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Dealing safely with an off-leash dog

You're a responsible dog owner. You always have your dog on a leash when you go for a walk. Unfortunately, many other people aren't so responsible. People walk their dogs off-leash all the time -- particularly in townhome and condominium complexes.

They're convinced that their dogs will remain by their side no matter what. Unfortunately, that's simply not true. Too often, the sight of another dog is too irresistible to pass up. Maybe the dog who's on a leash starts barking at them, and they take that as an invitation to fight.

Here in San Mateo County, as in many jurisdictions, it's illegal for a dog to be off-leash anywhere but an enclosed area -- even on private property. Moreover, it's dangerous, both to animals and people.

If you and your dog are approached by an off-leash dog, you want to prevent a dogfight. It's essential to remain calm and try to keep your dog calm. It's best if you can move away quickly, but without running. That will only make the dog chase you. If the dog follows you, try to get behind a barrier, like a car.

You may try to get between your dog and the off-leash dog, and use a firm voice with them (without yelling). That will likely at least divert the dog's attention from your pet.

If a fight breaks out, you should never get in between the two dogs. That can result in a serious bite. If the other owner is there, by this point, they should be helping to calm the situation. If there's someone else there, you can separate the dogs apart by lifting their back legs and pulling them away from each other.

If you regularly encounter off-leash dogs on your walks, it may be wise to carry along something that makes a loud noise, a spray bottle with water or a walking stick. If you feel safe doing so, remind the owner that the county has leash laws. Carrying the leash in their hands while the dog walks along unleashed doesn't count as using a leash.

If you are bitten by an off-leash dog, it's wise to seek medical treatment. If you're seriously injured, you may want to consider taking legal action against the owner and/or whoever was responsible for the dog to get compensation for expenses and damages, including any harm to your dog.

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