To Leash or Not to Leash?
From a dog’s perspective there is no pleasure greater than having an unencumbered opportunity to romp, sniff and explore. Snuffling through leaves, rooting deep in the dirt and navigating across natural terrain is the essence of being a dog. Being able to move at liberty in the way our ancestral dogs did, provides our pets with biological fulfillment that increases both their physical and mental well-being.
However, providing a dog these type of opportunities can be challenging. Natural areas that allow dogs to be off leash are often few and far between. Other than a handful of municipalities that have under control ordinances in effect, most trails require dogs to remain on leash. The rules are understandable because rules are generally created for the lowest common denominator. And there are plenty of dog owners that don't have their animal under control which, ultimately, spoils it for everyone. :-(
Then there is the group of dog owners that break the rules and take their dog off leash regardless of the posted leash regulations. That is who I want to address in this post because I suspect, as a fellow dog enthusiast, I understand the motivation. I also relish opportunities to allow a dog some physical freedom to run, sniff and be a dog before returning to the confines of a mostly concrete community. It is joyful for me to see my dog joyful, but more so, I know the mental well-being that comes from the experience.
It is the rule breaking that often causes conflict in a community. When others see dogs off leash it causes concern. It may be concern for their personal safety, the safety of their children or perhaps the safety of their on-leash pet. This is where we, as pet owners need to step it up and employ our skills of empathy. Think about the other people and pets as much as you think about yourself and your own companion.
My advice is simple:
Unless an under control ordinance allows for it, NEVER have your dog off leash in an area of high public use.
If you're going to break the rules in an out of the way green space or on a low trafficked trail then ALWAYS keep a leash with you and put your dog back on it whenever you see someone else approaching.
Putting the dog back on a leash is a matter of simple respect for anyone else in that immediate area. It does not matter how friendly your dog is. Just because you’re dog wants to say hello, does not mean he or she needs to or that the other person wants your dog to wander over to them.
The personal space of other people and other pets should always be respected.
Even if you have a very well trained, very reliable dog that won’t wander to bother anyone else…please put the leash on anyway. The visual image of having a physical connection restraining your dog puts others more at ease.
If we dog lovers want to make headway in increasing access for our pets in public areas then it is critical we consider the perspective of others that share that space.