4.25.2011

Leash Your Dog. No Really, Leash Your Dog.

Consider this:

A leashed dog is walking in a park with his owner. An off-leash dog sees the leashed dog, and starts happily bounding towards them. The owner of the off-leash dog goes bounding after his dog - "Nelly, COME!" but Nelly ignores her owner. She is so excited about the new dog, that she runs up. Nelly's owner changes tactics - "It's OK - she's friendly".  The leashed dog might be excited to say hi to a rapidly approaching happy dog - or, the other dog could growl, bite, or show other displays of being uncomfortable with an oncoming strange dog.

The leashed dog might be on leash because it's illegal to be off-leash in most parks and the owner might be a law abiding citizen. The leashed dog might be on leash because he's not friendly and doesn't appreciate other dogs in his face. The leashed dog might be on leash because his recall isn't so great. The leashed dog may do much better with other dogs off leash, but it wouldn't be a problem if Nelly was also leashed, or had a decent recall.

Why NOT leash a dog? Leash sets can be STYLIN'! Not to mention it's illegal in most urban places to have your dog without a leash...and dangerous if you don't have a reliable recall.


There are several sightings on the streets of Somerville, a particularly busy city for those not familiar with it, where people walk their unleashed dogs on the sidewalk. One woman has a very sweet Cocker Spaniel that she "walks" - the dog is 15' ahead of her, she's trailing behind chatting on her cell phone. Her dog is sweet, and she'll say so when her dog is running full tilt across the busy street to say hi to other dogs. I've told her twice that not all dogs are friendly with unfamiliar dogs jumping in their faces, mine is one of those dogs. Not to mention it's dangerous that her dog is crossing city streets, not only for her dog, but for drivers that might swerve to miss her darting pooch and hit a pedestrian or another car. The second time this happened, I told her I'd call animal control the next time I saw her unleashed dog. I saw her a week later. Her dog was leashed, but as soon as we passed her, I turned around, only to see her unhook her dog, and the dog run down the sidewalk.

I knew a guy when I first moved to Somerville that would take his happy dog, Shred, to the unofficial dog play group at Foss Park. Shred was never more than a couple feet behind his owner, and he never used a leash. He didn't have to because Shred was right there, all the time. One day, they were crossing McGrath highway on their way home from the dog park. They had the crossing light, but the minivan that ran the red light didn't care.  The owner ran forward to avoid the car, Shred didn't move and got hit. Had he been leashed, the owners forward motion to get away would have at least pulled Shred enough to maybe miss the oncoming van.

I'm all for allowing a dog to run, to play, to be a dog. However, like most things, this has to have rules. Your dog should be allowed to be off leash in the city where all the conditions are met:
 -Your dog is friendly to people and dogs
 -Your dog is under voice control. One command, one action, example: "Sadie, Come!". The following is not a recall: "Please, Sadie, Come! I said Come - no, COME! SADIE - &#!$? Come here NOW!"
 - If your dog is not under vocal control, use a 30' long line to work recall with your dog. Get into a recall class or attend a free recall clinic (we offer them several times a year in Somerville through City Dog Training).  Get into a sport like Frisbee or Agility where your dog is allowed to run, jump, play, and go full tilt - but you can stop it with your voice, and your dog learns attention in a fun way.
 - You are in a dog appropriate place - NOT the sidewalks of your city. Too many things can go wrong. Off leash hours at local parks, play groups, hiking trails that dogs are permitted off leash, dog friendly beaches, fenced in dog parks, etc. are appropriate off leash outlets for your dog, if your dog can handle those situations.
 - Some dogs, like sight hounds, should never be let off leash in an unfenced area. Seek out safe, fenced in  places for your FRIENDLY dog to run. Note: not all dogs will do ok in a dog park, so if your dog is sometimes ok and not others, don't take your dog to a dog park. Work with a trainer to figure out where your dog can get appropriate exercise without putting other dogs at risk.
 -You are paying attention to your dog's behavior and your surroundings. If your dog is off playing with other dogs, you should not be on your cell phone, doing a crossword puzzle, chatting with other people without noticing where your dog is. You might want to pay attention to what he's rolling in, if he's chasing a bike, chasing a dog, chasing a squirrel, or where he is pooping. In the city, it's still your responsibility to clean up after your dog, even if your excuse is your NYT puzzle, E-Reader, or phone conversation was too distracting.  Off leash time is not the time for you to check out, no matter how long of a day you had. Wait until your dog is exercised, then go home, have a glass of wine, and tune out the world or talk to your friend on the phone.


Where to exercise your dogs off leash in our area?

 Nunziatio
 0 New Washington
 Ed Leathers Park
 Danahy Park

Summary:
For all the people who have friendly dogs in the city - please, keep your dog on leash. For those who have unfriendly dogs in the city, please keep your dog on a leash. If your dog is off leash in a park, any park, your dog needs a 100% reliable recall. Your dog needs to be on a leash in the city on walks, end of story. It's not just for your dog, it's for the safety and comfort of all the dogs around you, not to mention not having your dog on leash on the sidewalks is illegal for all the reasons I expressed and more.

Lastly:
As my dad said every New Years Eve: "Be careful. I'm not worried that you would drive under the influence- it's the other people that are driving drunk that I'm worried about". Your dog might be excited to say hi to every dog and person he meets, but the other dog might be aggressive, shy, or reactive. Other people might not enjoy your dogs enthusiastic jumps, might be allergic, or have been attacked by dogs in the past. If your dog is friendly, find appropriate places to unleash your hound, but ONLY if you have reliable recall. If your dog isn't friendly and needs to run, get a trainer, and get into a dog sport like Frisbee, Agility, and other sports so you can learn how to control your dogs impulses while still getting exercise.