I have so many wonderful online friends within the collie community. We share stories and photographs of our collies and support one another from puppyhood, through adolescence and adulthood, all the way to the rainbow bridge. While many of the stories shared in that space are happy and upbeat, there have been a few that were upsetting, not because of what was said, but because what had happened was so preventable. What am I talking about? I'm talking about how to protect yourself and your dog out on walks and hikes.
You already know that I am not a fan of dogs meeting each other when on leash. Dogs on leash pull and strain, making their faces appear tense and their body postures more rigid. Dogs greeting each other off leash have looser, more open body language. I especially don't like off leash dogs that run up to leashed dogs. This creates unnecessary stress for the leashed dog and their owner. The off leash dog's owner hollering, "My dog is friendly!" isn't helpful at all. While your dog may indeed be friendly MOST OF THE TIME, what if he isn't this time? What if the leashed dog he's charging isn't friendly? What if the owner of the leashed dog is afraid of unleashed dogs? If you let your dog off leash, they must have perfect recall so that when they move toward a leashed dog, you can call them back before they engage. If you can't do that, then don't let your dog off leash. Period. And it goes without saying that if you are in a park or area designated as strictly for use by leashed dogs, DON'T LET YOUR DOG OFF LEASH. Just because your dog likes being off leash, doesn't mean other people on the trail or in the park will appreciate your dog (and you) not abiding by the clearly marked rules for use of that space. People who don't like to be around off leash dogs, or whose dogs aren't comfortable with that, will not be at parks, trails, or dog parks where off leash dogs and their owners are allowed to congregate. Respect that.
So, first and foremost, if someone with a dog on leash approaches you with your dog on leash and asks if they can meet, firmly but kindly tell them that you don't let your dog greet dogs while on leash, no exceptions. They may be offended, but that's their problem not yours. Once again, they may think their dog is friendly, or may want to socialize their dog to other dogs, but that isn't your job. Your job is to make that walk safe for yourself and your dog. I have clients whose dogs serve as their emotional support animals, as well as dogs who serve as service animals for their owners. They do not want to risk a negative encounter with another dog as this adversely effects their dog's ability to do their job for that owner. I was never more sad or angry than when my client with a service dog had her service dog attacked at the airport, and subsequently her service dog has so much anxiety around travel that he can no longer support her in that environment.
If you are approached by an off leash dog while your dog is on leash, do make your discomfort known by telling their owner to leash them, but be prepared for their dog not to listen. Do not tighten up on your dog's leash as that will signal them to alert. If you can slowly and safely move away, do so. If not, stand between their dog and yours. Carry an airhorn (one of those $5 New Year's Even party ones will do, or you can get the kind used of boats to signal distress) with you at all times so that you can blast it toward the approaching, offensive dog. The noise will scare them off and alert others in the area to the problem. If the other dog's owner is upset that you blasted their dog, so be it. You've done no permanent damage as could occur with mace or pepper spray; you've simply stunned their dog into understanding why they shouldn't just run at other dogs. Airhorns can be invaluable on hikes as well, alerting others to any problems you might encounter, from snakes on the trail to mountain lions in the area.
If you are a regular trail walker, you can also carry a walking stick with you. The stick can be waved at an approaching dog to back them off. If need be, the stick can be thrust into the side of the aggressor's mouth to get him to let go of your dog as he ultimately bites down on the stick. Don't be tempted to hit the approaching or aggressive dog with the stick as this could cause the dog to either increase their aggression toward your dog, or result in them turning on you instead.
What should you do if a fight does occur? Drop the leash. Give your dog a chance to fight back or retreat. Don't try to separate the dogs with your hands or other body parts as you will get bit. If there are two people there, you can wheelbarrow the dogs apart (grab the back legs, raise them up and walk the dogs backwards; they will have to let go of each other and focus on walking on just their front legs). If you are alone, do not attempt the wheelbarrow method, instead use your airhorn or walking stick to separate the dogs. Resist the urge to grab collars as this could not only result in you getting bit, but can most definitely result in worse injury to the dogs involved as they tighten their hold when attempts are made to separate them through collar grabs.
One last thing to always try preemptively BEFORE any of the above happens: throw an obvious handful of treats away from you and your dog in an effort to redirect that off leash dog approaching you. Most dogs will at least trot off to sniff what you tossed, giving you time to move away. And I honestly don't care if that off leash dog eats something he shouldn't that you tossed his way; that's his owner's problem for letting him charge at you in the first place. Bottom line? Always carry treats and an airhorn so you are prepared for all encounters.
Being a responsible dog owner means being prepared for all possible outcomes, making your walks as safe and fun as possible for you and your dog. Stay safe out there and, as always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.