Walking the Dog, part four

So tomorrow I’ll pick up another theme — I promise — but I just can’t leave this subject without discussing a “variation” on the basic dog walk that seems to be getting all too popular. I’m talking about folks letting their dogs run free, off-leash.  I mostly see this at the nearby county parks.  I understand how it is awfully tempting to give Rex that extra freedom.  First off, most dogs obviously LOVE to romp around a large space with grass and bushes and scent trails from all sorts of wild-life to explore!  Plus, Rex gets MORE exercise running about off-leash than he possibly could on-leash, right?  (And, of course, un-clipping his lead neatly side-steps any problems with poor leash manners!)

There are OTHER problems with letting Rex roam off-leash, though.  1) First off, it’s against the law!   It violates the leash laws current in most communities. In addition, all the parks around here POST at the entrance “The Rules” and always include dogs are to remain on trails and on leash!  If we ignore that, then why should folks obey the “no firearms” or “no alcohol” rules?  2)  It puts your dog in danger from following a scent or chasing an animal until he’s lost, runs across a road, or encounters an animal that will fight back.  3) It puts your dog and others in potential danger when they meet off leash.

Leash laws have been passed to make sure that handlers have control of their dogs at all times.  Unless Rex has a rock-solid, bomb-proof RECALL he is OUT of your control the second you un-clip the lead from his collar.  Most of our dogs will come when called inside, in their own yard, probably around the neighborhood – all familiar, rather hum-drum spaces.  When Rex goes to the PARK! – it’s a whole new ballgame!  Unless you’ve frequently trained in new spaces– practicing the Recall where Rex will have 20 million scents and sights and sounds that (I’m sorry) are far more interesting than you are — and unless he’s been 100% consistent in coming when called in those new places, then you cannot be sure he will obey at the PARK!

Certain breeds of dogs – mostly the hounds, sight or scent, should NEVER be off-leash except in a fenced-in area.  Their instincts are far too strong to CHASE!  Shelters get loads of Beagles, Harriers, and other Hound-mixes because the dog was off following some little critter and couldn’t find his way home before being picked up by animal control.  Other breeds like Huskies are also poor risks for the same reason – their prey drive just takes over!  And you can’t play down the danger cars pose to dogs running free. Even if you’re on a trail that seems far away from the roads – what about the parking lot?  If a dog scares up a bunny or deer it could take off in a straight line that might encounter a car far more quickly than you’d think.  I’m not willing to take that risk!

But, to me, the main reason to keep Rex on a leash at the park is that there are sure to be lots of other owners and dogs around, and you don’t know them (the person OR dog) or how they will react.   Nor do you know, with certainty, how Rex will react to those other dogs and people!   Most folks I encounter with off-leash dogs shout out, “Oh, my dog’s friendly!” as if this covers all possible contingencies!  Think about it, folks!  Just because YOUR dog is friendly doesn’t mean that all other dogs and people will be friendly towards your dog!

And allow me to take such “friendly” claims with a grain of salt!  To be on the safe side, I’ve taken to responding, “Oh?  Mine isn’t!” when they say that. This is not really true – Kita gets along very well with other dogs if I introduce her slowly — but that response is the only one I’ve found that will make other owners call their dogs back and put them on leash with no discussion.  Unfortunately, this might be giving Kita an underserved reputation.  Still, Kita, being big, black and a GSD is going to be the bad guy no matter what happens, so I’d rather nip possible problems in the bud.

To be frank, I’ve considered carrying mace or pepper spray to keep dogs at a distance just in case they don’t obey their owner – or if they run up with no owner in sight!  That happens a lot!  Not just in the park, but also when I’m walking in the new, fashionable neighborhoods that prohibit fencing!  Walking Kita and a boarding Spaniel and having a Rottie and a Pittie rush out to defend their territory – with only an 11-year-old boy to try and restrain them — is not an experience I’m eager to have repeated.

I’d much rather see folks “bending” the 6-foot limit part of the leash law and put Rex on a long-line.  Of course, you can buy a 30-foot lead at the pet-supply store, but you can make one much cheaper with a package of clothesline and a clip from the hardware store.  This would give Rex a lot more freedom, but allow you a “back-up plan” if he fails the Recall Review at an awkward moment!

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