What can I take with me on walks to keep dogs away?
January 7, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I live in a neighborhood where people walk their dogs off-leash. Unfortunately, a lot of these dog owners are jackasses, and their dogs are aggressive, territorial, and menacing to my dog, my family, and me. Is there anything I can carry on walks to keep these dogs away if/when they charge us? I'm not interested in actually killing these dogs, and my fear with pepper spray is that it'll get on my kids. I've heard mixed things about tasers - some people say they're good, others say they just make the dog angrier. Ideas?
posted by malhouse to Pets & Animals (50 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
People in my area (which has the same issue) tend to walk with staffs or hiking sticks. As a dog owner who is responsible, I've no issue with that.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

Dog treats might help. If a dog is truly aggressive, maybe not, but if they're like my pups, they'd run for any treat tossed and immediately become your best friends.

Also, I find that almost always dogs want to check out other dogs. Many of these dogs may mean you no harm at all and are much more interested in meeting your dog. Commonly, if dogs are pulled away from each other when they want to meet, it just riles them up more. When you can judge the approaching dog is not acting aggressive (ie. no hackles up), let you dog meet this dog - don't pull him/her away. I've found that 95% of the time the dogs check each other out and decide to be pals.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Honestly, if you're thinking pepper spray and tasers maybe you should just walk somewhere else. It sucks if you can't walk in your neighborhood but you're talking about arming for combat with animals, why expose your kids and pets (and yourself) to that?

If it's not really that bad, I don't know that you can do anything to keep dogs away but you could carry a big bag of dog treats and throw a handful to distract them.
posted by ghharr at 8:45 AM on January 7, 2014 [15 favorites]

Squirt bottle or small water gun?

I think that would be something that would startle a dog, and you wouldn't have to worry about any liability.

Is it legal to keep dogs off leash in your neighborhood?

On preview, I think the walking stick is a great idea, and having tasty smelly treats to toss in away from you is a great idea.

Also good to keep your dog distracted and keeping him/her from engaging with the other dog.

However, a dog who seems aggressive and menacing may not be at all -- dogs have different ways of establishing themselves socially that can seem aggressive but isn't at all. Not saying this is the case, however, I would be horrified if someone pepper sprayed or tased my dog if I was legally walking him off leash.
posted by hrj at 8:47 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ghharr, it's not a constant problem but it happens once every couple weeks, so I just want something with me for those rare occasions.

hrj, it's illegal to walk dogs off leash in my neighborhood.

I know a lot of these dogs aren't aggressive - but some of them are. So I just want something as a precaution.
posted by malhouse at 8:49 AM on January 7, 2014

Dog treats might help. If a dog is truly aggressive, maybe not, but if they're like my pups, they'd run for any treat tossed and immediately become your best friends.

This is a terrible idea. Undisciplined dogs who are tossed dog treats will continue to jump on you and your kids, follow you down the street, and attack your own dog as a "competitor" for the treats.

Get a big solid stick and whack the shit out of any dog that comes near you.
posted by jayder at 8:49 AM on January 7, 2014 [30 favorites]

Really good treats that are more interesting than you or your dog. It has to be high protein and stinky like cheese, eggs or chicken. Any treats you purchase in a bag won't be smelly enough to distract the dog.

Is this a rural area? Off-leash walking is really not OK if you're in an area with other people and dogs. I would check local regulations
posted by hamsterdam at 8:51 AM on January 7, 2014

I live in an area with the same issue. Your first bet action is to teach your dog some defensive driving skills. When we are approached by a strange dog, my dog knows to immediately sit down. The vast, vast majority of the time it's like ecorrocio says: the other dog is usually just investigating. Because my dog just sits (and occasionally piddles on himself if the other one is really big) and doesn't engage, the dogs get bored leave him alone pretty quickly.

Personally I would avoid carrying treats if for no reason other than on subsequent walks the dogs know you as food person and leave you alone even less.

I think a squirt gun is probably your best bet--something small and annoying to deter without becoming aggressive yourself.

I have also called the SPCA before to report one particularly egregious neighbor who lets his dog free roam on our street at all hours.
posted by phunniemee at 8:55 AM on January 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I pull my dog in at my side and whirl the last few feet of his very long and heavy leather leash in a plane between us and the other dog. The sight and sound is very disconcerting and also, if the stray ventures too close, he risks getting a solid smack to the head. Practice this a bit at home so it doesn't freak your own dog out and to learn how to best control the spin.
posted by jamaro at 9:05 AM on January 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

How about an airhorn?

If you really feel threatened it sure will call attention to the situation. If the dogs are just pests (not aggressive) just say to the owner, "Please call your dog, my children are fearful."

Treats may draw dogs to you, where they may have paid no attention before.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:08 AM on January 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Get a big solid stick and whack the shit out of any dog that comes near you.

I would amend this to: "Get a big solid stick and whack the shit out of any aggressive dog that comes near you." It is not okay to beat a non-aggressive dog just because it comes near you - it's not the dog's fault it has a shitty owner.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:13 AM on January 7, 2014 [13 favorites]

Walking stick.

I've also had luck with just making my physical presence a little bigger and standing between my dog and the other dog. Obviously this doesn't work when we're talking about a large aggressive dog that is already in attack mode.

I'd also suggest studying up a little more on canine body language. When I first got my dog, I was super nervous about off-leash dogs coming up to us. Then I started to realize most of these dogs are not aggressive at all and just want to meet my dog. We have had a couple situations where there were aggressive dogs, but most of them were situations where, once I made my presence known, it was fine.

If these are people walking dogs off-leash, can you not talk to the owners at all? The only time we've ever been accosted by an aggressive off-leash dog where the owner was present, I was not the only person trying to come between the two dogs. Also, owners walking their dogs off-leash are not going to be really pleased with you tazing their (probably perfectly well-behaved) pets.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 AM on January 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Water pistol or other squirting item is a standard solution I've seen suggested for this -- you'll probably want a pressurizable "super soaker" type rather than one of the weedy ones where your trigger finger provides all the power.

I have also seen recommendations (e.g. here) to add some ammonia to the mix, but I would be wary of doing this unless you can be sure that it's not going to cause serious damage. On the other hand, if your baseline is pepper spray and tasers, ammonia solution probably counts as a gentle option.
posted by pont at 9:20 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depending on where you live, a cell phone to call the cops. Where I grew up, cops looooved getting called for this kind of thing. It's an easy ticket for them. Good for those quotas that don't exist. This won't work if you're in a city that has real crime, though.

(In all seriousness, though, I am so over people walking their dogs off-leash, and if people started regularly reporting them, maybe they would cut it out. I live in Chicago, where the police emphatically do not care about off-leash dogs, but I complain to my alderman about it all the time. I have found that taking action - squirt guns, sticks, whatever - only provokes the dog owner, who is 99% of the time way more terrible and obnoxious than the dog. YMMV.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

Camera and start reporting the people and the dogs that are off leash, maybe once a few fines are thrown their way they will keep them on leash. Failing that I would prefer to walk around with a big stick (and I do) so I can twat the shit out of any dog that comes at me aggressively. If people overreact at my defensive stance rearing up for a swing I simply sarcastically compliment them on the nice strong leash that they're using to protect their dog from me.
posted by koolkat at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2014

Water pistol. You can get the dog at a good range, no blow back onto your kids and one of those small super soakers has a good squirt.

Beating a dog with a stick can get you into all sorts of problems, namely if you miss the dog or it's an aggressive dog now you have a pissed off dog on your hands and, if I know kids, screaming kids that are easy targets without sticks.

Also if you actually hurt an animal that has done nothing but approach you (or you don't have any evidence of it having been aggressive) you could get yourself into all sorts of trouble.
posted by wwax at 9:29 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding an airhorn. A water gun won't do jack for a big aggressive dog, and yeah, hitting a dog might land you in hot water.
posted by Specklet at 9:33 AM on January 7, 2014

Yeah, nobody has brought up that if you pepper spray, beat, squirt or otherwise go after a dog that is not actively attacking you or your family, you're going to have trouble with the dog's owner.

Also, you getting in the middle of dogs fighting is a good way to end up on the ground, where you're much in more danger from the dog's attacks. Keep this in mind when you confront these dogs.

I'm not trying to criticize the question. Just adding some things that might not have been considered.
posted by cnc at 9:55 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to have a 100-pound dog. He wasn't aggressive, but if another dog challenged him, he'd try to go for it (he was always on leash, but that dragged me right into it). I can tell you that there's no way in hell I'd want to go hand-to-hand with a dog of that size who was being aggressive, with a stick, water pistol (HA, right) or any other physical form of combat. I think that getting involved in any sort of fight with a dog is a really dumb idea - a stick might seem so so smart until the dog just lays into the arm or wrist holding the stick, or just goes for your neck as is often instinctual. They're not dumb, and if the stick doesn't intimidate them - and it might not - you've got a bigger problem on your hands now. Also, if you're panicked you're not going to be an effective fighter and you're going to have your attention divided between dog and kids. I think it's a really bad, naive idea to plan to beat a dog with a big stick.

Incidents warranting personal protection are really pretty rare. If I had as many fears as you do, I'd just carry the pepper spray and hope never to use it. Working on your body language is a really good suggestion, as is teaching your kids safe body language around dogs (something they can learn at an early age).
posted by Miko at 10:01 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

If confronted by a truly aggressive dog off leash (one that you would presumably be legally justified in attacking), a water squirt or impact from a stick has a high chance of making the dog more aggressive.

I'd focus more on (1) reducing the instances of off-leash interactions by reporting off-leash violations and maybe putting up reminder signs or addressing the issue with your local government/community board; (2) train your dog and your children how to properly interact with a strange dog; and (3) train your kids and yourself on what to do in the event of a dog attack (how to protect vital organs, whether to run/not run, etc).

If the dogs are aggressive enough that you're worried about actually being attacked by them, this is not a good walking route.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:05 AM on January 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

Growing up in a semi-rural area, I encountered mean scary dogs every few days. After a while, I got up the nerve to start yelling at them. Like ROAR GET AWAY DOG OR I WILL EAT YOU while waving my arms (a stick sounds good). It worked surprisingly well, but I don't know enough dog psychology to say whether or not this a good practice overall.

But really, can you make a complaint to the powers that be about particular dog owners, given the owners are breaking the leash law?
posted by angrycat at 10:08 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

My mum walks her small dog past a few houses with large dogs which aren't kept on a lead and which occassionally run at them. She got something like this. It doesn't hurt the dog but it stops them in their tracks. She was sceptical about it but carried it with her, and then one day a large German Shepard came tearing down the road after them barking really aggressively. She used it and she said she was surprised (but grateful!) that it did actually work. The dog stopped and looked a little bewildered, and didn't follow them. She's never without it now.
posted by billiebee at 10:19 AM on January 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

I do a number of things to deal with off-leash dogs. First, I try to avoid--take a different street when I see them coming, different woodsy path, whatever. Most off-leash dogs stay close to their territory/home or owner.

Second, when one approaches, I talk in a soothing voice, "Oh, aren't we good dogs, you're a good dog, aren't you? what a nice dog." (Try hard to keep any nervousness out of it.) And if there's no owner around, I try to keep walking, slowly, and with purpose, as far away from the dog's home as possible. (Like if the dog obviously belongs to a certain house, I try to stay on the sidewalk opposite.)

For a while, a neighbor had an aggressive dog they let wander around. More than once, he leapt out at us unexpectedly, growling and snarling. My reaction was to YELL LOUDLY at the dog: NO! NO! NO!, you GO HOME, BAD DOG! and make a good effort to be ALPHA, never turning my back to him. It worked, though I'm sure it wouldn't work with every dog. The dog knew the words, knew he'd done wrong, and though he kept barking, he backed off enough for us to leave the area. It had the added effect of letting the owner know that his dog was out of hand. Sadly, or luckily, that dog is no longer around. I don't know if the owners gave him away, euthanized him, or he was hit by a car. In any case, the dog is gone and I'm relieved.
posted by RedEmma at 10:19 AM on January 7, 2014

I should add, however, that my own dog is a non-barker, and knows her manners.
posted by RedEmma at 10:20 AM on January 7, 2014

I live in an neighborhood like you describe. I have nowhere else to walk or run either. In fact the entire area is like this and there is no real way to just walk elsewhere.

Calling police or animal control in my area is a joke - not enough police to enforce any laws, let alone the leash law. However, if your area has more than 2 deputies, this might be worth a try. Ask to remain anonymous and say the dogs have left their premises, off leash, and were out of control of the owner. They may go and say, you have to confine your dog according to the laws here. Or they may not get out of their vehicle. ;)

Any kind of electrical device I would not recommend. Depending on the size/health of the dog, you could kill the dog.

I run and walk alone with my dogs a lot, so I carry spray just in case. Lots of aggressive dogs in my neighborhood. I have only ever actually sprayed a dog when it literally had teeth into my own dog, or if it was one who had done that and was coming back for another go.

I tried air horns and other things to make noise but my dogs are terrified of loud noises so that's out for us. There are ultrasonic things you can use and those work but only if the dog bothering you dislikes the noise enough to not find the fun of chasing you worth it.

Yelling has never worked for me. The dogs out here are immune to yelling.

Look into the books by Brenda Aloff on dog aggression and dog body language. Your library might have them. She has pictures in there of what dogs do naturally to be appear nonthreatening, etc, and if you can train your dog to do some of those things on cue, that might help deflect the interest (it won't work on a dog with no doggie language skills, though).
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:23 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with the suggestion of a cell phone, but here's why: You don't have a dog problem, you have a people problem. The problem is the owner, and I'm not sure you can effectively train the owner with a water pistol or hickory stick (although, please report back if you give that a try -- I'd love to read about it!).
posted by Houstonian at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. I am doing what I can to take care of the people problem - talking to animal services, talking to the owners, etc. What I'm looking for in this question is the best deterrent in the actual moment of a dog charging us aggressively (I know that most dogs aren't aggressive, I'm talking about the ones that are). Stick, airhorn, pepper spray, and squirt gun seem to be getting the most votes.
posted by malhouse at 10:57 AM on January 7, 2014

Yeah, per Miko, if we're talking about actual fighting dogs, especially large/vicious dogs, and not just a dog headed your way who looks potentially up to no good, nothing suggested here is really going to work or even be a safe thing for you to do. That said, such interactions are (presumably?) going to be exceedingly rare.
posted by Sara C. at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Applaud how you are trying to fix the people problem. I hope you can recruit other parents and/or dog owners who walk their dogs on-leash to join in the movement, so the whole neighborhood helps convince animal services and these dog owners.

As a more klutzy human, I know that I'm going to make a mess of using a walking stick, air horns, pepper spray and/or squirt guns... and/or just probably cause the aggressive dog to just stay over-threshold even longer (thereby remaining a threat to other people/dogs).

However, on our long jaunts in our massive off-leash dog park and while encountering dogs who are off-leash in the on-leash neighborhoods, I have found "being a tree" (and hence becoming completely uninteresting) to be extremely effective. Our nieces have also learned and practice how to Be a Tree. If I'm with my dog, I stand between the rushing dog but very slowly walk away (she doesn't know how to be a tree, you see). No joke ... in every single instance the dog has calmed down and walked away like magic. Sometimes (that pointer puppy in particular) it took a few minutes ... but the dog walked away calmer and we were just fine.
posted by apennington at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have sort of the opposite problem. I have a dog aggressive dog who's always on leash, but there's a large contingent of dummies that either believe their dog is well trained enough to not require a leash (they're not) or just don't care. But also an animal control department that's so overwhelmed they won't pick up a stray dog unless it's aggressive.

I wouldn't recommend a stun gun, as it requires you get up close and personal with an aggressive dog, and needs to contact skin to be effective. A stick would probably work well, as you could ward off a dog that you're not sure about without putting your hands near it, and most dogs seem to shy away from sticks. Squirt gun, maybe. My dogs are terrified of the spray bottle, but I'm sure it's not universal.

One thing that I like to carry is one of the nylon slip leads that they bring your dog out on at the vet. In the event that your dog does get into it with another dog, you need to be able to restrain both dogs in order to break up the fight. Typically you tie one dog to a tree or a street sign and pull the other dog away. Separating two dogs otherwise is really dangerous and just about impossible. Separating two fighting dogs is really dangerous either way and I don't recommend it at all unless you can't avoid it.

But seriously, avoidance is task one. It's tempting to believe that you're being the responsible one and all these other jerks are the problem, but you can't change everyone's behavior and you should really be concerned with the your safety and the safety of your kids.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing I do to avoid situations like this even occurring is to keep an eye out for off-leash dogs on the path ahead. Obviously it's possible that you could be taken by surprise, but if I see a dog roaming free in the distance ahead of us, I'll turn and go another way before the dogs even notice each other.

I also make note of blocks where there are likely to be loose dogs (or even particularly aggressive dogs behind fences) and alter my route as needed.
posted by Sara C. at 11:45 AM on January 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is HUGE problem in my city. I have been accosted by stray dogs, my parent's dog was severely attacked (required surgery) and my best friend's father was hospitalized by a dog attack - all separate occasions in decent parts of town.

I now carry a cattle prod when walking my dog. I felt slightly stupid at first but it now gives me peace of mind when I want to walk my dog after work and not have to drive to a park to do so. It's smaller and lighter than the "beat" sticks people carry. I have used it on an attacking dog. It made it yelp and run away.

Water pistols and pepper spray will not deter an aggressive dog. Using a stick to hit a dog means getting involved in the mix which I would rather not do. Please do not throw treats at these dogs. You will be rewarding it for approaching you and bringing attention to yourself.

I am a dog lover. I have rescued three dogs from shelters. But really, this type of situation has gotten out of hand these days.

The following is hearsay but my father (who also now carries one) discussed its use with a police officer here who not only felt that there was no issue, but thought it was a good idea.

Best of luck and I feel for you for having to worry about this too.
posted by WinterSolstice at 11:57 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've seen meter readers carry special sticks with a tennis ball on the end that apparently is used to distract an aggressive dog, but I have no idea how effective they are and where you can buy them.
posted by Dansaman at 12:39 PM on January 7, 2014

Not just one treat but a handful of treats. This video by Patricia McConnell a well respected dog trainer /author shows that a handful of treats thrown near an approaching dog will distract it long enough for you to make a quick exit.
posted by ljesse at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about one of those umbrellas that opens automatically with a nice whoosh when you press a button?
posted by Corvid at 1:46 PM on January 7, 2014

If I were to throw treats at an advancing dog, my dogs would drag me along to join in at the smorgasbord! I have done the following: I will shout at the owner/humans in the area to "come get your dog before I call the police." When I see an off-leash dog with no one around, I push my dogs behind me and put them in a "sit," stand aggressively, start yelling at the dog, and swing a cane I carry for just this purpose.
posted by Lornalulu at 1:48 PM on January 7, 2014

Not just one treat but a handful of treats. This video by Patricia McConnell a well respected dog trainer /author shows that a handful of treats thrown near an approaching dog will distract it long enough for you to make a quick exit.

It doesn't matter how well respected its advocates are, it's a stupid dangerous idea.

You are, as someone said up thread, teaching the dog that people it encounters have food. So the next unlucky person to encounter the dog gets to deal with it trying to get food from them. There's a reason the signs always say not to feed wild animals.

I carry a walking stick and bang it on the ground, hard, and tell the dog to go in a low authoritative voice when stray dogs approach me. Don't look directly in their eyes when you do it and adopt a confident posture.

The stick isn't for beating the dog away unless you're extremely unlucky - it's for discouraging its further approach.
posted by winna at 3:20 PM on January 7, 2014

I looked, but I don't see what happens when you actually talk with these people. Do you say something to these people walking their dogs off leash as they approach? Maybe I should assume that you have, but I don't see it. I say this because my dog is not good with other dogs, so when we're out walking (she's on a leash) I make a point of avoiding confrontations with other dogs - some of which includes, telling people that my dog is not good with other dogs and keeping her close to me and/or crossing the street. When people don't get that, I have gone as far as yelling at people to 'control your dog.' That's the contract: You control your dog, I control mine hopefully with as much civility as possible.
posted by nnk at 5:13 PM on January 7, 2014

Yeah, nobody has brought up that if you pepper spray, beat, squirt or otherwise go after a dog that is not actively attacking you or your family, you're going to have trouble with the dog's owner.

I thought this too. I was around one time when a friend of mine was walking someone else's dog--and I'll say right up front that nobody in this situation was in the right here. Friend had the dog on an "electronic leash" provided by its owner, which basically shocks the dog if she pushed a remote control. Otherwise the dog was just running around, when a terrified older lady and her little dog walked by. Cowering. My friend was all stereotypically "He's real friendly" and did nothing to hold the dog back, and the dog got pepper sprayed when he got too close being "friendly" for comfort (note: not attacking, but definitely enough of an approach to wig out the scared). Giant amounts of screaming and fighting ensued. FUN TIMES. I shudder to think how this one would have gone down if it was two men and their dogs.

I think just walking the hell in the opposite direction from the dog is probably your best option. The owner might be just as crazy as the dog (most likely) and they might cause about as much trouble if you go after their dog with something harmful.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:40 PM on January 7, 2014

You can buy non-harmful but extremely repellent-to-dogs citronella spray. It looks like pepper spray but is not harmful. I've seen it used effectively at the dog park during a fight between two angry pitbulls.
posted by aspen1984 at 6:07 PM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding the citronella spray! I used to work at a pet store and we had it in our dog fight kits up by the registers. I saw it break up a fight between a pit and a shepherd in an impressively short time, I imagine even an aggressive dog would be deterred by a cloud of the spray.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 7:08 PM on January 7, 2014

You can often (but not always) stop a dog by squaring up real tall and shouting "No!" in an authoritative voice.

Obviously this isn't going to stop a big aggressive dog running right at you, but I've been able to deter curious dogs that are getting too close for comfort.

I like the big umbrella idea. It will make you bigger, startle the dog, and offer a bit of shielding. Obviously, again, not going to stop a dog hellbent on attack, but it's better than nothing.

Citronella isn't a bad idea, either. It won't hurt your kids (although it might make them sneeze).

Do not carry treats or anything a dog would want. That will turn you into Santa Claus in their eyes.
posted by elizeh at 7:48 PM on January 7, 2014

I'd go for the citronella spray and the ultrasonic repeller.

But first, I'd try a smile and a happy, "Wow, aren't you a beautiful dog!" voice, stooped down, big smile. I've known people who are absolutely terrified of a big dog just because he's big - one woman I used to work with would take off running if a big dog came wandering anywhere near her! Talk about a way to get hurt! Another friend wouldn't get out of her car if her husband parked next to a car with a big dog in it - or even a small one if it was a doberman or a shepherd (this was before the pit bull) - even when the car's windows were rolled up.

You need to think about one thing: Are you afraid of strange dogs just because they're strange? Because if you are, you're going to smell afraid and look afraid to every dog who wants to come over to meet you and that automatically triggers a defensive response in a dog. If that's the case, you need to walk someplace where there are no dogs - or you need to get over your fear. Maybe spend some volunteer time at the dog shelter and get to know how to play with big, fearsome-looking dogs. Just a couple of afternoons would probably turn your fears around. With most dogs, if you seem comfortable with them, they're comfortable with you. A truly dangerous dog is rare indeed out on the street, but lots of them look pretty scary.

I ride in an electric wheelchair and I couldn't get away from a mean dog if I had to. I'm out on the downtown streets a whole lot, sometimes even after dark, and I meet loads of dogs, some on leashes, some not. I've not yet met a mean one, though I have met a couple who weren't interested in meeting me and simply walked away. In my life pre-wheelchair, I have met two truly dangerous dogs - but only two in 45+ years.

I hope you find a workable answer. The electronic gizmo should be pretty effective - I'd start there, if it were me. And definitely work on your own fear.

Good luck.
posted by aryma at 8:22 PM on January 7, 2014

My brother in law used to do census work and would frequently run into "bad" dogs. He used a towel to calm down the dog. Just held out the towel to the vicious dog, the dog would grab the towel and instantly turn it into a tug of war with bil. He claimed it worked like a charm and he never had a problem. (And he never even read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.)
posted by charlesminus at 9:16 PM on January 7, 2014

Is your dog light enough to pick up in an emergency situation? This requires no special equipment or preparation beyond being aware of your surroundings. Do it before it becomes a problem. For example, if you see an unfamiliar dog spot you and run straight for you, you don't want to be a test case for how strong their prey drive is. Just pick up your dog, turn, and start walking away to safety (fence, car, long enough for the owner to physically restrain the dog). Don't put your dog back down until you're sure the situation is over.

Oh and if this is a possibility for you, practice picking up your dog during happy playtime at home so your dog is used to it and you don't have TWO freaking out dogs to contend with!
posted by Gable Oak at 10:09 PM on January 7, 2014

It's important to think through how these various suggestions would work, in practice. The suggestion to yell in an authoritative voice sounds plausible in theory, but it's not so clean in practice. I have squared off against my share of threatening dogs when I had nothing to defend myself with, and there are few things more harrowing than standing there, gaze locked with a big dog, trying to maintain a defensive posture, while the dog stands stock-still, glaring at me, and I'm wondering if I'm safe to continue walking or if the dog is going to continue charging me once I try to walk away.

A stick has the virtue of giving you some degree of safety in any situation.

And respectfully ... as to the suggestion that you will have a problem with the owners if you beat their dog ... Here's a personal anecdote. My sister's grade school teacher was mauled to death by an aggressive loose dog that, on a previous occasion, had ripped the leg off of her dog. The dog's owner refused to control his dog. I would suggest that when you are being threatened by a loose dog that could harm you, your family or your pet, problems with the dog's owner are really a very minor consideration that's not even worth mentioning here.
posted by jayder at 8:54 AM on January 8, 2014

The suggestion to yell in an authoritative voice sounds plausible in theory, but it's not so clean in practice.

FWIW yelling (I prefer a short brusque word like "GIT!"), puffing myself up into a towering presence, and waving my arms around/brandishing whatever is to hand works to cow just about any menacing dog I run into around the neighborhood while walking my dog.

That said, I would be less confident about this if we're talking about truly aggressive big/strong dogs. There is a dog-aggressive pit bull that has a tendency to escape on a certain block in my neighborhood, and no, obviously hollering does nothing there. We just never walk on that block, because god forbid that damn pitt bull is out again.

But for a medium sized dog who is really just feeling a little territorial, yeah, actually, strong posture and harsh words in a gruff tone diffuses most potential situations.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 AM on January 8, 2014

I would suggest that when you are being threatened by a loose dog that could harm you, your family or your pet, problems with the dog's owner are really a very minor consideration that's not even worth mentioning here.

Except in the United States, where odds are the owner is carrying a gun. The Venn diagram of "person that lets a large, aggressive dog wander around a residential area off-leash" and "person that carries a loaded weapon all the time and will not hesitate to use it" is pretty much a circle.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:32 PM on January 8, 2014

Lets not be ridiculous here. Very few people carry guns, and even fewer are out walking their dogs.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in a neighborhood with a crazy amount of dogs, and the laneway to my apartment frequently has off-leash dogs because the yards are open to it. I am frequently approached, charged even, by large dogs, but luckily they are not aggressive but overenthusiastic and will skid to a stop or make a sudden turn JUST before the reach me (it's hilarious, you can see the moment they remember they aren't supposed to jump on strangers).

ANYWAY, I have made an effort to get to know these dogs and their owners, at least by sight, so they don't make me nervous, but I know to be wary of a "stranger" dog. If some or most of these off leash dogs are not aggressive, but your concern is never knowing if one might be, perhaps it would help to get to know the dogs/owners? Is there a dog park in your area? If there was a dog park with an off-leash zone, might your neighbors be more willing to use a leash elsewhere?

Otherwise, this is just instinct, but I can't imagine a dog, even an angry charging dog, reacting to an air horn (or maybe one of those key chain assault alarms?) with anything other than shock bordering on paralysis.
posted by sarahkeebs at 10:21 PM on January 9, 2014

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