A few days ago, I was sitting and having my morning coffee while skimming through my Facebook feed when an interesting post on one of the German shepherd groups I participate in caught my eye. A young woman had made a post describing her morning walk with her dog. She took her dog to a public park to walk off leash. She commented that her dog would run up toward people and other dogs to “Say Hello” to them, ignoring any recall cues given. She described people pulling their dogs away, or picking them up if size permitted, and scolding her for allowing her dog to run off leash in a public park. This young woman complained that she was being treated with disrespect and that truly her dog was “just being friendly.” She felt as if she was completely in the right, and that other people just “didn’t understand her dog, because she was a German shepherd.”
Many of us have been there; I know I have on numerous occasions, and it is honestly one of my biggest pet peeves. I currently own three fairly drivey dogs – a German shepherd, a German shepherd cross, and a Shiba Inu. My dogs never leave my house off leash, even though two of the three have lovely recalls and typically do not wander far from my side. This doesn’t mean we don’t visit off-leash dog parks and that they don’t get to run; they totally do. However, I choose to protect and stand up for my dogs by keeping them leashed when in public. Aside from following your local leash laws, there are numerous reasons to walk your canine companion on leash when out in public.
One of the first, and what should be most obvious reasons, to walk your dog on leash is that not everyone will be excited or happy to see your pup. It’s hard for us as dog lovers to swallow, but we have to face the facts. Some people just don’t like our choice of furry, four-legged companions, and typically they have good reason. Keep in mind, some people truly fear dogs, especially large ones. I know someone who actually loves the company of dogs, all except for Great Danes, because she was bitten by one as a young child. Some people have allergies, and being mauled/licked by your overzealous friend could cause a serious reaction for them. You do not know the stranger walking toward you on the sidewalk, so please don’t assume that they like dogs simply because they are in a park where people walk their dogs.
The next point I will touch on is a matter of safety for your dog. There are thousands upon thousands of stimulants in our world, many of which we don’t pick up on that our dogs do. One of my dogs will call off of nearly anything and come running to me when I ask her to. However, I know that if a squirrel is nearby, that’s a complete deal breaker. What if I were to have my dog off leash and a squirrel ran past us into the street? My dog would likely pay the ultimate price for my confidence and stupidity. I care too deeply for my pets to risk that. Walking your dog on leash is a way to help ensure that your beloved friend doesn’t end up somewhere dangerous for her.
My final point is a matter of safety for not only your dog, but other people and their dogs, too. As I mentioned before, I own a German shepherd. She is still young, and at the time of the following story, she was roughly 8 months old and going through a bit of a tough fear stage. She had become a little uncomfortable with strangers and other dogs, and would hide behind me while barking. Knowing how well she had been socialized in her young life, I felt comfortable taking her to a local park where I play disc golf in order to work her and help her through this stage. I had her tethered to me on a runner’s lead so that I could maintain close control, while still giving her the freedom to make her decisions about what to explore. I had her in a down stay while I was setting up for my next throw, and here comes this big goofy lab, off leash, barreling toward us. The owner calls from the other side of the park, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” I sigh, bite my tongue, and call back that my dog is having a hard time with strange dogs and I would like for her to have her space, as I am helping her with it. He calls his dog, and it falls on deaf ears. Fortunately, for my situation, I have a pretty well trained puppy. I calmed her, asked to sit, held her collar, and waited for the owner to come collect his dog. Some cases aren’t so lucky. Some dogs prefer their own space, and do not want a crazy, exuberant dog, or any dog, in their face. The stress of it can sometimes force this kind of dog to go on the offensive, in which case a fight can break out, and sadly, it is often the dog who bit, not the dog who was off leash, who takes the blame. Regardless of whether your dog is friendly or not, not every dog out there wants to play with others. This is something else to keep in mind, as it can cause injuries to your own dog, and another person’s dog who was simply minding his own business.
Don’t forget that leash laws don’t only apply to when you and Fido are out in public. They apply in your neighborhood, too! It can be just as dangerous to let your dog outside off leash “just to potty” in your yard, as it can be to walk him off leash at the park or around the neighborhood.
Overall, I find that if your dog does not have a 110% perfect recall and a 110% perfect heel position, it is not only unsafe, but rude to allow your dog to walk off leash in public. Leash walking is tough skill for your pup to learn, but it can be a wonderfully rewarding skill when taught properly, for both you and your dog. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed with Fido on his walks, remember that a great force-free reward based training program can go a long way to make your walks more enjoyable and safe!