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Posted on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 9:19 a.m.

Don't allow distractions to erupt into fights when walking your dog

By Julia Levitt


Julia Levitt | Contributor

Dogs fighting can be very scary.

What if you encounter a dog that is at the end of its retractable leash — pulling the owner toward you and your dog? Often the end result is dogs getting tangled in their leashes, owners shouting, and a lot of snapping and gnashing of teeth — from both dogs and owners! What to do?

Prevention is the key. When you are walking your dog, do you:

Talk on the phone?

Listen to your iPod?

Let your dog pull you along?

Do not "check out" on a dog walk. This is the perfect bonding exercise for you and your dog. The walk gives the dog mental as well as physical exercise.

Why? Dogs are hardwired to follow a leader, and that leader is you. If a dog is leading the walk and you are following, the balance is upside down. Ideally, the dog should walk calmly and be relaxed at your side. And this the key to preventing a dog fight.

If the dog is walking calmly at your side and then pulls ahead of you, you are going to feel it and correct it instantly. When the dog is ahead of you, it has already made many decisions in which you did not take part: where to walk; when to stop; and who to react to — a squirrel, a cat, a person, another dog, a bike. You get the idea.

When the walk is done in a calm relaxed way, with the dog by your side, you will see what your dog sees, and you will be the one making the decisions. Isn't prevention the key here?

What if the dog you encounter is not on a leash? The same advice applies. Only now you will stop! You and your dog must stand still.

This is a huge test of your skills. You and your dog must remain calm. If you allow the situation to escalate, you'll have a chaotic problem that this blog cannot address. Yes, calmness is the key, prevention is the key — a well behaved dog is the key.

If you invest time in your dog, the pay off will be huge. As you can tell, this is crisis management and crisis prevention. If you have "tools" in your tool box, you will be prepared to see a potentially problematic situation and handle it knowledgably and ensure no one gets hurt.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.


Dog Guy

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

Heard tell someone named their dog Herpes because it wouldn't heel.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 10:43 a.m.

I am not sure I can mention that one word Ann Landers and Dear Abby wrote about years ago, about a person who named their dog "S-x". I still have that article today on my cork board. Thanks for the giggles.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

There are no bad dogs, just bad owners.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

Ok, lets run with your facts and apply my logic. Anyone who owns a "pit" should be aware of this propensity and act accordingly. Meaning you don't let the dog run free, you have it on a leash and keep it in a secured area that it can't get out of.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

Incorrect. Pits and pit mixes constitute a hugely disproportionate percentage of maulings, many fatal. And their bites are way worse than other dogs. They are BRED to be biting dogs. Historically, to hold down bulls. Pits are giving a black eye to the entire dog-community.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

Once I trained my dog to walk at a my side I learned to reward his good behaviour by saying a certain word that lets him know that he can leave my side and meander about and smell the roses. While he is still on a fixed leash he can take the length of it to enjoy the surroundings without pulling my arm off. Usually I stand still and he gets that radius of area around me. After a bit I get him again into a heel and we continue walking. As he knows now that he'll get his chance to smell about he doesn't forge ahead like he did when he was a puppy.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

I have the opposite view when it comes to handling an aggressive dog (while walking my dog or out for a solo run). I'll get my dog to square off with the advancing dog and square off with it as well. I'm not going to have my dog sit and hope for the best. I like knowing that my dog is able to protect herself and me if needed. I can see this being an issue if you have a smaller breed of dog, even impossible. That being said, I've lost count of how many aggressive (mostly pits/pit-mix) dogs I've come across while walking or being out for a run, many off leash. I guess it's what I get for choosing to live in Ypsi Township. Now, I ALWAYS carry firearm (I never use to while running). When I carry running, it's not to protect from other people (though some kids did try to jump me once) it's more to protect myself from stray dogs. Now, my dog is extremely well trained and friendly with other people/dogs just walking/running/biking. However, I don't mindlessly let her mingle with other people/animals. You must always be attentive and augmentative with your dog. You're the "alpha" of the pack so act like it.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

yea, I was going back and forth on that one. Simple fact is though, more than a majority of the aggressive dogs I've come across on my adventures have been pits. Though, I do remember one really really REALLY nice pit I happened upon during a walk. It was so cute... just kept licking my and my dog and wagging its little tail. If I had to guess..... it was 3 months old. :-p


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

Now you've gone an done it! You used the "P" word-----------pit. Prepare for incoming, lol.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:32 p.m.

augmentative? lol, silly auto correct. Replace that with aggressive.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

Also, spay or neuter your pet.

Julia Levitt

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

YES! thank you Peter-Julia


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

I feel a dog needs to have time to stop and smell the "roses" to enjoy the walk. If you make them heel the whole walk, this seems less enjoyable for them. They don't smile as much. I also do want to set the pace, so my deal is that I have a 6 foot lead, the dog is welcome to walk out in front, stop, smell, mark, ect., but he has about 12leash/feet worth of time to conclude his business (with one smelly exception of course). This seems to work well for both of us.

Lorrie Shaw

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 8:31 p.m.

I agree, EyeHeartA2 and craigjjs. Whether it's my own dogs or clients. they must be well-behaved, but geez, I let 'em have fun. That's what being on a walk is about. I call it "reading pee-mail". I'm not much for being an adherent to the 'leader/pack' mentality, honestly. Any dog who is with me knows that they need to take cues from me when the situation calls for it, but call me crazy, if they demonstrate that they want to walk down a certain path, I'm all for it. I love the reference that you made, craigjjs - "A dog does not have to be a mindless robot to be well behaved." :)


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

I agree. I choose to allow my dog to stop and smell. It is an important activity for most dogs. A dog does not have to be a mindless robot to be well behaved.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

I can't stand all the dog poop in my yard from people letting their dogs out unleashed. I also don't like dogs chasing me when I'm out running in the street. I don't like dogs. They are a menace.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

I don't like the way many dog owners handle their dogs. Lack of proper training and assertive behavior. You have a 5' tall 110lbs person walking 2-3 hug aggressive dogs, or at least trying to walk them. Come'on

Julia Levitt

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

This a very unfortunate problem. For all of the responsible dog owners out there -we are very sorry and work hard to give dogs and owners a good reputation! thank you- for taking the time to comment. Julia


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

Or maybe I just don't like dog owners....yeah, that's probably it.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

One of the main reasons I like to take long walks with my dog is that walking is very meditative and I totally "check out" while on walks. Luckily for me, my neighborhood seems to have only nice dogs. I've encountered a few off leash dogs but they've never been a problem. I've also found that the Swift Run dog park is a nice place to walk dogs off leash, although there, one does need to pay a little more attention, both because there are more dogs and because the dogs are all off leash. I have had encounters with aggressive dogs while I have been walking my dogs and one technique I have found to be helpful is to get my dog to just sit down. I've noticed that other dogs are much less threatened when confronted with a sitting dog. *shrug*

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

Just one dog off its lead is all it takes to annoy a neighbor and make enemies for life. Keep your dogs leashed.

Julia Levitt

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

Thank you very much! we dog owners need all the friends we can get! Julia

Unusual Suspect

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

Dogs at the end of a retractable leash isn't a problem at places like Bird Hills because so many people illegally allow their dogs to run off the leash, despite the signs at the parking lot that tell them it's not allowed.

Julia Levitt

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

Very unfortunate-Julia

John of Saline

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

And it's not cute when your dog attacks human passers-by, either.

Julia Levitt

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

So true John. thanks for your comment-Julia