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How to Protect Yourself From Aggressive Dogs and Their Owners

In addition to his veterinary work, Dr. Mark also trains dogs—mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.

Learn to protect yourself from aggessive dog owners when you are walking your pet.

Learn to protect yourself from aggessive dog owners when you are walking your pet.

What to Do If a Dog Attacks You or Your Dog

If you are walking your dog, you'll want to take steps to protect him or her against a loose and potentially aggressive dog. If you had to, you could strike the dog with a stick or anything else you might get your hands on and usually get the dog to back off, but you risk injury and permanent damage.

The best thing to do—the least damaging, with side effects lasting only about an hour—would be to spray the attacking dog in the face with a mild pepper spray.

However, defending yourself can be dangerous, too. When we try to defend our dogs from being harmed and the owner of the loose and aggressive dog appears out of nowhere and comes to his defense, the situation gets even more dangerous: "My dog, Killer, was only being friendly. Why did you spray him in the face?"

Below, you'll find the best way to handle an angry and aggressive dog and its owner.

How to Deal With Angry Dog Owners

The biggest problem with protecting yourself from a loose dog is not the dog, it is the owner. Defending yourself and then telling the owner of a loose dog that you felt your life was in danger is the best way to defuse the situation. Here are some alternatives.

First, Use Pepper Spray to Defend Yourself

If you use pepper spray on their dog, explain that you did not want to spray the dog but felt you were in danger. Below, you'll find suggestions for dealing with the angry dog owner.

Calmly Explain Leash Laws

This is obviously a solution that many of us have tried, but it often doesn't work when tempers are hot and beloved pets are involved. If you defend your dog when out for a walk and the owner is close enough to see what happened, that person will most likely come storming over angrily and accuse you of abusing their dog. It does not do much good to explain to them that their dog needs to be on a leash and under control, that their dog was being aggressive, or that you were only defending your dog.

Explain What Has Happened to Your Dog in the Past

If your dog is small, explain that your last tiny dog was grabbed by a loose dog and killed with one shake. If your dog is large and a small dog came up and barked in his face, explain that your dog might kill the little dog. (The other dog owner may or may not care that your dog is going to be declared dangerous and may be taken away from you if he defends himself.)

Explain the Alternatives

Do not point out how you could have hit the dog in the face with a stick and caused permanent damage. Explain how (in most cities) a dog can be reported to animal control for being loose. The owner will have to pay a fine and, if the rabies vaccination is not up-to-date, will also have to pay for quarantine. Explain that the police can be called and the dog might end up being shot as a loose and dangerous dog.

Take a Photograph of the Aggressive Dog and the Dog Owner

The laws about whether you can legally take a photo of the owner vary from place to place, but I recommend trying. Also, ask for the owner's name so that you can report them to the authorities if your area has laws against dogs running loose without a leash. This may not do any good, but the guilty dog owner might walk off at this point.

Hire a Lawyer to Sue the Owner of the Aggressive Dog

Hiring a lawyer to sue the owner of the aggressive dog is not the best solution to the problem, but it may be something you are forced to do. In every state of the US, you have the legal right to protect yourself against loose dogs. Only a few states (like Michigan and Massachusetts) have laws that limit the purchase of pepper spray for dogs online. Find a lawyer willing to take on your case and provide him with all pertinent information. You may not win, but the least the dog will be properly restrained in the meantime.

If the Loose-Dog Owner Does Not Back Down, Expect to Be Sued

Even if your actions are legal and ethical, this is not a guarantee that you will not be sued. In some countries, anyone can sue. If the owner of the loose dog starts a lawsuit against you, the best thing you can do is to counter-sue. You will need to have a lawyer to have a good chance of winning and having the dog removed from the area in which you normally walk your dog.

No matter what jurisdiction you live in, a person who is accusing you of animal abuse for using pepper spray to defend yourself will not have much chance of winning a suit. Even if they did win, however, the most they would probably receive is damages (veterinary expenses).

Reasons to Use Pepper Spray on a Dog

  • I feel that my life is in danger.
  • The dog is barking at my child and might dart in suddenly and bite without provocation.
  • My dog is small and if the loose dog decides to attack, my dog will be killed.
  • My dog is afraid of loose dogs jumping in her face and if she gets upset she will lunge and hurt the other dog.
  • My dog is large and if she bites an aggressive, small dog, she will probably kill him. The owner will complain to animal control, then my dog might then be euthanized, or at the very least, will be branded a dangerous dog.

Will Pepper Spray Hurt a Dog?

There is a dearth of information on the effects of pepper spray on dogs. The best that we can do is extrapolate from the information available on humans. (This does not always work, as anyone who has shared a box of dark chocolate with her dog already knows.)

Research available on humans has shown that there is no damage to the function of the eye. There is no damage to the cornea. There are no changes to breathing or the absorption of oxygen.

If you pepper spray a loose dog, he could potentially rub his irritated eye on something on the ground and damage his cornea. If the owner shows up to grab his loose dog, you can tell him to wash the dog's face to remove the irritating pepper powder as soon as possible.

An aggressive small dog running loose is going to be a big problem.

An aggressive small dog running loose is going to be a big problem.

Is All of This Going to Help?

Preventing a dog attack against you or your dog through the use of pepper spray should not be done lightly. No matter what you do to calm down the situation, the owner of the loose dog is going to be upset and may end up being violent. He or she is still going to come up to you and yell in your face for what is essentially his fault.

When I walk my dogs on the beach, I always carry a collapsing baton and a bottle of dog-strength pepper spray. I am aware of the potential for violence from an angry dog owner. The possible damage to one of my dogs from a loose and aggressive dog outweighs the problems of using the spray.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 20, 2020:

Richard, that is all too common, unfortunately. People read that BCs are the smartest dogs and go out and buy one and the poor dog is bored and does not have anything to do to burn off his energy. The dog ends up biting someone and the owner ends up being mad at you and your friend, when in fact she should be mad at herself for making a bad choice in the first place.

Richard from Texas on March 19, 2020:

As luck would have it, the day after I posted about this article, my neighbors' dog bit a friend who had dropped by to pick me up to watch a sporting event. 6 months earlier, the dog bit my wife while she was going for the mail, tried to bite me, and also tried to bite another neighbor. They let the dogs {3} out daily to run around the yard. Unfortunately, they don't just stay in their yard. The "biter" is a miniature Border Collie pup. The wife came over to apologize to my wife saying the dog was just trying to "herd" her. When my friend was bitten he reported it to the city's animal officer. They picked up the dog and quarantined it for 2 weeks. Now my neighbor won't talk or even wave at us. The man (neighbor) never tried to apologize in any way.

Richard from Texas on February 29, 2020:

These are excellent tips for dealing with an aggressive dog. Thanks for the suggestions

James A Watkins from Chicago on September 11, 2019:

Thank you for this needful and excellent article. I always have my bear spray on me when I walk my dogs Twice, I have had to use it against pitbulls who were charging at me.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 17, 2019:

Noted, please.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 17, 2019:

Independentminded--I find myself more on the side of the kid on the bike. That guy on the truck could have caused the kid to be in an accident and crippled for the rest of his life. Some dog owners can be real jerks.

independentminded on May 16, 2019:

All of the suggestions above sound like legitimate, mature and cool-headed ways to deal with a ticked-off dog owner. Some of those things are things I'd say myself if I were a dog owner and was taking my dog for a walk.

independentminded on May 16, 2019:

You've got to be really careful, for example, if you're on a bicycle, and an aggressive goes after you. (The sight of spinning wheels drives some dogs nuts.). Years ago, while on a bicycling trip, I heard a rather hair-raising story from one young woman in her early 20's who used to lead teen-aged bike trip groups. She told the rest of the group a story about how one of the boys in a group that she led on a bicycle trip had squirted an entire water bottle full of water at an aggressive dog who started chasing him. A few miles down the road--you guessed it: A truck drove by, and the kid who'd squirted the dog with a bottleful of water got a whole big bucket of water splashed on him. The guy who'd splashed the kid with the bucketful of water was none other than the dog's owner! Hopefully, the kid learned a lesson.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 07, 2019:

Hey, Dr.Mark, thanks for sharing.