Strategies to Prevent and Manage Off-Leash Dog Attacks

It is an unfortunate reality of catventuring that off-leash dogs may pose a serious danger to both cat and human. Read on for some of the potential strategies to both prevent and manage off-leash dog attacks.

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Image: Canva

It is an extremely lucky on-leash cat who has not had at least one encounter with an off-leash dog. Some of these encounters are no big deal, some are positive, some are annoying, some are frightening and traumatic and some result in serious injury or even death. Most negative encounters result in some lasting physical, emotional, psychological or financial impact for both human and kitty. So, what strategies are available to us to both prevent and manage off-leash dog attacks?

Preventing attacks:

  • Preparedness matters: Think ahead and plan what to do if confronted with an off-leash dog and in the case of an actual attack. Each situation is unique in terms of location, dog breed and training, the dog owner’s involvement, how you can defend yourself and your cat etc. and none of us truly know how we will react until the unthinkable happens. However, we can plan both physically and mentally so we are more prepared to make important and perhaps lifesaving decisions in the moment.

  • Make reasonable assumptions: Wherever you are, assume there is a possibility that other humans and pets are in the area and some of them may pose a threat. Unfortunately, there will always be irresponsible dog owners, poorly trained dogs and dogs acting on instinct. Even dogs who are cat-friendly at home can see an unfamiliar cat as prey, especially when their instincts are activated by outdoor smells and movement.

  • Stay alert: Although approaching dogs will not always be possible for a human being to detect, remain alert for the sounds and signs of off-leash dogs such as people whistling and shouting commands, bells around necks in the case of hunting dogs etc. However, the reality is that wherever there are humans (and sometimes where there are not), there could be off-leash dogs, even in designated on-leash areas. Expect the unexpected.

  • Be vocal and proactive: Speak up and politely but clearly let dog owners know that you have a cat with you. Not only does this give the dog owner an opportunity to control their dog before they feel the need to react defensively, especially if they know their dog should be on a leash, but it can also help to raise broader awareness that cats go out on leash too.

  • Be adaptable and appropriately cautious: Change your path to avoid off-leash dogs if possible and when necessary. Every situation is different so take any precautions you think are needed in your specific situation.

  • Consider leash length: Although we all want our catventurers to feel free to explore to the full length of their leash, consider using a shorter leash and keeping your catventurer close if you assess the presence of off-leash dogs to be high. However, if you are in a wooded area, a longer leash may be advantageous in allowing your catventurer to escape a dog by climbing a tree. Again, plan ahead and make the decisions that suit your situation.

  • Create a safe space: Always have a 'safe space' with you in the form of a backpack or other transport carrier to which your catventurer can retreat for any reason, including to avoid an off-leash dog. Stay alert for off-leash dogs, exercise caution, intervene early and place your cat in his/her carrier whenever you feel you need to. Certain cats can be trained to jump into their backpack while it is on your back, for example, using clicker training. This safe space can literally be a lifesaver and consider never leaving home without it!

  • Shoulder cats: Consider training your cat to be comfortable on your shoulders as a quick escape from the ground when confronted by an off-leash dog. If they are already familiar with you placing them on your shoulders, they are less likely to panic and try to escape. However, this strategy may make the dog more likely to attack you.

  • Escape routes: If there are trees, walls or other structures that your cat can climb to escape harm from an off-leash dog, let them do so. Preferably, they will be able to escape to a high area while still attached to their leash but consider releasing the leash as a last resort. This course of action carries the risk of your cat becoming lost or stuck high in a tree and must be weighed carefully in a split-second decision. This is where forethought and assessing your surroundings before the worst happens can make all the difference.

  • Get prickly: If you live in a high-risk area, whether the risk is off-leash dogs or other large predators, check out options such as spike vests.

If confronted with an off-leash dog:

  • Secure your cat: If safe for you, get your cat to safety, such as in their backpack, however and as quickly and calmly as you can.

  • Don't panic: Stay calm but assertive in your voice, energy and posture. Avoid showing fear and try to pacify the dog with a soft, soothing voice. Avoid direct eye contact, which can be seen as a challenge and may increase the likelihood of an attack. Look away to demonstrate that you are not a threat. Avoid panic or screaming, which can fuel the motivation for an attack.

  • Do not run away: Move away slowly (towards higher ground if possible), turning sideways to reduce the target and protect the front of your body. Avoid a front-on stance, which may be perceived as threatening, or turning your back on the dog. You will never outrun a dog and running, in many cases, will activate further the prey instinct.

  • Claim space: Claim space with any items you have such as jackets, backpack etc. to make you appear larger.

  • Seek assistance: Try to make contact with the owner and other people in the vicinity for assistance using a calm but assertive voice.

  • Bite sticks: Find an item you can use to place between you, your catventurer and the dog e.g. backpack, jacket, water bottle, something the dog can latch on to rather than your cat or you if they decide to attack. Consider always carrying a stick that can serve as a ‘bite stick’.

  • Decoys: Consider carrying dog treats or small stones that you can throw beyond the dog as potential distractions and decoys. Even a second's distraction may give you the time you need to take action that turns the situation to your favour.

  • Ultrasonic repellents: Consider carrying and using ultrasonic repellents or whistles. Note that the frequency they are set to matters, they are not guaranteed to work on all dogs and most must be used within a range of 5 metres.

  • Be observant: Commit to memory any details you observe about the dog and the owner. If safe to do so and the opportunity is there, take photos or record video.

During an attack:

  • Dogs attack humans too: Avoid putting yourself in serious danger. Try to attract attention and aid from others. Remember that dogs can and do attack and seriously or fatally injure humans.

  • Stay calm: In the heat of a terrifying moment it is extremely difficult but try to avoid screaming, which can further fuel an attack.

  • Place something between you and the dog's jaws: Place whatever you can between you, your catventurer and the dog’s jaws – water bottle, jacket, backpack, stick etc.

  • Distractions: Carry and use distractions such as loud or ultrasonic noises e.g. rocks in a can, dog/bear horns, ultrasonic and normal whistles. Human-ear whistles can also be used to attract attention and aid from other people in the area.

  • Pepper sprays: Consider whether, in your specific situation, carrying and using pepper spray (capsaicin) is the right choice for you. Remember to check your local laws regarding carrying pepper sprays; it may be illegal in some jurisdictions. These sprays might be effective to stop a dog attack but also risk injury to you or your catventurer. Sprays may be less effective or dangerous to others in windy conditions and require close proximity for use. A test canister is recommended so you are familiar with using it before you need to in an emergency.

  • Defend yourself: Kick or hit with a closed fist vulnerable areas such as the dog’s throat, nose and back of the head where it meets the neck. Avoid hitting dogs, especially larger breeds, on the top of their head, which can fuel an attack. If you find yourself on the ground, roll into a ball, protect your head and face and keep your fists closed to protect your fingers.

  • Weight advantage: If the situation warrants it, use any weight advantage you have to immobilise the dog, for example by pinning the dog by the ribs or throat or straddling the dog and placing weight on the back of their neck.

After an attack:

  • Administer first aid: Carry a first aid kit and stem any bleeding immediately. Protect and immobilise any potentially broken limbs. Consider the effects of shock and make your catventurer as warm and comfortable as possible, even if there are no outward signs of injury.

  • Vet care: Seek urgent veterinarian attention if your cat is attacked, even if there are not obvious serious external wounds. Your cat may be in shock or wounded internally in a life-threatening way.

  • Medical assistance: Seek medical attention for any wounds you have suffered. Some bites may require antibiotic therapy or stitches.

  • Record details and report: As soon as possible afterwards, record as many details as you can about the attack, including the time, date, exact area and situation and any details you have about the dog and the owner. Report the attack to local authorities.

  • After effects: Consider the implications and traumatic effects of the attack on all levels for both you and your catventurer; physical, emotional and psychological. Take any return to catventuring slowly and at your own and your catventurer’s pace. Seek professional help if you or your cat are struggling with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) after the encounter.

Catventurous is not a specialist in dog behaviour so please use this information as a guide and a starting point for your own research. Each situation and encounter with an off-leash dog is unique. Plan and prepare and make the informed decisions appropriate to your situation. Seek the advice of your vet or an animal behaviour specialist where needed.

Have you and your catventurer had an encounter with an off-leash dog? What would you add to this list of strategies to prevent and manage a dog attack while catventuring? Please share your stories, your knowledge and wisdom in the comments below or send a message to

Charlotte & Melba

Stratégies pour prévenir et gérer les attaques de chiens sans laisse

La triste réalité d'un mode de vie « catventurous » est que les dangers, potentiellement graves pour les humains et les chats, doivent être pris en compte en cas de rencontres avec des chiens sans laisse. Lisez ce qui suit pour connaître certaines des stratégies possibles pour prévenir et gérer les attaques de chiens sans laisse.

Image: Canva

Un chat en laisse a beaucoup de chance s'il n'a pas déjà rencontré au moins une fois dans sa vie un chien sans laisse. Certaines de ces rencontres sont sans importance, d'autres sont positives, dérangeantes, effrayantes, traumatisantes et pouvant entraîner des blessures graves, voire la mort. La plupart des mauvaises rencontres ont des conséquences physiques, émotionnelles, psychologiques ou financières durables, tant pour l'humain que pour le chat.

Quelles sont donc les stratégies à notre disposition pour prévenir et gérer les attaques de chiens sans laisse ?

Prévenir les attaques :

  • La préparation est importante : Pensez à l'avance et prévoyez ce que vous ferez si vous êtes confronté à la rencontre avec un chien sans laisse et en cas d'attaque réelle. Chaque situation est unique, que ce soit en termes d'emplacement, de race et de dressage du chien, d'implication du propriétaire du chien, de moyens de se défendre et de défendre son chat, etc. Cependant, nous pouvons nous préparer physiquement et mentalement afin d'être mieux armés pour prendre des décisions importantes sur le moment.

  • Faites des hypothèses raisonnables : Où que vous soyez, partez du principe qu'il est possible que d'autres humains et animaux domestiques se trouvent dans les environs, et que certains d'entre eux puissent constituer une menace. Malheureusement, il y aura toujours des propriétaires de chiens irresponsables, des chiens mal dressés et des chiens agissant par instinct. Même les chiens qui sont gentils avec les chats à la maison peuvent considérer un chat inconnu comme une proie, surtout lorsque leur instinct est activé par les odeurs et les mouvements extérieurs.

  • Restez vigilant : Bien qu'il ne soit pas toujours possible pour un être humain de détecter les chiens qui s'approchent, restez attentif aux sons et aux signes de présence de chiens sans laisse, comme les personnes qui sifflent et crient des ordres, les clochettes autour du cou, etc. Cependant, la réalité est que partout où il y a des humains (et parfois là où il n'y en a pas), il peut y avoir des chiens sans laisse, même dans les zones réglementairement désignées comme rendant obligatoire le port de la laisse (parcs nationaux, etc.). Attendez-vous à l'inattendu !

  • Soyez communicatif et proactif : Parlez et faites poliment mais clairement savoir aux propriétaires de chiens que vous avez un chat avec vous. Non seulement cela donne au propriétaire du chien l'occasion de contrôler son chien, mais cela peut également contribuer à sensibiliser davantage les gens au fait que les chats sortent aussi en laisse.

  • Soyez adaptable et prudent : Changez votre chemin pour éviter les chiens sans laisse si possible et si nécessaire. Chaque situation étant différente ; prenez toutes les précautions que vous jugerez nécessaires dans votre situation spécifique.

  • Pensez à la longueur de la laisse : Bien que nous souhaitons tous que nos cha'venturiers se sentent libres d'explorer jusqu'au bout de leur laisse, envisagez d'utiliser une laisse plus courte et de garder votre cha'venturier plus près de vous si vous estimez que la présence de chiens sans laisse est élevée. Cependant, si vous vous trouvez dans une zone boisée, une laisse plus longue peut être avantageuse pour permettre à votre chatventurer d'échapper à un chien en grimpant à un arbre. Encore une fois, planifiez à l'avance et prenez les décisions qui conviennent à votre situation.

  • Créez un espace sûr : Ayez toujours avec vous un « espace sûr », sous la forme d'un sac à dos ou d'un autre moyen de transport, dans lequel votre chat cha'venturier peut se réfugier pour n'importe quelle raison, y compris pour éviter un chien sans laisse. Restez attentif aux chiens sans laisse, faites preuve de prudence, intervenez rapidement et placez votre chat dans son sac de transport dès que vous en ressentez le besoin. Certains chats peuvent être entraînés à sauter dans leur sac à dos lorsqu'il est sur votre dos, par exemple, à l'aide du clicker training. Cet espace sécurisé peut littéralement lui sauver la vie. Pensez à ne jamais quitter la maison sans lui !

  • Chats d'épaule : Envisagez de dresser votre chat pour qu'il soit à l'aise sur vos épaules afin de s'échapper rapidement du sol lorsqu'il est confronté à un chien sans laisse. S'il est déjà habitué à ce que vous le placiez sur vos épaules, il est moins susceptible de paniquer et d'essayer de s'échapper. Cependant, cette stratégie peut rendre le chien plus susceptible de vous attaquer.

  • Les voies de fuite : S'il y a des arbres, un mur ou d'autres structures que votre chat peut escalader pour échapper à un chien sans laisse, laissez-le faire. De préférence, il pourra s'échapper vers un endroit élevé tout en restant attaché à sa laisse, mais ne lâchez la laisse qu'en dernier recours. Cette solution comporte le risque que votre chat se perde ou reste coincé en haut d'un arbre ; elle doit donc être évaluée avec soin dans une décision prise en une fraction de seconde. C'est là que la prévoyance et l'évaluation de votre environnement, avant que le pire n'arrive, peuvent faire toute la différence.

  • Soyez piquant : Si vous vivez dans une zone à haut risque, qu'il s'agisse de chiens sans laisse ou d'autres grands prédateurs, envisagez des options telles que les gilets à pointes.

Si vous êtes confronté à un chien sans laisse :