting harm to a dog. Lots of folks already have walking sticks of some variety, so just take one of them along the next time you take Fido for a stroll.





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