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7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs | Long Haul Trekkers

7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs while Traveling

7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs | Long Haul Trekkers

Before landing in Medellin, Colombia, where we would spend a month before flying back home to Portland, I scouted our neighborhood for any signs of running potential. I purposely chose our location based on proximity to the  Estadio (a massive complex where the local football (soccer) team, Nacional plays and where we can do any athletic activity to our heart’s content. Completely for free) and to a few parks.

My first stop the day after arriving, was Cerro Volador. It was near our apartment and easy to reach without needing a map. Sora wagged her tail in excitement as I got out her running leash and belt and we set off on our way.

It wasn’t the nature trails I had hoped for, but a large park on a Sunday morning after months of not being able to run due to a severe ankle sprain was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.

7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs | Long Haul Trekkers

As we started up the hill, I began to encounter the onslaught of off-leash dogs coming up to us in three-minute intervals, managed by inconsiderate owners. Despite clear and frequent signage mandating leashes, these dog owners seemed not to give a fuck.

We call them “I’ont’s.” Inspired by Big Sean’s rather tasteless rap, “I Don’t F*** with You”

I’ont care that there are rules that require that my dog remain on leash.

I’ont care that you’re running with your dog and my dog interrupts your run so mine can get his butt sniffing on.

I’ont care that you are clearly blocking your dog from meeting mine. I’ll just stand here and watch from my spot across the road.

I’ont care that my pup’s recall is non-existent.

I’ont care that you’re telling me to get my dog, mine’s nice, so it’s not a problem.

7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs | Long Haul Trekkers

When Sora and I are running, or walking, or hiking, or doing any activity together, it means that we don’t want to be disturbed. It means that we want to continue our activity in peace, without your dog breaking our flow. Whether I’m running one mile or 20, I’m sorry, but Sora is not permitted to go to the Butt Sniffing Extravaganza. If you really want to meet, just ask. I may say yes, I may say no, it depends on what we’re doing.

For most of our travels, we have encountered countless off-leash dogs running up to Sora to meet her. Most of these are street dogs, and for the most part are well-socialized and the sweetest creatures we could ever meet. Since they are homeless, there isn’t a lot we can do about them. The positive is that all these sniff-happy dogs have actually helped Sora alleviate some of her aggression and dominance toward other dogs.

We forgive the street dogs, it’s the oblivious dog owner who believes that their untrained dog should run free at all times and run up to any suspecting dog and their humans without first asking permission that aggravates us. In our travels, particularly in countries with high incidences of street dogs, dog training seems to be absent as part of dog ownership and the rules not exactly enforced, if there are even rules in place. 

7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs | Long Haul Trekkers

Sora has knocked over tables, lunged at dogs, and been attacked herself thanks to unknown dogs coming up to her and surprising both her and us.

In Eucador, a pitbull once ran out of his house, bolted across the street and barked furiously at us, while his owner just stood there watching. Dave had to pick up Sora, I had to throw rocks at him and she still just stood there. I finally had to scream at her to come get her dog.

We learned how to say komm her in German thanks to a latte-sipping-completely-unsavvy dog owner whose little pup, Paula wanted to come meet Sora. We blocked a growling Sora from the introduction, but the little pup was set on meeting her, finding her way through our legs to get to Sora. We danced around while Mr. Latte called from his seat calling to Paula “Paula! Komm her.” Over and over. Dude. Paula’s not coming. Get the fuck up and come get her. Not even a half hour later, while out for dinner, Sora knocked over the table at which we sat when a dog ran up from behind and startled her rest. Luckily, dinner had not yet arrived. 

Because we are visitors in foreign lands, we can’t always expect the same courtesies from dog owners as we do in our own country. I can yell at someone for not having their dog on leash, but if that is the norm where they live, then my frustration will not be understood. There is no concept of asking to meet and no comprehension of just because your dog is friendly, doesn’t mean that mine is

Having traveled to so many different countries with various rules and common understandings about dog ownership, we have learned to observe and adapt to what we see in each place we visit. Most street dogs are friendly, but kids or people often abuse them and throw rocks at them. They can also be territorial or join packs to survive. 

I’ve written about how to introduce your nervous dog to new people and other dogs, which covered some of these tips, but through a different lens. We can never expect an owner to know the proper etiquette when it comes to dogs, nor can we expect that their dog is trained. The best approach in a situation when an off-leash dog approaches your dog while traveling in foreign lands, is to focus your attention on controlling your own dog and stay calm.

Encountering off-leash dogs is a regular occurrence for us, and we rely on a few tactics to navigate these unwarranted meetings. You never know how a dog is going to react, so you can only control how you respond.

7 Tips for Handling Off-Leash Dogs | Long Haul Trekkers


Because Sora can be reactive, we are always keeping an eye out for dogs. We watch if the dog is running up to other dogs, or sticking close to his human. Is he in a deep sleep or distracted by a good smell? Does the owner have a leash at the ready to control him if necessary? Is the dog coming when called? Take all of these into account as you size up the situation.

Body Block and Cross to the Other Side

Any time we cross paths with a dog, whether on or off leash, I put Sora on the opposite side of my body where the dog is, allowing my body to act as a blocker between the two.

When applicable, I also cross the street to the other side in order to avoid any chance of confrontation.


If I spot a dog sprinting toward us, I hold out my hand in a STOP motion and say “eht!” to try to stop him from advancing. It honestly doesn’t work most of the time when we’re in foreign countries. If a dog is set on a mission, and he is untrained, then there is little I can do to break his focus.

What it does do is alert the owner that I don’t want their dog approaching and serves as a signal to come and get their dog.

Act Big

If the approaching dog appears aggressive, act big (you’ve already put yourself in between your dog and the incoming dog, right?). Spread your legs and raise your arms like you’re mid jumping jack and say NO!

The aim is to show the dog that you are in charge and you are not giving him permission to approach.

Remain Calm

If the dog approaches regardless of you acting on the above steps, remain calm. With Sora, who likes to dominate, we have had to learn how she likes to meet dogs. This has taken a lot of practice, a lot of understanding of her, and trial and error.

We pet her chin and tell her that it’s OK. If we remembered to bring treats, then we tell her she’s being a good girl and reward her for allowing the dog to approach.

Read and Observe

Understand dog body language. A stiff body signifies discomfort. Slow approach with a rigid body, growling, and shifty eyes are not good signs. A raised tail can have mixed meanings, depending on other body language. After initially meeting, a raised tail for a dog to smell a behind is a “nice to meet you!” and wagging tails can mean “What’s up? I’m interested…” Raise hackles can mean the dog is on guard. Knowing your dog well and dog behavior in general will save you from any potentially dangerous situations.

Call to the Owner

When a dog won’t back off— whether friendly or not, I call to the owner and ask them directly, yet politely, to please get their dog and to keep their dog on leash.

Have you found yourself in this situation often? What tips would you offer to help avoid unwanted greetings from other dogs?


Jen Sotolongo

Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring nature, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

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