Trail Safety

Some of the ways I make sure to keep safe from off leash dogs.


Jackie Johnson

1/29/20225 min read

First of all, I never walk without my can of Spray Shield, even if I don’t have a dog or cat with me. I’ve used it too many times and been kept safe by it too many times to ever feel comfortable without it. It’s just like my knife at this point. Don’t leave home without it, ever!

Spray Shield has quite a few advantages over pepper spray, including some for your own safety. Because it’s citronella based there’s no danger of blow back onto you or your pet. There’s also no short or long term effects on the pet you spray it at, so people who want to act like you’re the aggressor here can piss off.

I’ve deployed this spray several times, each time with an aggressive dog it kept the dog at bay. It has about ten feet of range, and it has kept the dog out of that ten foot range each time. I’ve been circled still, but not approached again.

If you’ve been attacked by a loose dog on a trail you know how scary and out of control these situations can feel. And now that I walk a cat things have gotten even scarier because the intensity level of dogs has tripled when they want to give chase or worse. I feel very strongly about my loved ones' safety, and that includes my students. It's very not fun to be in this type of situation where you feel helpless and with no support from anyone around you. I don't want you to ever feel that way, and I hope through this post you can gain some solutions that make you feel safer and in control on the trail.

I want to make one thing very clear in this post. The people that act entitled about their dogs do not care about you AT ALL. When you’re thinking about how to keep yourself safe you cannot ignore this fact. Part of being defensive is knowing how the aggressor is going to behave. When it comes to lose dogs, you must remember that the other dog owner is not going to care about your safety. They will only begin caring when their own safety is at risk. I’m sure we’ve all come across that person that yells at us “oh, it’s ok, my dog is friendly!”

To them it does not matter that your dog isn’t, your pet is scared, you don’t like or trust strange dogs, you have a small just doesn’t matter. So we need to go about things in a way that addresses this point, as this is the one thing that will keep you safer than anything else we do. These people are entitled and that's how we can count on them to operate.

With this in mind, there are a few things that I do on the trail to keep myself and whatever pet I’m walking safe on the trail.

What I like most about this spray is that when I pull it out, people tend to think it’s mace. Remember when I said that people don’t care until their own dog is in danger? They don’t want their dog maced so they make an actual effort to catch their dog.

They pick up the pace, they grab their leash, they call their dog back more forcefully. No more yelling across the park "he's friendly!"

This means that I don’t actually have a confrontation with their dog and we can go back to our peaceful walk.

You can find Spray Shield at Amazon and some Petsmarts. Look for it on the little rack near the dog training section.

The next thing I want to talk about is pepper spray. They do make a dog version, and by that I mean that it has the highest major capsaicinoids allowed for use in dogs by the EPA. As we all know, dogs have a much more sensitive nasal system then our own, so they don't need as high a level as we use in people.

Dog sprays are formulated to about a level two on the scale, and are significantly lower level than bear spray.

With pepper spray comes the draw backs though. Wind blow back is possible, so we have to be mindful of this if it's used.

However it's more effective than the citronella spray. Spray Shield isn't recommended for serious aggression, and that's something that we have to be even more mindful of when walking a cat. So carrying something with a bit more power may be something you want to look into.

The one I have pictured about sprays about fifteen feet, and is the regular size version. Sabre does make a smaller keychain version of this spray that has a twelve foot radius.

Personally, I think pepper gel is the way to go if walking a cat. I don't feel comfortable at 12-15 feet being an adequate distance from my cat given the level of intensity I have seen from some dogs, and this pepper gel from Sabre has a radius of 25 feet. In addition, being a gel there is almost no risk for blow back onto you or your pet.

The downside being that it is rated much higher than a dog actually needs, but this will absolutely keep you safe. Plus you can use it on people if needed as well. Just an all-around good option for safety.

There are other commonly suggested things to carry like bear spray or wasp spray. As with any self defense option, you need to check your local jurisdiction as to what you can legally carry. I'm pretty sure either most of Canada or all of Canada isn't allowed to use any air-propelled self defense. Meaning both pepper spray and citronella are out. Bear spray is formulated to be strong against bears. Wasp spray is just straight poison. They'll reach the distance, but I strongly against using something like this. It's likely overkill and can have devastating consequences.

Other things I do for our safety include teaching my pet where the safe zones are. Mainly when I'm out walking, Claude can depend on me to keep him safe. There's no running away to hide because he wants to stay with me and we've established a pattern of being that safety zone. He also has a backpack he will go to if he needs some extra security.

I often walk Claude with a long enough drag line that I can swing it if needed. If I see a situation in which I might need to protect us, I can call him over close to me, collect my leash and swing the end of it in order to make space. This alone is enough to often keep dogs away from us. You never want to run away from an attacker. Claim your space, get loud, and act big.

Stay safe out there and happy adventures!