Going Off-Leash: An Analogy to Barebacking
Slipping one on feels better than not getting walked at all. Safety is sexy, fatal accidents are not.
Off-leash dogs getting all up in leashed dogs’ business is an ongoing problem, really. Every time I encounter it I’m perplexed. Safety isn’t just about you, it’s also about the others involved. You can’t control other dogs and you can’t predict what they’re going to do. Yes, maybe your dog is friendly and has good recall so you don’t leash them. But maybe someone else’s dog is fear aggressive, does not have good recall, and that’s why they’re leashed. Your friendly unleashed dog is liable to provoke one of these guys and get themselves hurt if you can’t pull them away in time. Not all dogs need to get along with each other, just like all people don’t. I’ve encountered situations where I was walking leashed dogs and a random unleashed dog started following us and stressing out the dogs I was walking because we, literally, couldn’t get away. Does a leashed dog have a right to bite in defense of itself? Should we crack down on off-leash dogs in arenas that are not off-leash dog parks?
Size doesn’t matter.
There were two big dogs I was walking one afternoon that almost got away from me because these little half pints started barking at them as we tried to walk by and it set them off. Later in the walk we passed by two golden retrievers and nobody made a peep. I always say “the smaller the dog, the bigger the attitude.” It is not intrinsic or hereditary; it’s a matter of irresponsible ownership. The idea is that, because they’re small, they’re harmless, so you have owners who let their small dogs nip at them and others, bark without consequence, and run amok off-leash because they’re so gosh darn friendly. An undisciplined dog of any size or species is always a danger, either to itself or others. In the case of small dogs they’re more liable to be a danger to themselves if they start barking up the wrong tree. I once saw a small dog off leash run across the street to get in the face of a leashed pitbull mix that had been minding his own business. The little dog was jumping and snapping at his face, so the mix calmly picked up the little dog in his mouth by his neck, gave it a little shake, then let it go. Imagine the damage that would have been done if that dog had not been so well behaved. Leash your dog.
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Even the most obedient dog with the best recall can forget it has a name. If your off-leash dog takes off after a squirrel, cat, or another dog, all the obedience training goes out the window. Sharks can’t unsmell blood in the water, and dogs can’t unchase whatever they’ve fixated on. Suppose your so-gosh-darn friendly off-leash dog takes off to start a fight. Perhaps it’s out of character, but it’s not impossible. It’s only an isolated incident until it happens again. Suppose your off-leash dog attacks another dog. Or a child. There was an instance in a cul-de-sac where a bunch of the neighborhood dogs banded together prowling the area and attacked a boy walking home. The dogs had owners, they were all off-leash, but a pack-frenzy ensued and they went primal. Nature finds a way, and no amount of commands can stop it once it starts. Don’t let a lack of symptoms be the determining factor. Leash your dog.
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While the retractable leash is better than nothing at all, it’s not failsafe as it’s always risky to have your dog 10 feet ahead of you. In the event that they do decide to take off, they will have run the leash to the end and the momentum will pull the rest of it out of your hand before you even know what's going on. They can't get that kind of momentum on a regular leash. Buddy is a volatile pup. When I walk him on the bike path, I err on the side of staying away from the other dogs because, though he’s usually a friendly guy, sometimes he can get a little loud. I take measures to make his walk as enjoyable and stress-free as possible, and other dog owners do the same by yielding on the path to each other to avoid altercation, which I can appreciate. What I do not appreciate are dogs on retractable leashes whose owners let them walk up to any old dog they see. “It’s okay, she’s friendly!” said a woman to me once. I would have given her an earful if I wasn’t trying to be calm for Buddy so we could scoot on by the invasive, personal bubble popping dog on the retractable leash. It doesn’t matter if your dog is friendly if another dog is feeling cranky that day. Nice dogs can have bad days, and it’s not worth putting your dog at risk. Leash your dog and teach them to heel.
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Young pups are the most important to watch over because they don't know any better. They haven't experienced any of the world yet and are too hyperactive and too trusting of strangers. If you have a puppy, leash and harness them so they don't chase a squirrel into traffic or get into a fight. Take them to training classes immediately so they can start learning commands as soon as possible; it will be helpful for both of you in the long run.
Above all else, don’t let your dog approach a dog it doesn’t know without asking the owner if it’s okay. They themselves could just be trying to get from point A to point B without getting in a fight. The commands, sit, stay, heel, leave it, are not extra credit. The leash is the condom, the commands are the birth control. Use them together to ensure safety. In the event that something happens anyway, at least you did all you could to eliminate risk. Abstinence is the only 100% method to avoid a problem, but walks are a good bonding experience. Someday when you and your dog have a 2 acre farm you can throw away the leash forever, but until then put on one.
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