Achieving Balance and Harmony


Dealing with someone else’s troubled dog

By Christy Sanborn

When you are dealing with your own dog, you know that it’s clear who needs to be the Pack Leader, but when you deal with other people’s dogs—especially dogs who are challenged in areas of behavior—what stance should you take?

The troubled dogs you encounter might be a friend’s, a neighbor’s, those you dog sit, or even a stranger’s dog who attacks unexpectedly. In the case of an unbalanced or aggressive dog who belongs to someone you’re friendly with, your friend will probably prioritize your safety and comfort when you are in the presence of the dog inside or outside their home.

Be cooperative They may even be in the process of patiently trying to train their dog, but are having a rough time making headway. In situations like these, while making sure that it is safe to be in the dog’s presence, you’ll want to offer respect, sympathy, and understanding to establish the energy of trust with the dog’s Pack Leader. The best thing you can do for this dog and its owner is to practice "no touch, no talk, and no eye contact" when first meeting the dog. In the long run, be supportive of your friend's efforts. If you have strong leadership skills and you are comfortable enough, ask your friend to let you demonstrate how you let the dog know you’re the alpha.

Enlist help If you are caring for someone else’s dog while they are absent, it will be easier to establish your leadership, because you will be in charge of their food and exercise routine. It's a great opportunity to practice "exercise, discipline, and affection," in that order. Before you take over, ask the owner about any behavioral issues that the dog might have, how the owner addresses them, and if their methods are effective. What works for them may work for you, but just in case, you may want to do some research on the specific issue—whether on Cesar’sWay or by consulting a local trainer—and come prepared with alternate methods of addressing the issue.

Love thy neighbor If you are dealing with a neighbor dog who continuously displays the same behavioral patterns, such as barking or threatening attack, it’s best to talk to your neighbor directly and see if there is an immediate remedy. Your own dog might be the reason for the turmoil, you might want to learn how to make your neighbors (and their dogs) get along with your own dog. If your neighbor refuses to address the issue in any way, while it may sound harsh, you might want to find out what local laws may apply to the situation, and how to best proceed from there.

In the most extreme case of being attacked by a strange dog, these are the “Do’s” and “Do Nots” to keep in mind:


  • Take the grounded stance of a pack leader.
  • Give a command to the dog like “Down,” or “Sit”. This could provide time for you to back off.
  • Get ready to block without hesitation by using a stick or pole that will keep the dog away from vulnerable areas of your body. If you don’t have those, use your leg or offer a part of your clothing like your sleeve.
  • Spray them with water if you can.
  • Cover their head with a cloth or blanket.
  • Do Not:

  • Smile, as this is interpreted as bearing your teeth.
  • Run away — the instinct of an attacking dog is to run after its prey.
  • Pull away if it’s biting or tearing at you. It will persist with more ferocity.
  • Assume a threatening position — instead, stand sideways without making eye contact.
  • Though this would be an extreme situation, it doesn't hurt to be prepared. Generally, with patience and repetition, you can establish rapport with dogs who display signs of a difficult history.

    We’d love to hear your stories and tips on how you've handled troubled dogs.

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