You know even though owning a reactive dog can be a bit frustrating, dealing with irresponsible dog owners is one of the top 3 banes of my life! Jasper’s leash aggression training would be so much smoother if other owners realised that their irresponsibility at times is the actual problem. Read on for 5 tricks you can use to escape tricky situations with irresponsible owners.

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“Don’t worry my dog is friendly!”

A phrase that instantly fuels my heart and makes my blood boil!

I understand most dogs are friendly, I can see that, I don’t think I’ve ever come into contact with an actual aggressive dog, reactive – yes…aggressive – no.

The problem is other owners think that because of this their dog can be off leash and can run up to any dog they want to say hi and play. I understand I really do, you want your dog to go and play BUT this starts to cause problems.

Dogs are pack animals, they have a specific pack including their human(s) and other animals (I know people with reactive dogs that are fine with the family dogs but others it’s a different story). This pack mentality can cause reactive dogs to react to other dogs especially if they feel the need to protect you.

A common factor I’ve also noticed is that the dogs that run up are always tiny dogs that come in charging at full pace and once they pick up speed their owner has lost their focus and the situation now lies in your hands…terrific, what more could you want? An overly excited “friendly” little dog coming straight at your reactive dog that could deal a lot of damage.

5 Methods For Dealing With Irresponsible Owners

Emergency u-turn

The first thing I’d suggest trying to master is the emergency u-turn. This is simply retreating from the situation briskly.

It may seem like a cop out but sometimes there’s nothing else you can do than just try to avoid the situation and hope that the other dog doesn’t run or the owner actually manages to get theirs.

Sometimes shouting at their dog to “sit” or “no” in a firm tone of voice with a palm out could throw the dog off and could either cause them to sit or to stop…that however may not work if the dog is too excited.

I’ve recently resorted to using a muzzle on Jasper for when I take him out to socialise with random dogs (check out how I’m using behaviour adjustment training to currently reduce his reactivity). We probably will start contact with dogs next week but at the moment we keep our distance, the muzzle is in case another dog gets too close. You feel so much more comfortable having one with irresponsible owners, show your responsibility! I use the Baskerville muzzle which allows for panting, drinking water and accepting treats, you can find my Baskerville muzzle review here.

Always carry high value treats

I have a little treat bag for Jasper (it has a poo bag dispenser and compartments for everything, it’s a god send!) that I always have filled with high value treats – dried sausages, chicken, cheese, carrots etc. A lot of people ask me why but they come in useful so many times!!

If a dog is charging at you and you’ve shouted the owner and you’re retreating and they’re still coming then throw a hand full of high value treats! Hopefully the dog will catch the scent and stop and chow down!

Any behaviour that your dog does that you want to continue you treat, this doesn’t go for just sitting at the side of the road, if Jasper sees a dog and we go past without barking or lunging (I’m not fussed about him stopping to pay attention just as long as he either holds a sit and stay or follows me out of the situation quietly) I need him to know that’s the behaviour I want, I make a fuss and give him a payload of treats so he knows that’s what we’re going for.

Obviously I don’t treat for everything all the time once he’s got used to it, I only give him a treat for sitting at the corner of the road randomly so he knows to still do it but it’s a very basic thing he knows, and if he doesn’t sit the. I correct and treat to reinforce.

It’s so important to carry treats to reinforce what you want in a dog – you can’t punish them all the time for things you don’t want them to do if you don’t teach them an alternative. Find the right reward to motivate your dog to work with you.

reduce leash reactivity

Squeak toy/Toy

As you approach a trigger your dog will display a variety of leash reactive warning signs. This shows they are reaching the boiling point in their threshold – the point where they have stopped and have a firm stance with a stiff tail and ears then you have to work some magic to get out of this situation without an explosion.

At that point one of the best things is to move away from the trigger but if you yank on the leash you can make things more heated.

So how do you get your dog to follow you away? Sometimes a high value treat can get their attention but I consider this bribery unless they willingly come and you treat them then.

Another method I tried at the start which worked quite well is a squeak toy. Now this can be problematic if the other dog is off leash as it can get them excited and can cause them to think you want to play. However it is great for bringing your dogs attention back to you, they are completely focused on the other dog and you just want a window to grab their attention and get them to escape reaction free.

Mark avoidant/good behaviour

This goes back to high value treats but you want your dog to perform good behaviour such as sniffing the ground instead of standing their ground.

The best way to do this I’ve found currently is through Grisha’s behaviour adjustment training which teaches you how to empower your dog to make the right decisions. Rewarding where necessary to make sure that they know this behaviour is want you want.

Every time your dog pays attention to a dog and then focuses on you or turns or sniffs the ground then mark that behaviour either a treat or a clicker.

These are cut off signals which means they should stop other dogs from interacting with them if they aren’t up for it.


Now I got Jasper a harness early on which I thought was great.

As you can see it’s bright and warns people in advanced that he’s a nervous/reactive dog. Now it honestly helped reduce unwanted reactions but this was mainly for dogs already off leads. This is a great method of dealing with irresponsible dog owners as it helps them see that your dog is currently in training!

There are more harnesses and other products such as leash covers and collars that can warn people before an incident occurs or so they can acknowledge and just give you the space you need!

I have now switched harness because we are making a lot of progress and haven’t had a major unwanted reaction for a while.

products for leash reactivity

Stick it out

I know I said 5 tips for dealing with irresponsible owners but I lied.

Sometimes you can’t do anything, sometimes a dog comes round the corner or there’s a dog coming from both sides of the road. All you can do in these situations is stop, take a quick 2 seconds to evaluate the situation and take control of it!

Don’t act nervous with a tight leash, these are leash aggression training basics that the dog picks up on putting themselves on edge. You want to stay calm, walk tall and firmly tell your dog “no” or “leave it” while you cross the road, pass over quickly between your dog and their dog or putting them in a sit and stay somewhere safe (still with your body between yourself and the dog). DON’T FORGET YOUR HIGH-VALUE TREATS!

Final Thoughts – Wolves in Dogs Clothing

Did you know, when dealing with irresponsible dog owners, a lot of dog owners don’t know that they are irresponsible, they don’t know the true nature of dogs, these wolves in dogs clothing. They think they’re all friendly and are all born friends or that their kids can just come up to your dog.

I don’t know why we’re surprised at the stupidity though, this is the human race and some of us aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed which is why we have to end up dealing with irresponsible dog owners.

You Aren’t Alone!

Don’t forget to leave a comment whether to ask a question, give your own tips, give feedback etc and check out the leash aggression training blog for more information and resources on dealing with leash reactivity in dogs. The worlds a better place when people help each other!