When it comes to speaking my mind, I’m not one to hold back, and when it comes to speaking out about irresponsible dog owners, I usually can’t hold my tongue. So, today was no exception.
It seems that I am always confronted on the topic of off leash dogs. Since I teach canine behavior at and for animal shelters, and help facilitate structured playgroups, people often think that I am in favor of dog parks -I AM NOT! People would also think that I am in favor of dogs being off leash -I AM NOT. So, why do I feel so strongly?
Some Simple Thoughts:
Let’s start off with the fact that most dogs are not properly trained and don’t understand a basic recall, COME Command! Owners are usually oblivious that their dogs don’t know the command either. So, we have a recipe for disaster. On several occasions, including today, I’ve been confronted by off leash dogs when I am training my dogs. Let me add one thing; I have NO problem with people having their dogs off leash if the dog is completely under the owners control, and these people exist. I see them all the time. These dogs follow their owners, listen to their owners, go right back to their owners when called and do NOT interfere with other dogs or people. Those dogs can safely be off leash. Now I will tell you about those dogs that shouldn’t be off leash – whether the dog is friendly or not, the dog should NOT be off leash if the owner can’t control the dog in the presence of distractions, that means people, other dogs, kids playing ball, etc.
I am working my dogs at the park, training (yes off leash) and another dog runs up to greet my dog. Luckily one of my dogs is very friendly. Goofy greets the dog and then I give him the command to heel, which he follows. The owner of the other dog calls his dog a few times trying to get him to come – he doesn’t, but slowly leaves me and Goofy to train. After about 2-3 minutes he returns, not to play, but to try and mount my dog while my dog is in a focussed heel. My dog pays him no attention (because I told him so), as I whack the dog off of my dog all the while keeping stride in our heel. Better that I do it, than my dog, my correction is easier. It is very bad manners for a dog to run up on a dog and put his head over the shoulders of another dog and then try to mount that dog. Goofy paid the dog no attention, because I was there. The owner again called over and over to his dog and somewhere between my smacks and the owners calling, the dog left. But he did not return to the owner, instead he ran up on some small children playing and scared the children and the family. The dog was not all that aggressive, but was a pain in the ass, just like the owner.
Goofy and I finish training and I take Maya out. Maya is not keen on dogs running up on her, but she won’t run up to other dogs. So, at the park, Maya and I are about to begin our training. Up runs an off leash dog, the owner sitting doing NOTHING. I tell her to please call her dog, because my dog doesn’t like other dogs in her face. She calls repeatedly, but to no avail. The more she called, the more the dog ignored her. Eventually I moved Maya away and the owner spent the next 10 minutes trying to get her dog across a large field. Suddenly the dog ran up on Maya again, at which point I asked the lady why she doesn’t just put her dog on a leash. She ignored me until I persisted. “Put your dog on a leash!” Instead she threw a ball. When I confronted her again, she said my dog isn’t trained and I can’t get him on a leash. Which begs the question, “Why would you let your dog run around a park off leash if your dog is not trained?” This is setting a dog up for complete failure.
People inherently think that freedom is what a dog needs, and I would say that dogs need freedom, but safe freedom. Letting your dog run off leash in a park is dangerous. Your dog could run away, get hit by a car, get bitten by another dog and a bunch of other things. Freedom is not a dog’s friend. Structure is. Once the dog understands some basics, like a good recall and to stay with their owner, then YES they can have freedom – controlled freedom!
Anyone who lets their dog off leash without having control over their dog is either stupid or ignorant. And control means CONTROL. That doesn’t mean, ‘My dog listens as long as there aren’t any other dogs around.’ It means, “MY DOG LISTENS!” We make excuses, but the bottom line is that we are responsible for our dogs. Teach them structure and then still keep them on leash. The only time my dogs are off leash is during training and controlled play. I know my dogs will recall, I know my dogs will leave it. Its because of this training that my dogs are safe. My dogs don’t run up to other dogs, they stay with me. If they leave and I call them, they COME.
Off leash dogs present a host of issues, they pester people, other dogs, kids, cause accidents and are at risk of running away. Even somewhat trained dogs spook and run away. Before you let your dog off leash, proof them. Make sure they will recall and will leave it even under distractions that means, kids playing ball, bikes, cars, other dogs, squirrels, birds and anything else you can imagine. If they can’t do it, they can have a happy life on leash and be off leash in a fenced in area. This isn’t about ego, its about keeping dogs safe. Just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean other dogs are friendly!
If you see someone with a dog off leash, watch them, if they don’t have control over their dog, mention it nicely once or twice. Then explain to them that they are selfishly placing their dog in danger!