How to Get Other People and Dogs to Back Off

Reactive dogs need space, but some people and pups just don’t get this. These tips can help.

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For every happy, well-balanced dog, there is a reactive one. Maybe you have one of the latter. Or perhaps your pup falls somewhere in between, such as those who are fine as long as a strange dog or person doesn’t get too close.

So what can you do when out and about? To keep your dog calm? You don’t want to be rude, but you need to get people and pups to back off. After all, if you don’t advocate for your dog, who will?

Here are a few tips.

1. Get a vest or special leash

To be very clear, I DO NOT mean a vest that says your dog is something he is not, such as a service dog. What I do mean is a “give me space” vest or leash badge, like the ones made by Dogs in Need of Space (DINOS). I like the vest better than the badge because something on your dog is going to be more noticeable than something on a leash. If someone tries to approach, simply point to the vest or badge and say “Oh, he’s in training right now so we can’t say stop,” and then continue on.

2. Use the keep walking/’I’m busy’ strategy

This one is especially effective with children. If someone starts to approach your dog, just smile, say hi, and keep on walking briskly as if you didn’t realize they were headed your way. You can also pretend to be on the phone, in which case you wouldn’t stop and also talk to someone on the street, right?

3. Say ‘she’s not friendly’

This is a big one. You have your dog responsibly on leash, and someone else’s overzealous, off-leash dog bounds toward you. “She’s friendly,” the owner exclaims. Sometimes replying “mine’s not so please call your dog” is enough. Sometimes you may have say “she could bite” to get them to take you seriously. If the other dog continues to approach, do what you can to get your body in between the two dogs. If this happens often, consider carrying an umbrella with you when walking — it can be opened to surprise the other dog as well as used as a physical barrier.

Umbrella by Shutterstock.

4. Try the new-dog excuse

If you recently rescued your dog, you may not know what his triggers are. Feel free to tell the person “we just got Max, so we aren’t sure what he likes and dislikes yet so we aren’t letting him meet new dogs and people just yet. Thank you for understanding.” This strategy is assuming you can get a whole sentence out before they get to you and your dog.

5. Pull over or give them plenty of space

While crossing the road is definitely an option, some people may feel like this is a little rude. If that’s the case, “pull over” into the grass or open space near the sidewalk, making it very clear that you need a little extra room for your pup. This is helpful as a training exercise, too, because you can keep your dog at a distance that makes her feel safe and keep her from barking, lunging, etc. You usually don’t even have to say anything with this one, as people will realize your dog doesn’t want to interact with them.

6. Say ‘my dog has been sick’

This is one is my last resort strategies, when pretty much everything else fails. Whether you say he’s recovering from heartworms and can’t get too excited, or was just in the hospital for a couple days and is recovering, people will stay away (and keep their dogs away) from a dog who might have something contagious.

Let’s hear from you, readers. Have you used any of these tips? Do you have any others to share? Please comment below.

Top photo: Woman with dog by Shutterstock.

Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at and Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.


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