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Walking or Hiking Off Leash With Your Dog?

Walking your dog off leash is like picking your nose, but more dangerous.

Both are something that no one else should have to see you doing.  Okay, it’s not quite the same – dogs LOVE to be off leash, and it’s a lot of fun.  If you know the dog is safe, it’s enjoyable to watch.  But some people are afraid of dogs, some are allergic, and some dogs don’t like other dogs. And picking your nose isn’t against the law. On a trail, when the people you meet don’t know you and your dog, and vice versa, it’s important that leash your dog up as soon as you know they might be in contact with another person.

I was walking my dog through Ravenna park in Seattle this morning, enjoying the beauty of the crisp fall day.  A trail was merging with my trail, and I could see two off-leash dogs, a Labrador Retriever and a German Shepherd, walking along the other trail with their two owners.  A jogger was coming up behind me.

The other two dogs joined my trail about 30 feet ahead of us, and started walking in the same direction my dog and I were walking.  The jogger passed me and my on-leash dog, which I called a little closer to me before he passed, so that the jogger would feel safe.

Just before the jogger passed, by, the lab owner called her dog and held his collar. The other woman didn’t call her dog, or if she did, he didn’t come.  The jogger had to wind his way around them. The 90 pound German Shepherd trotted a few steps after him, sniffing the air.

They had stopped (because the lab owner still had a hand on her dog’s collar, which was nice). I passed by them and the German Shepherd came up to sniff my dog.  The woman asked (too late), “Should I call him?” Um…YEAH!  But I was only thinking of Peanut and the unfairness of being approached by an off leash dog, while on leash, so I took him off leash for the greeting, as the lab’s owner let go.

Peanut doesn’t particularly like other dogs, especially if it starts out with the unfair disadvantage of him being on leash while the other dog is off leash.  He was stiff and his fur went up.  The lab owner bragged about how social her dog was because she always let him meet other dogs.

The implication was that I’ve done something to cause his anti-social behavior. Actually, he’s always been a nervous dog and I’ve rehabilitated his aggression.  He used to bark at people and dogs from 100 feet away. I work very hard to keep him under threshold, including (usually) protecting him from situations like this. I should have walked the other way, when I saw the owners poorly manage the situation with the jogger.

Some people assume that because their dog is friendly, all dog greetings will go well. Generally, these same people also think that owners of reactive dogs are bad owners, that because their dog is happy and friendly, they must be good owners. Granted, things like puppy class, early socialization, and being calm & confident during walks help a TON, so they deserve credit for that. But there are some dogs that are just more work than others, plain and simple.

The people I work with who have aggressive dogs are committed, devoted, hard-working people that are no worse than any other dog owners. They deserve the right to walk their dog in peace and safety, too.

I managed to keep from ranting that allowing their dogs to go willy-nilly up to other dogs and joggers endangers other hikers.

But I promptly went home and started to write this article to rant about off leash dogs. :)

It is because of people who blithely think, “My dog loves everyone!” that hundreds of thousands of people can’t even walk their dogs, for fear of being approached by an off leash dog.

Certainly everyone in my Growly Dog class is sick of trying to keep their dogs safe from “Friendly Dogs.”  Yes, you read that right: these responsible people spend every walk with their dogs keeping their aggressive dog safe from the approaching friendly dog.

Why do I phrase it that way? Because if your off-leash, friendly Labrador goes up to a fear-aggressive Golden Retriever, and the Golden Retriever attacks, that Golden now is more likely to be put to sleep, either by the city of Seattle or the owner.  Even though the lab was the one breaking the leash law. It’s not fair to flout the law and walk your dog off-leash if you cannot control him 100%.  You are ENDANGERING others.

Now, mind you, the dogs on this morning’s walk didn’t do anything vicious or threatening.  The lab was actually quite un-lab-like and gave Peanut a polite sniff and got Peanut’s message: I don’t want to play.  Most Labs and Goldens are quite rude in their friendly ignorance. But their mere presence, off leash an uncontrolled, in a public place, is unacceptable.  What if the jogger had been afraid of dogs? What if my dog was afraid of their dogs? (he was)

Letting your dog off leash when you don’t have perfect control just makes responsible dog owners look bad. It’s like not picking up your dog’s poop.

Do you walk your dog off leash on hikes or in the city? Take this quick quiz.

Off Leash Dog Quiz:

  1. Does your dog come when called, 100% of the time, even from squirrels, other dogs, joggers, cats, and children? Are you willing to bet thousands of dollars that she’ll come back right away?
  2. Does your dog sit and stay with all of the above distractions?
  3. Do you call your dog long, long *before* they encounter people or other dogs on hikes, then physically contain them until the people pass by?*
  4. Do you have an eye on your dog and know if anyone is on the trail ahead / behind at all times?
  5. Do you bring a leash with you?
  6. Do you put your dog on leash when you walk in busier areas?
  7. Do you never let your dog go around a corner without you, making them stay at least 10 feet back from all blind corners until you’ve made sure nobody’s coming?

If you said yes to all of these questions, congratulations, I’m not ranting about you!  If you said no to 1 or 2, then your dog isn’t ready to go off-leash yet. Use a long-line, instead, if you want your dog to have more freedom.  Practice Silky Leash so your dog doesn’t pull, if that’s why you’ve been going off leash.  If you said no to the other questions, then now is the right time to change, to promote safety in Seattle’s parks and hiking trails.

*Note that in #3, I said physically contain, as in grab the collar or put the leash on.  Your dog may stay without it, but it doesn’t promote a feeling of safety for the person who is afraid of dogs or the protective owner of a dog in aggression rehab.  Did you know that your dog can be reported as a dangerous dog if a person just feels threatened by your dog? This first strike can’t be contested in court, either, so you’ll just be stuck with it.

P.S. Don’t forget to vote on or before November 4th.

Written by Grisha Stewart, Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle [Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon] Tweet This Post!
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6 Responses to “Walking or Hiking Off Leash With Your Dog?”

  1. Dog Lover Says:

    Very timely – today I was walking my dog around Green Lake and his dog/dog stuff was going so well (automatic “watch me” when he saw a dog), and then there was a Viszla OFF LEASH running around. As we got closer, I called out, “my dog is not friendly” and they looked at me like I was a pariah, when they were the ones totally breaking the law and being discourteous!!! I was so frustrated because here I was working hard to keep my dog under threshold and appropriate, and it was almost blown by their dog. Off leash at Green Lake – unbelievable.

  2. Grisha Says:

    Green Lake is relatively safe from off leash dogs, but every so often, it’s terrible! Don’t get me started on extendible leashes, which are off leash with the pleasant twist that the people don’t think they need to pay as much attention.

    I was teaching a Fluency Field Trip at Green Lake last summer. We were up on the grassy area in Woodland park, right near the road. A dog ran up to us and his owner was far behind. She didn’t even call him. I shouted out to ask her to call her dog and she said, “He wouldn’t come if I did!”

    Can you imagine caring so little about your dog’s life that you would be willing to risk walking near a busy road and other dogs and squirrels with no ability to call him back?!

  3. Terra Says:

    I was working my very reactive boy in a park in the far back corner away from all the hub bub that goes on in public parks, on a 30′ lead doing recall and getting him used to proximity to me. Luckyboy was about 15′ away from me, on his recall when i see a golden mix barreling down on us. Now, Luckyboy’s recall in public was still shaky, but introduce the trigger of another dog, and it was nonexistent, but he was coming to me.
    I called out to the owner to call of her dog, and her response? He just wants to play. REALLY????? I again call out to her to call of her dog, and Lucky notices the other dog, and sat, but started screaming and braying. The other dog veer off, and Lucky proceeded to take me water skiing through the rather large puddle that stood in his path. I end up on my rear, and the lady, no joke yells at me that my dog is dangerous and should not be out in public.

    I have never been so angry in my life. That 5 seconds that my dog was dragging me were the scariest moments of my life and I have not taken him back to that park since. His recall is almost 100% and he is becoming less reactive, but I still will never take him somewhere where a chance encounter with an off leash dog will ruin all the hard work he has put in on learning to come to me, and that i will keep him safe.

    My other dog has been attacked in our neighborhood by a roaming dog and now i never leave home without spray sheild because of it.

  4. Sporti Says:

    Im horrified that in America with all your wonderful parks and trails you have to keep your dogs on the lead. Here in the Uk you let your dog off where you want. We very rarely have trouble with fighting dogs on walks as they are used to being off lead and arent frustrated at not being able to run free. You start your pup off the lead straight away and then it isnt a big issue. Its not a dogs life in the USA!

  5. Patty Says:

    Thanks for writing that, “Sporti” — that’s exactly how I feel. Leashed dogs in a hiking-trail situation are a huge problem for my dog and I, whereas off-leash dogs pose no problem. As “Sporti” wrote, some dogs are used to being off-leash and interacting in a healthy way with other dogs, as long as the other dog isn’t tied to a human being. I wish that people who need their dogs to be leashed would walk them in one of the million places where it’s appropriate, and leave just a few natural areas for those of us who don’t want or need our dogs leashed.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I understand that most people feel that an on-leash trail should be sacrosanct. Most dog owners know that not every dog will enjoy the company of another dog in their face and that not every dog needs to be social. That said, it is relatively unfair for off leash walkers and runners of their dogs to have virtually no outlets for their preferred method of exercise. Communities and municipalities who refuse to assist by not creating off-leash trails make it worse. People are in essence forced to bend rules in order to keep themselves and their animals happy.

    There are numerous dogs that are reactive on leash, trails are narrow enough as it is and running on a narrow trail with a leashed dog can prove difficult, regardless of others being present. The terrain is rough and not easy to balance while controlling a leaded animal, not to mention the near impossibility if your are managing multiple animals.

    Realistically, there should be common sense used. As in, off-leash walking a.m., on-leash p.m. If you have an aggressive dog, don’t take it to a trail ever until you have rehabilitated it. If you have a reactive dog, know the triggers and warn others who approach. If you let your dog off-leash, know your dog well enough and have it trained well enough to be consistently reliable.

    And for dog owners out there who have dogs who are reactive while on leash, do not ever EVER let that dog lead you on the leash, you lead it. Be in front of the problem and if you see people with other dogs, let them know the situation so they can fully understand yours. Don’t let your reactive dog sit there and lunge and bark and pull, manage it and work on it.

    One of the benefits of off-leash walks, a dog that is reactive on-leash because of fear may not be off the lead because that dog knows it can run from the problem.

    I get it, dog owners can be oblivious. Off-leash ones as well as on leash. I for one love trail running and have trained my dogs to run off the trail within sight. One of them is too fearful of people to safely run on lead with me, one is too reactive on-leash with other dogs and another is just perfect. They reliably obey orders off leash, I don’t always ask that they come to me but I ask that they stay to the right or left of a trail. But owners of other dogs who are aggressive or reactive on leash and they don’t give vocal warning? That is a serious problem and as an owner, they need to let people know. All dog owners should be vigilant of their animal, their responsibility and the environment that they have taken their responsibly into. Try and control and plan for all variables, and off-leash Walkers and on-leash walkers should be able to exist in harmony on the same trail at the same time.

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