Do you let your dog run off-leash in public? Maybe on a
deserted trail? Or in a big field? Or maybe in your yard while you’re
gardening? If your answer is yes, realize that you are putting your dog in danger,
as well as those people who are walking nearby. Think I’m crazy? Think your dog
is so friendly that he wouldn’t harm a fly? Think his recall is 100% reliable?
In the past month, three dog-training friends have
experienced dog aggression from unleashed dogs. In all three incidents, both
they and their on-leash dogs have been injured. All three incidents required
emergency veterinary care for the dogs and wound management for the people.
This month’s article will talk about how to protect your dog and yourself from
an unleashed dog, when and where it’s safe and appropriate to have your dog
unleashed, as well as the risk and danger to which you’re exposing your dog
(and others) when unleashed.
What’s the Problem with an
Unleashed dogs have always evoked a silent fury from me –
for many reasons. First, unless your dog has 100% recall (meaning: you can call
him away from a herd of deer), you’re putting your dog at serious risk of
getting lost, run over, in a fight with another dog, or shot (in some states,
it’s legal to shoot a dog that is harassing livestock). By the way, there’s no
such thing as 100% recall – even the best dog trainers out there can’t control
the actions of another thinking being. You might have mighty good recall, but it’ll
never be 100%. Just like I’m not a violent person, but there might be the
perfect storm of conditions in which I might haul off and punch someone (if
their dog is unleashed and gets into a fight with mine, for instance). The cost
of “freedom” is very high – and the dog could pay with it’s life. And I get
angry when I see owners knowingly put their dog at risk by unleashing the dog
when they haven’t trained a reliable recall.
That fury I mentioned earlier? It’s silent until that unleashed dog comes
barreling over to see my reactive, leashed
dog. The owner is jogging behind with a big smile, “He just wants to say hi.
He’s very friendly!” While your dog
might be the director of the social committee, not everyone’s dog enjoys
another dog running up to him. Some dogs are downright offended (or terrified)
and will react with snarls, growls, and lunges toward Mr. Friendly (and so very
My favorite unleashed dog incident happened about 15 years
ago when I had a dog who didn’t like people. He was always on leash in public. He was fine with dogs, but not their
owners. We were at Assateague Island and an unleashed dog came bounding up with
the owner’s obligatory “He’s friendly!” I told the guy it was no problem, but
he had to stay where he was, he couldn’t come closer. “How am I going to get my
dog?” he asked. “Call him,” I said. “He won’t come, he wants to see your dog.”
I was thinking “you should have thought about that before your let your dog off
leash.” What if my dog felt the same way about dogs as he did people? That
unleashed dog would have been in a world of trouble. And that’s not fair to
that unleashed dog. His owner let him experience “freedom” without teaching him
how to stay out of trouble (by teaching him to come when called). Just because
your dog is friendly doesn’t mean every dog out there wants your dog to come
The Risks of an Unleashed Dog
Most states and municipalities have a leash law. If you
allow your dog to run unleashed in a public space, you’re putting yourself and
your dog at risk. You are liable for your dog’s actions. If your dog is
unleashed and gets into a fight with a leashed dog, the law will probably
protect the leashed dog. You will likely be responsible for any medical and
veterinary bills resulting from a dog fight.
Leashed dogs rarely get hit by cars. It’s those dogs that
are running loose that wind up in the emergency veterinary hospital with
grievous injuries and whopping medical expenses. Hit by car (HBC) accidents are
preventable! Keep your dog leashed.
Leashed dogs rarely show up on “Lost Dog” posters. If your
dog on a leash, he’s probably not lost. You don’t have to plaster your
neighborhood with signs, worry about where he’s spending the night, if he’s
safe or if he’s dying in a ditch. Leashes save lives.
How to Protect Yourself from an Unleashed Dog
Unfortunately, you can encounter an unleashed dog anywhere:
in your neighborhood, at the park, or in the woods. My first piece of advice was going to be “Tell the owner to
call their dog.” But it’s not likely that calling their dog will do any good.
If they taught their dog a reliable recall, they wouldn’t allow their unleashed
dog to approach another dog in the first place.
Carry your cell phone with you on walks with your dog. You
can call for help (police will respond to a dog fight) and you can also snap a
picture of the unleashed dog (and owner if they are with the dog) to show the
authorities. Use your video function if you can keep your wits about you.
Keep some spray deterrent on you when you’re out in public
with your dog. There are a few products on the market that may help prevent a
fight from starting, but there are very few out there that will actually stop a
fight that’s already started. I like Spray Shield, an air horn, and a
relatively new product called Interostop. You can find them all online and they
are relatively inexpensive.
I also carry dog treats with me. I use the treats to train
my dog while we’re on a walk, but those treats also come in handy to throw at the unleashed dog. Sometimes you can
get lucky and the unleashed dog will stop to eat the food and you can beat feet
out of there without incident.
If you haven’t taught your dog a reliable recall (he’ll come
away from a running squirrel, a tennis ball, another dog, etc.), don’t let your dog off leash! You’re not
only putting your dog at risk, but you’re also putting another dog and person
at risk. If your dog doesn’t have a reliable recall and is also “iffy” with
other dogs, definitely don’t let your
dog off leash. Even if you’re in what you think is a deserted area. I don’t
want to bear the brunt of your dog’s aggression when I show up with my leashed
dog on the other side of the “deserted” trailhead. It’s not fair to me or my
dog to worry about unleashed dogs when we’re out enjoying nature and adhering
to the leash law. There are 20- and 30- and even 50-foot leashes if you want
your dog to have the ability to “run free,” and that will also keep me and my
dog safe when we’re all out there enjoying the beautiful outdoors together.