How do I say "stay away" in dog-speak?
March 19, 2017 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I am afraid of dogs and hate it when dogs run up to me while I'm out for a walk. Is there a signal for "stay away from me" that dogs will understand?

Dog owners in my neighbourhood seem to think that all public parks are free-range dog zones. Within the past week I've been knocked down by one dog (slipped on ice when it charged me) and had to fend off another with a trekking pole (carried to help with the aforementioned ice).

Dog-whisperers of Metafilter, is there a way to communicate to dogs that I am not friendly and do not want them to approach me?
posted by heatherlogan to Pets & Animals (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
One thing to do, as the dog approaches you, is to simply turn around and face away from them.
posted by falsedmitri at 7:00 AM on March 19 [14 favorites]

Don't engage with them at all. Don't walk (or especially run!) away, because playing chase is fun. Don't wave a stick at them, toys are fun.

Dogs are social and want to socialize. If you put your back to them and ignore them like falsedimitri suggests, there's a better chance they'll decide you're boring and go find someone more fun to bother.

If a dog comes up and sniffs around your feet, it'll be gone faster if you just let it sniff around. If you holler at it or wave around at it, it might think you want to play. Just ignore ignore ignore.
posted by phunniemee at 7:07 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Don't look at the dogs. Especially don't stare at or lock eyes with them. Just act as normally as possible. Dogs are curious and if you act strangely when you see them (acting funny, staring, yelling, etc.) you are only piquing this curiosity.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:33 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Dogs don't understand Enlglish but a lot of people do. Talk to people, not dogs, is my advice.

"Keep your dog away please" - spoken loudly, calmly and clearly to the owner is one tactic that should work if the owner isn't a jerk.

You might feel more comfortable if you carry emergency pepper spray.

For the record I love dogs and have almost never been afraid of any I meet, but I also think you shouldn't have to learn dog language to avoid being intimimated in public, and people who take dogs out in public should always have them under full control on a leash, never letting them appraoch any dog, or person without expressly stated affirmative consent.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:40 AM on March 19 [27 favorites]

I find sunglasses that hide my eyes useful, so I can face away from them to discourage engagement but see them out of the corner of my eye so I know what's going on.

Right there with you with regard to what's going on in public parks. Really disgusting. My daughters' running group had to stop their practice in the park because some horrible woman was bringing her aggressive dog and letting it run around and terrorize the kids.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:53 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]

How horrible; my heart goes out to you.

Are these repeat offenders where there might be some hope of training the owners to control their animals, or are these new, random animals/owners most of the time?

Carrying the trekking poles at all times would really help me feel safe; feel like I've got a viable defense. You've gotta feel safe. Don't jab at the animal, but just enforce a safe zone 4 inches from your feet - a downward chopping motion like you're chopping weeds. Scrape the ground or pavement also and make a bunch of noise. Make it clear to the dog and the owner that, as long as he doesn't come within your zone, he's not in danger; clear that you're not attacking, just defending. An umbrella might serve the same purpose; even a mini-umbrella retracted to 6 or 8 inches.

Have a book or backpack that you push at the dog as a shield.

They sell those ultra-sonic sound-maker dog defender boxes.

Might consider carrying a spray bottle - probably water, but might add vinegar, even pepper.

Pepper spray. Store-bought or home-made.

Do you want to try to change the culture? If not, don't do this, but what if when a dog actually touches you, you let out a huge bellow "Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!". This would signal to all around that some people take issue with random dogs appoaching them. You could hire someone off Craigslist to do this a few times, if you don't want to become known as "that anti-dog person".

A less extreme owner education effort might the the pepper spray. Home-made might be better than store-bought. "Hey, what are you spraying on my dog?" "It's mostly water....".

These parks are explicitly dog-on-leash zones, right? Are there many dog-free parks near? Maybe contact your govt. rep and get more areas designated dog-free. It's only fair.
posted by at at 7:54 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Great advice about the actual dog interaction and I'll add that you should contact whoever has jurisdiction over the park. They'll want to know this is happening and will want to stop it.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:56 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Please don't pepper spray a non-aggressive dog just for approaching you. The owners are the ones messing up, not the dog. (By all means, pepper spray a dangerous dog!)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:58 AM on March 19 [55 favorites]

A firm no and confident body language as they approach. This can work with timid dogs or well trained dogs, but can potentially agro more aggressive dogs.

Easiest option is to avoid eye contact, of a dog show interest in you turn yippy nifty language away from it. Yawn and make a show of licking your lips. This is how dogs signal each other they don't want to engage. Don't talk to the dog. It's not as effective with certain exuberant types of dogs but a lot safer as it won't agro aggressive dogs.

Tin can full of pennies you shake noisily or an air horn as they approach can train the neighbourhood dogs to leave you alone if used consistently.
posted by wwax at 8:12 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

People letting their dog off-leash in a park likely means these are friendly dogs attempting to interact. Lots of actions will be interpreted by friendly dogs as trying to engage them. Spraying a dog with water could be interpreted as play or aggression and escalate the situation.
You could carry an umbrella as a walking stick and open it calmly at a dogs approach. Don't swing it around, etc. Just block your self with it and give a film, low and loud "NO" or "tssst" and hope that the owner realizes that is dog is annoying someone with the unexpected umbrella.
posted by beccaj at 8:19 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

I know it's difficult but your best option really is to ignore and go about your business. Don't engage in any way. That will bring the quickest end to your uncomfortable experience. If you're jogging, just walk for a few seconds.

Feel free to say to the owner, "hey dogs make me nervous, can you be more careful with yours please?"

Source: Yep, I'm one of those assholes!
posted by raider at 8:34 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

As others have said, just turn away from the dogs, as calmly as possible. If that's too scary, turn and walk away slowly. Basically, you want to be boring to the dog.

Pepper spray is s terrible idea. In fact, that is more likely to turn a friendly dog aggressive in the future.
posted by the sockening at 8:36 AM on March 19 [12 favorites]

Let me reinforce the "turn away" answers. I have a 7 month old puppy who can have trouble keeping her paws on the ground when meeting new people, and the rule is always "if she jumps, stop petting her / engaging her entirely and turn your back, if possible". It is really effective, when it's consistent.

Also, please don't harm a friendly dog, especially if they're on the younger side. A single traumatic interaction with a stranger can stunt a puppy's socialization for months, ultimately making the problem even worse.

I'm sorry you have to deal with inconsiderate dog owners.
posted by dbx at 8:49 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

I'm not afraid of dogs, but I absolutely hate it when dog owners let their animals run around unleashed so they can jump all over people (and usually their reaction is a "he's just being friendly!" or a half-hearted "okay, you need to get down now" which the dog, nine times out of ten, ignores).

Put this one on the owners. Look them dead in the eyes, say "keep your dog away from me" in a firm voice. Make them realize that they're the ones at fault, with their dogs off-leash.
posted by Lucinda at 8:50 AM on March 19 [12 favorites]

My hero and dog behaviorist, Patricia McConnell, has a blog entry about throwing treats to avert a charging dog. Keep a handful of dog treats in your coat pocket and when a dog runs at you, throw the treats right in their path. They will be distracted and stop to try to hunt down all the treats. Once you have the dog stopped, you could toss more treats in a direction away from you, and then walk away from the dog. There's a video at the link. This is for playful/curious/galloping about dogs. If a dog is charging in a really aggressive manner (head low, lips pulled back, teeth showing, neck hair standing up), then you should defend yourself much more assertively.

As a dog person myself (who never has their dog off-leash anywhere but in my house and yard), I would probably stand tall at a playful dog running toward me, look stern (brows pulled down), and shout NO! But I'm not scared of dogs and feel confident that I have a very intimidating NO. For you. the throwing treat route might be a good one to explore.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:51 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, many public parks are off-leash zones. Make sure there are signs indicating to keep their dogs on leash before you get after them.
posted by Marinara at 9:28 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Can you choose one park to walk in all the time and phone about off-leash dogs in just that park?
posted by jeather at 9:51 AM on March 19

As someone who is a dog person, but has in the past spent a fair amount of time walking dogs who don't play well with others through areas with lots of off-leash dogs, I've always relied on a combination of the very stern and assertive "NO" that Squeak Attack mentions, occasionally followed up with a blast from an ultrasound dog-repeller. Unfortunately the "NO" approach doesn't work if you don't do it with apparent confidence, which may be really hard in a panicked moment.

For 90% of dogs, the ultrasound gadgets are surprisingly effective, yet they don't do any long-term (or even intermediate-term) harm to the dog. Do check reviews if you go that route - there are good ones and bad ones, or at least there were years ago. It's possible you'll wind up having a heated discussion with an angry owner after using it, but most people in not-very-rural areas would probably agree that you're in the right. Either way, it's better than a terrifying encounter, and it's overwhelmingly better than using pepper spray on a friendly dog. (yikes!)
posted by eotvos at 10:23 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

I like Patricia McConnell, but I don't know about the treat thing, because that would stop my dog sure, but then she'd join you on your walk, and try to follow you home, and come check to see if you have treats every time she saw you after. Although if it worked it would keep you from getting knocked over at least. Just know that it may have unintended results.
posted by lemonade at 10:34 AM on March 19 [13 favorites]

Some of the advice above is really bad. DO NOT ENGAGE with dogs. Engaging includes waving with sticks, throwing out treats, shouting etc.
The good advice is not looking at the dog or its owner, turning your back on the dog, and keeping your arms down the side of your body — walk rather than run. This should keep most dogs off you.
I agree with this: If a dog is charging in a really aggressive manner (head low, lips pulled back, teeth showing, neck hair standing up), then you should defend yourself much more assertively. But if anyone is in your park with a dog acting this way, you should call the police instantly. Make sure you have them on speed dial.
Also, contact the park authorities about those off leash dogs. Even as a dog owner I find it really irritating. Off leash dogs with no visible owner have attacked my on-leash dog. There are dog-parks, they are good for dogs.
My brother is an expert on this, as a lonely dog-hater in a family of dog-lovers, and all of our dogs know right away he won't engage. The main things he does is keep his arms down and avoid eye-contact.
posted by mumimor at 10:36 AM on March 19 [11 favorites]

My dog loves people and other dogs. We walk off-leash in parks that are explicitly off-leash areas; otherwise, he's on a lead at all times. Despite how interested he is in everything, if someone turns away from him, he's no longer interested and won't even approach. He knows that is an indication that this particular person isn't wanting to engage with him and he will find something else that piques his curiousity. Any person who doesn't like dogs that has made a production of yelling or waving...well obviously they wanted to play because they were being loud and attracting his attention just like the humans and dogs that play with him at daycare. As many have stated upthread, if you're not interested in or interesting to the dog, the dog will think "this is boring, I'm going to go do something else."
posted by sara is disenchanted at 11:42 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Don't turn your back, they'll jump on your back. The best thing to do is lift your foot/knee like you're going to push them away with your foot or knee them in the face and yell No! If they keep coming and jump on you they'll hit your leg but 99.99% of dog's will recognize that instantly and turn away. Even the stupidest of labs. You can also put your hand out and down like you're about to bounce the dogs head like a basketball and say No! If you do this when the dog is still some distance away then they'll usually veer off. Then I'd yell at the owner because they are never going to learn if there are no negative consequences to being assholes.

Trekking poles are good in theory but they look like sticks and will make some dogs more likely to jump to get the stick. If you're going to use them, reverse so the handle is in your hand like a club and use it like your hand as described above with a loud No!

I frequent a large off leash dog area and it's perfectly acceptable to knee dogs that jump on you in the chest or face or let a charging dog encounter the business end of your foot instead of your knee. Don't listen to the inevitable "that's cruel" answers. It's not acceptable to punt someone's dog (though occasionally tempting) but letting the dog run into your foot is their problem. Dogs need to learn and they are a lot less nice to each other than a gentle bump when they cross boundaries.
posted by fshgrl at 11:47 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

This is a good question. You don't mention whether the dogs who have been doing this are particularly aggressive or not. As plenty of people have talked about aggressive dogs already, I would like to only address non-aggressive dogs that are greeting you with running and jumping in a way you're not comfortable with.

To ease your comfort a little bit you can familiarize yourself with dog body language. This will help you recognize if a dog is being friendly or aggressive.

Contrary to human impulse to lean away from a jumping dog or stick out a limb, with a friendly dog it is in fact much more effective to lean the top half of your body forward, as if you are looking down towards a child. This works for two reasons. Primarily, the dog will not have a good way to place its front paws on you without becoming unbalanced. Secondly, things like hugs (where a dog is being approached from the front) make dogs uncomfortable.

If the owner is nearby it is perfectly reasonable to call out to them "Could you grab your dog? I'm not good with dogs" Most responsible dog owners will respond to this with "OMG I'm so sorry, fluffy come here"

Lastly, if the dog is a bit of a ways off and is still running toward you, definitely feel free stick your hand forward, fingers spread and give a firm "no" or "sit" or "off." These are pretty common commands so they should at least slow all but the dogs who most exuberantly want to meet you.

I live in a city with a little houdini dog, so she is always leashed when we're not at a fenced in dog park. She really likes people though, so even on our leashed walks she gets really happy when she sees people walking by and she really wants to say hi. She's also kind of clumsy and totally might bump into someone when excited. Although I work super hard to make sure she sits when she is excited, sometimes dogs just don't understand that not everyone wants to hang out with them. If I particularly knew one of my neighbors were scared of dogs though, I would definitely work to give them lots of space on the sidewalk.

Good luck and I hope you can build good relationships with the dog owners in your area!
posted by donut_princess at 12:54 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

This is on the owners and I would not hesitate to call the police for people violating leash laws.

The thing is, dogs are different and what works for a soft, timid, curious dog isn't going to work for a confident, friendly, bull in a China shop dog, and those things aren't going to work for an aggressive dog or a fearful dog.

For many just curious about your smells but otherwise uninterested and well behaved dogs, turning your back casually and ignoring will be enough. For the doofy giant lab that wants to jump all over you and slurp your face, though, he'll still jump all over your back just as well as your front. Withdrawing attention might make the encounter be over quicker, but it's not going to deter. And an aggressive dog is just going to amp up if you put on a big loud display (and a gregarious dog is going to look at that same display and possibly think: Ooh! A game!), though that same tactic wild deter a more timid dog.

I would take this up with your local police and city/town councilpeople. If people are violating the law, they need to step up enforcement, and if there is no leash law then they need to hear from people who are being adversely impacted.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:48 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]

Once when I got the inevitable "He's friendly!" shouted from down the trail as a dog ran at me, I shouted back "I'm not!" That got the owner's attention.

(I'm friendly towards dogs in general and usually like to pet them, but I was running and in a bad mood and wanted to be left alone.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:26 PM on March 19 [9 favorites]

My hero and dog behaviorist, Patricia McConnell, has a blog entry about throwing treats to avert a charging dog. Keep a handful of dog treats in your coat pocket and when a dog runs at you, throw the treats right in their path.

Don't do this. The advice above is in the context of walking your own dog (who isn't socialized and doesn't get along with other dogs). That's the "emergency". If you start carrying dog treats and throwing them out to random dogs that approach you, you are now the dog treat lady and your treats are going to bring all the dogs to the yard. You would be rewarding the interaction you want to stop (approach) and training them to do it again.

I frequent a large off leash dog area and it's perfectly acceptable to knee dogs that jump on you in the chest or face or let a charging dog encounter the business end of your foot instead of your knee. Don't listen to the inevitable "that's cruel" answers.

Don't do this. Not because it's (scare quotes) cruel, but because it's not reliably effective. You will physically block the unwanted behavior but you will still be engaging the dogs, who may mistake it for play. As others have said above, if your goal is to limit the interaction as much as possible (as opposed to teaching the dog your personal rules for interaction, a.k.a. "I'll play with you if you don't jump on me") be a boring object. The dog will very quickly move onto more interesting stimuli. If you need an endorsement, the ASPCA trains its staff to turn their backs and ignore.
posted by danny the boy at 5:52 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]

Further, as a pragmatist, I would suggest that you mentally change your goal from preventing all dogs from approaching you ever, to having a strategy to minimize the inevitable contact. Or avoid areas with dogs.

This is not conceding that dog owners don't have to be responsible for their animal's behavior, but optimizing your personal comfort in the face of a sub-optimal reality.

In other words, there are a lot of questions on here about how one can change the behavior of an entire group of people. You can't. All you can reliably affect is your own behavior.
posted by danny the boy at 6:02 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

I feel like people are ignoring your desire to not have anything to do with the dogs here. If you really want them to run from you, you can also get tiny little hand held tazers from amazon for about $30. They make a scary crackling noise when you push the button that scares the crap out of dogs. I have one for walking my dog on a leash because I'm sick of roaming loose dogs harassing us and it's very satisfying to watch them flee. Unfortunately it also scares MY dog (and me a bit, I'll be honest) or I'd use it way more often.
posted by fshgrl at 9:23 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

I used to live in a neighborhood with lots of loose dogs and I can tell you that if you carry a walking stick or cane and wave it in the general direction any dog that approaches, in my experience they always instinctively understand that this means "stay away." I'm not suggesting you ever hit a dog; if you wave the stick in their direction before they get to you, you won't need to.

(I also would suggest you might consider some therapy. No matter how reasonable your fear is, and no matter if every single dog owner in the world suddenly becomes incredibly responsible about keeping their dogs away from you, it still can't be pleasant to have a fear of something so common, and if you can transform dog interactions from fearful incidents to mildly annoying ones that could be worth a lot.)
posted by waffleriot at 10:39 PM on March 19

Can you talk more about the dog who charged you? Do you know if it was being playful? I'm not saying that makes it okay or less scary, but there is a difference between a dog who thinks you are running and playing chase versus a dog who is angry or protective. Dogs who are off-leash at the urban or suburban dog park are generally going to be the friendly-type. There are always exceptions, but I'd suggest approaching this as if these are too-friendly dogs who think you are there to play, rather than dogs who want to attack. (Things can be different if you're in a rural area with loose dogs who roam around and bark at anyone who goes near their house.)

So my advice: don't run or move away quickly. Dogs might interpret that as play ("Hurray, it's chase!"). If a dog keeps following you, I think a loud, firm "No!" might work. But in general, don't change your pace or speed. Ignore, ignore, ignore. When a dog wants to play, the most boring thing is to be ignored.

If you are close to the dog's person, then yell out, "Please call your dog."

While I appreciate folks' advice about leash laws, realistically, getting folks to keep their dogs on-leash is not going to happen, not with all dog owners and all dogs, all the time. I also think calling the parks folks or police everytime there's an off-leash dog will only increase your blood pressure and frustration. So no matter how frustrating law violations are, I think you're right that you need to figure out your best posture and attitude.

In the longer term, I also suggest working on your fear of dogs. Know thine enemy, I suppose. I know fears like this sometimes come from a place of having been hurt by a dog, but, like any fear, this is one that can be worked on. You might talk to a therapist. You might also find out if a friend has an old, gentle dog whose most energetic action is a wag of the tail, and then ask if you can spend some time around that dog, just sitting in the same room, and perhaps working up to patting the dog on the head.

Best of luck to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:45 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I'm a dog owner and I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. It is extremely aggravating when people don't follow leash laws. I have a dog that is very friendly to people, but doesn't get along with strange dogs. When we're at the park and when off-leash strange dogs approach us (even if they're friendly and just want to say "hey"), it sets her off and stresses me out. It's totally not cool.

What I've been told by my dog behaviorist to do (to keep strange dogs away) is when you see them approaching you, face the dog, stomp your foot, and yell, "STOP!" loudly. This usually stops the dog it its tracks and gets the owner's attention too. I usually employ this when I'm with my dog and strange dogs are approaching and it works!

I just want to add that it's not the dog's fault, but the owner's. I usually educate them that there is a leash law and that not every dog appreciates visits from strangers and that it can be stressful to the dog and owner. They usually are apologetic, but I've gotten the opposite reaction too. Good luck!
posted by ATX Peanut at 8:39 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I have a relative that refuses to train her dog. Fortunately, it's only about 25 lbs, but it loves to jump all over people. I've trained it to avoid me by being boring, as others have mentioned. I don't look it in the eye, and if it jumps while I'm standing I put my knee up so she gets a knee in the chest if she tries to jump (note - I am not moving my knee towards her or "kicking" her in any way). If I'm sitting I block her from my lap with my forearm. I don't make eye contact or talk to her. She quickly figures out that I'm not going to give her any attention and moves on.

Since it's a relative I have to be nice, but I would raise hell with someone who lets their dog off leash in a park when they're not supposed to.
posted by AFABulous at 3:36 PM on March 20

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