Why is it Illegal to Have My Dog Off-leash in Some Places?
Many cities in the USA have leash laws, and some police or animal control agencies will cite owners for walking their dogs off-leash or letting their dogs roam. Why do we have these rules and are they fair?
Arguments for Leash Laws
Dog aggressive dogs.
Many dogs are adopted from shelters each year, and some have had a shady past involving other dogs. As a result of this and for other reasons beyond a dog owner's control, a dog may be dog-aggressive to certain other dogs, a specific breed they've had bad experiences with, or for no apparent reason at all.
Many dog-aggressive dogs are still loving towards people and make great pets- but they cannot be around other dogs without a fight breaking out. Like other dogs, dog-aggressive dogs must be walked outside to go to the bathroom, and for exercise.
Many people with dog-aggressive dogs are very careful about keeping their dog on a leash and are capable of controlling the situation... that is until a dog that is off leash comes walking by.
Off leash dogs often go right up to other dogs on leash and this can cause problems for people with dog-aggressive dogs. The off-leash dog may respond with aggression even with great recall skills. With no one to control the dog, a dog fight can start, sometimes resulting in tragedy. Is it the fault of the owner that was just trying to let their dog out to pee?
When dogs see something they've never seen before- a person riding a bike saddle-side, a possum, or a car that makes a funny noise- they want to investigate or chase the new thing. Sometimes their need to do so outweighs anything said to them by their owners. Even the most well behaved dogs owned by professional dog trainers have bad days.
With a dog on a leash, this isn't an issue. There is no risk to your beloved pet if the dog runs out into the street, no vet bills for injury, and no wanted posters when the dog doesn't come back. Did you know that if your loose dog causes an automobile accident, you are responsible for damage and injuries to people?
People with a phobia.
In some cultures, dogs are eaten, in some they are kept as pets, in some they are never allowed in the house, and in some they are feared because they are never encountered.
While you may feel it is your duty to enlighten these misinformed people, think about whether you would like to hear about another religious faith. Would you or have you told someone from another religion bent on converting you that you would rather not listen to their spiel? People from other cultures probably feel similarly about your dog- so be respectful.
What about people from the United States with a phobia of dogs? Did you know that this type of phobia is one of the most common? It usually stems from being attacked, bitten, or experiencing another traumatic event early in childhood.
While you cannot help that a person has been attacked by a dog, you can help by respecting their boundaries. It might be silly to you but dogs to them are genuinely terrifying. People with this phobia may cry, shake or have a panic attack if a dog jumps on them.
Danger to Children or Adults with Disabilities.
A shy two year old and a sixty pound lab sometimes don't mix. If a strange dog is excited and jumps on the child, or if the child somehow aggravates it, things could go wrong very quickly. Some children don't know how to correctly and safely pet a strange dog, and though your dog might be good with your kids, other children are strangers.
Likewise, if a person uses a cane or wheelchair, an overexcited dog could knock them down, damage medical equipment, or injure them.
Falls and injuries, even as accidents, could make your dog a target for animal control. You could even be sued for medical bills!
No Dogs Allowed
Many people feel that the recent increase of dog bans on public property are due to off leash or roaming dogs getting into things, leaving waste behind or irritating passerbys. Because the leash law goes unenforced, or too many people ignore it, many areas have no choice but to completely ban all dogs from walking with their owners- including the responsible ones.
Many people hate dog parks, many people love them, but the fact of the matter is- they're there for people to walk their dog off leash, or allow it to run around.
Arguments Against Leash Laws
To understand both sides of the issue, here are some common arguments against leash laws:
Dogs were meant to run free.
Many people feel that dogs were meant to run unhindered or that never allowing them the chance to do so is cruel.
My dog is trained well enough that he would come no matter what.
Some owners believe that their dog could never get into a situation where he would not come to their command.
My dog is large enough that if it got into a fight, it would win.
If your dog is a large husky or rottweiler, it may not concern you much if another dog tried to attack yours, not nearly as much as if you had a small dog. If you feel unconcerned, leashing may not look as necessary or important to you.
My dog is friendly and would never hurt someone or fight with another dog.
Some dog owners believe that their dog would never get into a situation where it would attack, bite or injure another dog or person.
More than a leash.
Some people have witnessed on-leash dogs drag owners across the street and have concluded: it takes more than a leash to control a dog. It takes awareness and training too. If people can't control their dogs on leash, why should the person who took the time to train their dog have to leash theirs?
So who is right?
Right now we have leash laws in some places, but tomorrow we might not. It all depends on the laws, the voters and the concerns of people living in the area. You've heard both sides of this argument and only you can decide for yourself what you believe. Here are some tips:
- If you live in an area with a leash law, follow it and respect the laws of the area you live in. Don't break the law if you'll end up with fines. Cops and animal control can't change the laws they enforce, and arguing with them will do no good. Don't make their job any harder.
- If you don't believe leash laws are necessary or fair, vote against them or petition them instead of breaking the law.
- If you don't always have 100% control over your dog, admit it. If there's even a small chance your dog could ignore you, put a leash on him- it could save the life of your dog.
- If you believe leash laws should be better enforced, vote for them and encourage people to follow them- even in remote areas. Your voice makes a difference.
- If you feel threatened by an unleashed dog, or believe someone is in danger, call the police.
- If you are approached by a strange dog, avoid eye contact and stand still. Do not turn or run away.
- If you are attacked by a roaming dog, try to use something to distract it. Throw a rock, stick or article of clothing at it. As a last resort, curl into a ball and use your hands and arms to protect your head and neck.
- If your dog is attacked while you are walking it, try to remember what the dog looked like and call animal control asap.
- Please remember: Dog fights can be very serious- DO NOT get in between them, no matter what the size of the dog or how well you know them. Fighting dogs will not necessarily see you as their owner and may transfer their aggression onto you in the heat of the moment. You could be very seriously injured. If you feel you must do something, spray the dogs with water or try to startle them.