Almost daily I take my dog for a run along a paved trail that is heavily used by the local community. There are many other runners as well as bicyclists, roller bladers and walkers. And lots of happy dogs.
The vast majority of dogs are leashed, but one day I ran past a woman with her unleashed senior black Lab. There are signs posted everywhere reminding people to keep their dogs on a leash. But I assumed her old dog was exceptionally well behaved, and Banjo and I veered to the left to pass her.
I expected Banjo to be a little curious about the Lab, as she usually is, but I definitely didn’t expect the Lab to charge us. And that’s exactly what happened.
As the woman cried out for “Buddy” to come back, he lunged at Banjo, growling and snapping. Lucky for me, Banjo knows the drill when we’re running, and she kept moving, leaving Buddy and his unapologetic mom in the dust.
I spent the next few miles muttering angrily to myself and wondering why people can’t understand the importance, safety, courtesy and legality of leashing their dogs.
Leashing Is a Courtesy
I don’t blame Buddy for being ornery. Old dogs can get irritable around young, rambunctious dogs — and Banjo is as boisterous as they come.
But Buddy’s mom was sharing that community space with many other people, and everyone else had the same right to enjoy the path with their dogs as she did with Buddy. By not leashing Buddy, she was being incredibly rude.
After living in a big city for 2 years without a fenced yard, I can empathize with anyone who wants to walk their dog without a leash. Sometimes being dragged around (or doing the dragging) is, well, a drag. The freedom to walk your pup without the leash can be exhilarating. But if you’re in a public place, it’s your responsibility to be courteous and leash your dog.
“But My Dog Is Friendly” Isn’t an Excuse
Sweet Duncan may be the wiggliest, cuddliest, sweetest pup ever, but his temperament isn’t an excuse to have him off a leash in a public area. Even if Duncan is friendly, a lot can go wrong:
- He can scare someone. A lot of people are terrified of dogs — even cute, little, fluffy Duncan who wouldn’t hurt a fly. You could ruin someone’s day by letting Duncan run around unchecked.
- He can approach the wrong dog. Don’t assume that just because Duncan is friendly, all dogs are. Lots of dogs are aggressive toward other dogs or are leash reactive. If Duncan isn’t on a leash, you’ve lost your most powerful tool to stop a dog fight before it starts.
- He runs into traffic. Even the most well-trained dog will probably have a hard time ignoring a squirrel or bunny or cat that darts out in front of him. If Duncan does see one of these critters, let’s hope he just ends up a few yards into the woods. But sometimes dogs chase other animals out into the road, causing an accident, injury or even death.
You can safely have your dog off his leash in designated places. If you’re not sure whether or not Duncan is allowed to be unleashed, err on the side of safety — keep his leash attached.
This happy dog just figured out that he can safely run around this off-leash dog park:
You Can Be Fined
Courtesy and safety are solid reasons for keeping your dog leashed when he’s supposed to be leashed, but they’re not always enough incentive for everyone to follow the rules. That’s where the law comes into play.
Every state has its own legislation regarding dogs and leashes. In many states, the laws vary by municipalities. Whatever the regulations are, every region has some set of rules pertaining to how and when you can let your dog go off leash. If you choose not to follow those laws, you could face fines or worse.
Rather than taking the risk of being fined or having your dog impounded, research your local laws and adhere to them for your and Duncan’s safety.
When No Leash Is OK
This happens at places like dog parks and some hiking trails. Duncan can run around, unrestrained, playing with other dogs and humans.
Then you won’t run the risk of startling anyone with an off-leash dog, and you won’t have to worry about getting ticketed.