Dog phobic and the unleashed dog
March 28, 2019 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I have a mild dog phobia, in that I am OK around dogs on leashes and even dogs off leash if they are small and stay away from me. I'm seeing a sudden increase in unleashed dogs in a park I walk in. It's mostly bothersome, but not awful for me (though absolutely illegal), except in the case of one owner. I could use some help in dealing with this.

The past few days, I've seen one woman with two large dogs that she lets off leash. These dogs don't leave me alone. They come over to me, and I find this very difficult to deal with. The first time I asked her to call her dogs, she did so. But today, she didn't call them. I told her I'm afraid of dogs, and she told me I should "go the other way" (we were on a narrow path through the woods and she was coming toward me, so that didn't even make sense). I told her she was breaking the law, and she ignored me and kept walking.

I doubt very much that the city is going to start enforcing the leash laws in this park. Is there anything I can do when I encounter the dogs to make them stay away from me in a way that is noticeable to her and won't hurt the dogs? I've wondered if taking a picture of the dogs and saying I'm going to report her would do any good.

I do not hate dogs, and I don't wish them any harm. I realize the dogs are probably not going to hurt me, but I cannot control being afraid of them. I walk in this park to relax and unwind, and this is making it hard for me to do that. I've seen her there at different times, so I don't think I can just time my walks around her. I also admit that it annoys me no end that she is blatantly breaking the law (it annoys me with the other dogs too, but since they don't bother me personally, I can sort of live and let live). Also, I was much more afraid of dogs as a child, and I think this would be even worse for dog-phobic children, since these dogs are at the height of a small child's face. I know AskMe is full of responsible dog owners and people who love dogs and would appreciate any advice you can give me.
posted by FencingGal to Pets & Animals (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I doubt very much that the city is going to start enforcing the leash laws in this park.

I wouldn't be so sure. I don't know where you live, but I'd suggest starting by finding the name of your lowest-level representative (like a city council member, or in a larger city a community board or similar), and then seeing if you can physically pay them a visit. Tell them that this issue has gotten worse recently and that it could pose a danger to children and others. It will help if you can get a neighbor or two to come with you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:37 PM on March 28, 2019 [30 favorites]

i have walked dogs. if i were walking a dog off leash in a no dogs off leash area, i'd a) only do it with a dog who i knew would behave, b) would be apologetic if it did not, and c) would leash it.

some people have no clue or sense of boundaries. as a dog person i'd say that you do not have to engage with this person but would be well within your right to ask the city to enforce the off leash ban.
posted by zippy at 1:39 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's not like some sort of authority figure around you could tattle to, is there? She is being inconsiderate on top of doing something illegal, which removes any and all obligation you have to not NARC on here. She violated the social contract by being a jerk and thus deserves the determined consequences. If this happens again and she continues to be an asshole, I'd do whatever I needed to to rat her out. At the very least it could embarass or scare her into not being such a dipwad again.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:39 PM on March 28, 2019

Ugh, people who ignore rules for their own convenience.

I wonder if being much nicer about this than the situation merits might get some results. Explain that you're not just being a stickler for rules but are afraid of dogs, and hers are not leaving you alone. Possibly she'll still be a dick about it but possibly not?
posted by Smearcase at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2019

Okay, taking a more practical approach that might work in the short term: regardless of the law, the practice is likely not going to change, and I agree you shouldn't have to change your behavior because of her dogs. So, my suggestions:
Try to get over being irritated about the lawlessness of it all. People speed and break other laws all the time. I'm not defending it, but sometimes laws aren't followed.

Try to have a friendly conversation with her. I wouldn't bring in the issue of the law at all. "Look, I'm really scared of dogs. It's a lifelong phobia I'm working on. Your dogs may be lovely to you, but they are scary to me. What can we do here?" Try to work with her to come up with a shared solution. I will add here that it can be difficult for people to understand other people's fears when they don't share them. (I acknowledge that since you mentioned the law, it might be too late for this friendly approach.)

Finally... any chance you could try to befriend the dogs? You said you have a mild phobia. Are you in therapy for this? It sounds like these are the kind of dogs who are big and friendly and not actually dangerous (right?). Is there any chance you would consider asking her to meet one of her dogs when it's on a leash?

I'm suggesting this last one because at this point, your phobia is interfering with your ability to live your life. Of course it would be great if people followed the law, but there will always be loose dogs around somewhere.

Good luck, and I'm sorry you are having to deal with this stress when you are just trying to go about your day.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:56 PM on March 28, 2019

Best answer: Is there anything I can do when I encounter the dogs to make them stay away from me in a way that is noticeable to her and won't hurt the dogs?

When a dog is paying attention to you, every interaction you make is going to be read as "WE PLAY NOW." If your number 1 goal is for the dogs to stay away from you the best thing you can do is completely ignore them. Do not look at them, do not make arm movements or gestures, do not say words, do not walk faster. Just keep moving forward at exactly your pace and ignore them completely. The dogs will pretty quickly realize you're boring and give you up.

If your number 1 goal is for this woman to notice you're unhappy and change your behavior it'll mean you have to react in some way, which is going to make you more interesting to dogs who want to interact with you. You'll get more attention from the dogs if this is your goal.
posted by phunniemee at 1:59 PM on March 28, 2019 [16 favorites]

I don’t think it would be unreasonable to call the police non-emergency line and ask whether they would want to know about it next time you encounter someone with offleash dogs. It may be there’s a park patrol unit who would go out there right away.

As far as personal protection, though, what about carrying something that would make a noise the dogs wouldn’t like, not to actually injure their ears but just enough to distract them from their enthusiasm for checking you out? Dog owners would know more about what might work but I’m imagining something like a pop can with pebbles in it. I first thought of a can of compressed air, but the owner might accuse you of spraying something noxious at them.
posted by lakeroon at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you can, make yourself as big as possible and say "NO!" emphatically when they come near. Many dogs are sniffing you for a good time and are not interested in getting in trouble.
posted by Duffington at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I appreciate the answers so far. Just want to point out that I told her I was afraid of dogs twice and only brought up that she's breaking the law when she responded to that by saying that I needed to "go the other way."
posted by FencingGal at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Where I live, the Animal Control department is responsible for enforcing leash laws. They have a complaint form, and in response to complaints they will sometimes patrol parks and issue citations. See if your local animal control authority offers any help or suggestions.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

I sometimes let my dog off-leash in wooded areas where it isn't allowed. And when someone comes my way I call my dog and leash him up temporarily. That is the least this woman should be doing.

I'd call bylaw enforcement and let them know that there's an issue with off-leash dogs in this particular park and ask them to enforce the rules.
posted by fso at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I used to live in a neighborhood with a lot of unleashed dogs. I started reporting them to the city every time I saw them. It took time on my part but I was surprised that they did send animal control officers to deal with the problem and after only a few weeks I saw a lot fewer dogs off leash, only dogs that were clearly lost. In my city the way to report them was through calling 311 or using 311 online app. Off-leash dogs are a liability to the city so they have incentive to deal with them.
posted by muddgirl at 2:13 PM on March 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Just FYI, my two large dogs would react to a pop can with pebbles being rattled as "YAY FUN TIME THIS LADY HAS TREATS SHE WANTS TO SHARE" and run joyously toward you. So maybe not that. They would retreat at a loud deep voiced "No". I also agree with the advice to not react physically. I'm sorry your peaceful spot is being spoiled for you.
posted by donnagirl at 2:14 PM on March 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: There's a couple ways you could go here, depending on how confrontational you want to get.

As showbiz_liz said, I wouldn't be so sure that no one is going to enforce the leash laws. We have a park here that dog owners seem to think is one giant off-leash area (it is not, though it does contain a smaller, fenced off-leash area). Like, notoriously so. The cops can and do come in and start issuing tickets. The people who get the tickets get all huffy, but everyone else cheers.

I know you don't wish dogs harm and like dogs in controlled circumstances, but another thing you can do is act like you in fact hate dogs and might harm them. Not, like, kill them, but announce loudly that you have mace, or carry a big walking stick and announce your intentions should the dogs not be called back and leashed. You know the truth that you'd never do such a thing, but this woman doesn't.

I don't really favor trying to reason with her (beyond a polite request) because as the former owner of a reactive dog who had to also be kept away from unleashed dogs, I have had many such encounters and a whole lot of them ended with me being cursed out and called names (despite the fact that I was complying with the law and the other people were blatantly breaking it--I don't know what it is about these people, but they are nasty and awful).
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:16 PM on March 28, 2019 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I love dogs, I have dogs, I let my dogs off leash in parks, which is technically illegal to do, this is where I'm coming from.
Get the non-emergency police number and parks and rec or animal control number on your phone contacts before you go to the park again. Next time you see her with the dogs off leash, call the police or animal control or whatever authority is relevant, make the call within her earshot and tell them you're reporting someone whose dogs are off leash and out of control, and report the exact location. She already told you she doesn't care about your comfort level, she doesn't get it. If someone told me they were scared of my dog, I would immediately apologize, grab my dog and put it on the leash, and next time I saw that person in the distance I would immediately leash my dog.
My illegally off leash dog was almost killed by someone else's, a someone who meandered up to her dog as it was attacking mine and vaguely starting hitting her dog with a stick. Some people really don't control their dogs.
posted by nantucket at 2:18 PM on March 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Additionally I have been writing and deleting some tips I have for dealing with off-leash dogs. The problem with anything you decide to do is that this woman is almost certainly going to take it negatively because she is already dealing with this situation in a self-centered way. So I want to caution you to carefully consider how far you are willing to escalate personally rather than just find somewhere else to walk.

That being said: two things that have worked for me in the past with friendly dogs is (1) Carry a walking stick or an umbrella. Not to hit the dogs with, but to help define your personal space that the dogs may not enter. and (2) Use the Voice Of God to tell the dogs what they must do. Think of the voice your parents would use when you wanted to touch the stove as a child or put a penny in the light socket. A firm "NO, GO AWAY" or "GO HOME" generally works pretty good on so-called friendly dogs. But on a narrow single-track trail there's not many places for them to go.
posted by muddgirl at 2:19 PM on March 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have been bitten by dogs three times, and I totally get how they intrude into the relaxation of your walk. You might consider using your in camera phone to document the dogs and the person when reporting to animal control to show repeat behavior, and give a concrete time and description. It's a big deal here in Los Angeles, since unleashed dogs have caused some serious harm to people.

By the way, my first incident I was bitten in the ass by a very small dog, so don't think they can't be aggressive. The second I was bitten in the leg by a German Shepard that came out of a chain link fenced yard with the gate left open while I was walking down the sidewalk. The owner said, "Don't pay any attention to him, he's crazy." Yeah. My partner was so furious he reported it to Animal Control; the dog had bitten someone else so the city confiscated and destroyed the dog.

So, your personal well-being and leash laws are a very valid concern. Good luck!
posted by effluvia at 2:28 PM on March 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

As someone who has, in the past, let my dog off-leash in spaces where I knew full well it wasn't legal to do so...I would absolutely contact your city's non-emergency department and find out who best to call (could be the park police, could be Animal Control, etc.) whenever you're out walking and this happens again. They may not be able to nab this woman in particular (or whoever is affecting you at the time), but I would be very surprised if they don't ultimately respond in some way. I got a ticket and a big fat fine two years ago for letting my dog run off the leash in a public park and the officer specifically warned me that they were cracking down on this behavior following a big uptick in calls reporting off-leash dogs.
posted by anderjen at 2:31 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Make a show of pulling out your phone and filming, while maintaining the same calm demeanor it seems like you’ve had so far.

As a dog owner it makes me angry enough to see people disregarding leash laws, but the fact that she would disregard your fear of dogs is just truly horrible. The last thing I ever want is anyone to be scared of my dog!

Your story is a really good lesson for dog owners who knowingly break leash laws. We might be able to predict how our dogs will behave 99.9% of the time, but we can’t predict how other dogs will behave or what fears other people around us might have.
posted by sallybrown at 3:03 PM on March 28, 2019 [11 favorites]

I appreciate the answers so far. Just want to point out that I told her I was afraid of dogs twice and only brought up that she's breaking the law when she responded to that by saying that I needed to "go the other way."

I totally get this. As a sometimes law breaking dog owner: we know, usually, that we are breaking the law, so this is unlikely to compel us. I didn't mean to scold. Just saying that she likely wasn't ignorant of this information.

Lots of folks are saying to call animal control, etc. It might work, but my suggestions are presuming that it might mean she gets a ticket one time and then continues her behavior, which is to say... it wouldn't ultimately change her behavior.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:07 PM on March 28, 2019

Would an empty threat of pepper spray fall under your “no harm” criterion? Would a non-empty threat?

I hate off-leash dogs (ok, I actually hate their owners), especially when I’m walking my reactive dog on leash. 95% of dogs aren’t NOT going to run up to a leashed dog.
posted by supercres at 3:26 PM on March 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Could you warn her that if her dogs touch you in any way, you will sue? Maybe the threat of paying damages would carry more weight than the threat of a fine.

Also, as a longtime rescue volunteer who has dealt with a lot of crazy dogs, completely ignoring them is definitely a useful tactic for all but the most exuberant dogs. Another possibility to deter them is an air horn, but you risk scaring the dogs into running away, possibly into traffic, so that wouldn't be my first go to.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:53 PM on March 28, 2019

Best answer: 100% for ignoring the dogs. if you've stopped and they are approaching/sniffing you (and are just curious/playful) just turn your entire body away and be as boring as possible (no talking, eye contact etc. try to stay relaxed and bored - its dog speak for 'i'm not interested. leave me alone.'

I wouldn't film them, my dog gets nervous w/ cameras and having one pointing at him he can kinda get jumpy. not sure about a stick either, because he loves fetch, and by waving a stick you just invited him to play.

I'd tell her, if I see them unleashed again, I'm contacting the authorities. and do it.
posted by speakeasy at 3:53 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I used to work in local government and nth showbiz Liz. The last thing the city wants is a lawsuit because some kid got bit by an off leash dog. They can't enforce leash laws of they don't know it's an issue. Absolutely tell them and report her.

Leash laws are there to protect the dogs too. One of the last reports I did was on a sweet family dog, off leash when he shouldn't be, who got excited and jumped on a kid and hurt her and damaged her eyelid (she's ok - fixable but surgery). We wouldn't have required the dog be euthanased - he did it willingly himself. The whole thing was awful. As someone who dealt with subpoenas for this sort of thing we all resent having to look at all the horrible pictures of the injures too.

Off leash / on leash areas were a hugely hot topic in our area.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:39 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This person is a jerk. She heard you but does nothing to manage her untrained dogs. It is not your job to deal with this by not having a fear of dogs. You're doing great. I love dogs. I have a dog and allow him to run unleashed. I always check to make sure he is okay and not causing problems. He comes when called, and never bugs humans, though he likes to check out dogs. My kid was attacked by a poorly secured dog. Dogs are not always all rainbows and floof.

Option: Talk to her again and explain that you may have to start carrying spray of some sort because of un-managed dogs, but you'd prefer that she manage her pets. Consider carrying pepper spray or whatever cyclists carry - go to a bike shop for this. The idea of a beloved dog being sprayed is horrible to me, but you should not have to have a dog harass you, certainly not a pair of good-sized dogs. Pepper spray can drift, so you'd need to learn to use it. It is a serious tool.

Option: Go to your local police station. See if there's a community officer, or an Officer Friendly. Ask such officer to come to the park with you and maybe even talk to dog owners whose dogs are unleashed and behaving badly. Police depts. vary greatly. My small town PD would probably do this and enjoy the break from routine.

Option: Call animal control. They may come and ticket people and this may cause a ruckus, but if my reasonably-behaved, trained dog got me an unleashed ticket, I would be on the case of any dog owner known to have badly-behaved dogs. A place to let dogs run is really nice, and the dog-owning community might self-police if it came to losing that option. Ask Animal Control for recommendations. Maybe a squirt gun with water would be successful? air horn?

I would take pictures, lots of them; if it bugs her dogs that you engage in a totally routine action, the dogs are not in control, and they should be. I'd try to ID her vehicle.

While it is not your job to learn about dogs, learn about dogs. Dogs generally signal if they are aggressive or upset, and this is useful to know. The dog who attacked my son came out of a parked car; my son didn't see him until it was attacking. My son is okay, loves dogs, and was smart enough to cover his face, but was bit several times on arms and butt before the dog was controlled. He was @ 7; took him a while to relax around dogs again, except our own. Owners were broke, nuthin' to sue.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 PM on March 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I want to mention citronella spray. That’s what I carry when I walk my leashed dogs. I’ve found I’m reluctant to use pepper spray on unleashed dogs - partly because I’m worried it may blow back on my guys. Citronella spray has worked well for me to make other dogs back off and I’m not hesitant to use it.
posted by hilaryjade at 6:47 PM on March 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for mentioning citronella spray. I didn’t know that existed.

Would a dog horn like this be cruel to the dogs?
posted by FencingGal at 7:01 PM on March 28, 2019

Best answer: Nthing ignoring the dogs in order to keep them at a distance. It may not seem like much, but it's the best tactic you've got I think. I would stay away from using sticks or sprays or horns.

I'm a dog owner who let's their dogs off the leash in unpopulated areas, but I never let my dogs approach anyone we don't know unleashed. It's totally unacceptable! If it we're me in your situation, I would get out my phone as soon as I saw her approaching and snap a bunch of pics. I would say nothing to her, not one word. Just stop and snap pics every single time you pass her. Do not respond if she tries to engage you, just keep taking pics or video (even better). I bet she will start to go another route within a couple days!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:03 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another voice for ignoring the dogs and calling the relevant authorities.

When you talk to their owner, the dogs will find you interesting. If you argue with her, they may even become aggressive.
If you wave stuff, wether sticks, umbrellas, your phone or a spray, they will find you interesting. If you succeed in spraying at them, they may be aggressive next time you meet them.

Keep your arms still, don't look at the dogs or at the owner, and things will be fine.

You shouldn't be dealing with this, at all, but since you are, the most important thing is to keep safe.

My big, reactive dog is never off leash except on my own property or on the beach off season, where I can see for a mile if someone else is there. But sometimes people will go for walks on my driveway, and if they get close to the house or I am out, they will meet my dog, who loooooves all the people. They don't always love him back, and the sad thing is that the more they try to wave him away and shout at me, the more excited he gets. Luckily, he has never become aggressive, probably because I keep my voice calm and friendly even when people are screaming abuse at me on my own land.
I'm writing this last part so you understand that while that dog owner is behaving irresponsibly by letting the dogs run loose, and she should be fined, her (lack of) response to you in the situation may be good for you.
When people ignore my dog, he gives them a look and then ignores them back.
posted by mumimor at 12:54 AM on March 29, 2019

You could try an ultrasonic dog deterrent device.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:28 AM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who answered. This is AskMe at its best.

I will (a) call the police department non-emergency line to ask about enforcement and options, (b) take pictures when I see her with the dogs and of her license plate when she's by her car, and (c) otherwise ignore the dogs, hoping that will make them go away more quickly. I think my thought about an air horn is more about sending a message to the owner than the dogs. If I continue to have problems with the dogs bothering me, I'll try citronella spray, which looks like it annoys dogs but doesn't harm them.

Also, I actually feel sorry for dogs having to be on leashes all the time, so I get letting dogs go off-leash sometimes - but it seems very important to use a leash when you know it bothers someone (as people who've answered clearly do), which is where this woman fails at being a decent human being. I have had dog owners laugh at me when I've said I'm afraid of dogs and asked them to keep their dogs away, but this is the first time someone has out and out refused. The city I'm in has two off-leash dog parks, by the way, one near the park I see her in, so she has options to let her dogs off leash legally.
posted by FencingGal at 6:36 AM on March 29, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I would not hesitate to buy and use a dog horn like that, FencingGal, as a dog owner and lover. At my local dog cafe, the owner has one and uses it when there is a tussle that's getting out of control (dogs playing too rambunctiously with each other). It's super effective at getting dogs to quit doing whatever they're doing. Do they like it? No, that's obviously the point. But I haven't seen any evidence that it's cruel and none of the dogs seem to be traumatized by it.
posted by branca at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2019

I am an owner of an overly friendly dog who is large and scary looking to some. I'm actively training him to reduce his running up and greeting strangers behavior, and mostly I can leash him as we get close to people, but he still does it some times especially if we come around a corner and there's a person right there, and it's a problem for people who are scared of dogs. I know this sucks. I just want to say I would support you using citronella spray on my dog, but it's possible someone would freak out though. A spray bottle of water is effective for my dog and many others.

Strategically, I suggest a) be boring to the dog and b) spray with water if they get close anyway and c) let the owner know as you're walking away that this is an on leash park and you're reporting them.
posted by latkes at 8:55 AM on March 30, 2019

Yeah the horn is not cruel and seems fine to me if you want to make an impression on this particular dog owner!
posted by latkes at 8:56 AM on March 30, 2019

This answer is quite a bit later than the original post, but I would like to share my advice on this subject. I, too, am not comfortable around dogs. When I encounter unleashed dogs in areas where leashing is legally required, I ask the owners to please leash their dogs, explaining that I am extremely allergic to dogs. I am not actually allergic to dogs, I have just found that dog owners are much, much more cooperative if I tell them I have an allergy vs telling them that I am afraid of their dogs.
posted by SageTrail at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2020

Edit: I am not comfortable around dogs that I don't know.
posted by SageTrail at 9:51 AM on February 25, 2020

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