What exactly happens when you unclip your lead and let your dog run free in public areas? I think we all get the idyllic image of a free running, happy faced dog with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. Yet letting Fido off lead can unleash a whole host of horrors. What you don’t see is the sheer terror experienced by others—by dogs and people, the hidden dangers for your dog, and the ugly aftermath that may ensue for a lifetime.
Impact on Others
Even if your dog is the friendliest four legged on the planet weighing in wet at 20 pounds, he can set others into panic. As responsible dog owners we must remain cognizant of the fact that not everyone loves dogs or your particular dog. As well as the fact that dogs –no matter how well trained—are not predictable. No dog or human is.
Consider The Two Leggeds Around You
Many people are afraid of dogs and simply seeing a loose dog can induce fear let alone having the dog barrel up to them no matter the dog’s intent. I’ve also unfortunately seen elderly people knocked over, their thin skin bruised and large dogs joyously pounce up on pregnant women. I’ve seen countless children screaming & crying because an overly exuberant Fido followed them around…not even making contact. The fact is you don’t know everyone’s story or history and we need to be respectful of other’s rights to enjoy a stroll.
Consider the Other Four Legged Friends
As an owner of a dog fearful of other dogs, walks are always a precarious event. I might have to walk a mile or more out of my way to turn around and avoid a loose dog—hoping I don’t encounter another in the other direction. As a trainer I work with many dogs that have this very same issue. It only takes ONE negative experience to traumatize many dogs. Your friendly dog could be that one. A loose dog approaching a fearful dog is enough to cause severe stress. And each time after, the dog becomes more highly sensitized fearing a negative encounter. Ever had someone zoom past you on the highway just narrowly side swiping you? It’s unnerving and can set you on edge every time another car passes in somewhat close vicinity. Another dog doesn’t have to make contact with a scared dog to set them into panic. Now the owner has days, weeks, or months of behavior modification work ahead. As a trainer, I see some dogs who can never fully recover from negative off lead dog experiences. It is very sad they cannot enjoy being out in the world for the few who have infringed upon their rights to walk unaccosted.
There are so many tragic cases of dogs being bitten as well as their owners who were trying to break it up. Sadly, some end in death. Most frequently heard by the owner of the loose dog is “he’s never done that before!”
It is not only dogs who are afraid of other dogs we need to be concerned about. As with people, dogs may be suffering from any number of physical illnesses or rehabilitating from injuries that you cannot see and most are so very stoic. And let’s not forget our sweet seniors who often move slower, are weaker and prefer not to be charged by an exuberant youth. If you are not feeling well, would you want to be rushed up upon?
Impact on Your Own Dog
Letting your dog off lead also opens a Pandora’s box of problems for her.
Harm from Dog or Human
There are many dogs who do NOT take lightly an invasion of their personal space. Whether afraid or simple dislike, dogs can and will react defensively aggressive. So now you have put your dog at risk of getting bit and injured.
People too, will naturally act defensively. I will never ever forget the day my young social dog ON LEASH excitedly jumped on a man to greet him and was kicked in the chest. I was very angry and thought it inappropriate, but ultimately I had no one to be angry with but myself for not having better control of my dog to keep him safe. Make no mistake that when an off lead dog is approaching one’s safely leashed dog or child that the person will go all “Mama Bear” to all means and extents to keep their dog or child safe—even if that means harm to your dog. Wouldn’t you do the same?
Dogs will never be 100% reliable –ever, no matter what. It only takes once and your dog can be gone forever. I’m sure you’ve heard the same countless tales I have that “My dog NEVER did that before!” from a surprised owner. There’s always a first time and sometimes that first time is the last time.
When your dog is roaming free you cannot foresee environmental dangers such as poison ivy, blue-green algae in the water, dangerous garbage or foods like gum with deadly xylitol lying around that can quickly be ingested, broken class, fishing hooks and more that can seriously harm her.
Impact on Wildlife
While it may be the least of your concerns, we need to remember we share this world. From birds to bunnies and every creature in between they comprise our ever important mutually shared ecosystem. Wildlife can be impacted by direct predation but even a dog chasing an animal “for fun” endangers it. Energy is very expensive and animals conserve it wisely. Escaping a dog can exhaust the animal’s energy leaving it unable to search for food or feed it’s young which is obviously detrimental to survival. Other considerations include transmission of diseases (it goes both ways) and competition for resources, especially water.
The bottom line is this: let’s all be respectful of each other’s space and the land we share. Everyone has the right to walk without feeling threatened. Your dog does not need to be off lead to have fun! Dogs love to spend time WITH us! Walking side by side is one of the greatest bonding activities we can do with our dogs!