Let’s take a minute to discuss off leash dogs. Regardless of it you are the one un-clipping your dogs leash in a public areas or following the rules I feel like everyone will be able to relate in some shape or form.
First, let me give you a quick run down of my two boys.
Sheldon is 6 now. Once upon a time (okay and still on some days) he was/is leash reactive. He also is very insecure around new dogs; especially rude dogs, dogs taller than he is, and male dogs. He is not beyond snapping, muzzle punching or connecting with a dog that has ignored his warning signs. Sheldon is very clear with his behaviour if you understand body language. First he gets a little silly but there is far too much tension in his body for him to be considered playing, he may or may not whine. Then he clamps his jaw shut and his movements become shorter and quicker. Tongue flicks will happen, in the beginning one here and there. As he escalates his behaviour he will start growling, his tail will be held over his back wagging in quick motions (remember folks: Wagging tail DOES NOT equate to a friendly dog). Then he will start baring teeth. If the dog hasn’t backed off yet, you will hear breath being sucked in with his tongue flicks that are now happening more rapidly. And then he will air snap, muzzle punch, or connect. He has fairly good bite inhibition, only taking off fur. Usually after he strikes out, he retreats- remember, he would have preferred to avoid the confrontation in the first place but was unable to do so.
Kingston is 21 Months. He is an intact male who gets super frustrated and over stimulated when he sees dogs off leash. He will sometimes start barking or even worse, toller screaming. Although he has oodles of training under his belt, a female still gets him excited in ways that sometimes makes him lose his mind. King is pretty dog neutral. When he was going to the dog park, he didn’t partake in chasing or wrestling. Instead he was more interested in marking, sniffing bums and vaginas. Since 90% of the dogs aren’t cool with that and these are NOT behaviours I want him practicing on a regular basis (if at all! Yes they’re natural but most dogs hate a thorough check up). Instead I’d rather him just work by other dogs- which he does very nicely when the other dog is not up in his grill. He does tend to get stiff and will growl when dogs get into his face. He has not ever escalated his behaviour and I don’t want him to ever have to escalate his behaviour.
One more piece of information as well. I live in London, Ontario. The ONLY places dogs are legally allowed off leash are A) The dog park or B) Private property that you have permission to be on. Also, leashes should be no longer then 6ft. All of our trails in the area are maintained by Thames Valley Conservation Authority. If you see one of these lovely people and your dogs are off leash- they can fine you. The other body of control in our area is London Animal Care and Control. If they see you with off leash dogs they can fine you. Even though we have these Bi-laws in place, people (especially pet people), let their dogs run at large.
Can I say I’m perfect? No. There are times I let my dogs run at large. But believe me when I say I stay aware of my environment and I recall and leash up when we see other people or dogs. I also scout trails and pick the trails that are far less popular and go during hours of the day when people are not around- early morning, during work hours, later at night. As the warmer weather approaches, my off -leash time will come to an end as all the ‘warm weather walkers’ will be coming out of hibernation. This is a time I avoid all trails in the area as I know there will be dogs running rampant that shouldn’t be.
Okay- so here how I feel about dogs being off leash. Honestly, I could care less if their owners were respectful of other people and other dogs. I know allowing your dog run off leash burns far more energy, gives the dog nice enrichment, and it’s usually a far more enjoyable walk. Usually though, people are NOT respectful. What do I mean by respectful? When they see someone else (Especially if they have their dogs on leash) be it just a person, or a person with another dog, or kids or any kind of stimulus that is not natural to the woods, they recall their dogs immediately and leash up. That’s it. Then if they choose, they can decide to open dialect on, “Oh hey, is your dog friendly? Is it okay if they greet? Does you dog greet better on or off leash?” This means the dog needs to have a reliable recall. If your dog doesn’t have a reliable recall then it’s time to do some training before you unclip that leash. Grab your dog before they become annoying- because believe me, when they rush other people you’re the only one who finds your ‘friendly’ dog cute.
You also need to keep in mind, sometimes dogs are reactive due to being fearful or dog aggressive. Allowing your dog to run up and harass a reactive or an aggressive dog is so very rude as well as dangerous! You can ruin months and months of training for people whose dogs suddenly regress because of your dog and there is the possibility of an altercation. So due to you being an asshole- you’ve wasted the other persons money, time training and possibly got your dog, yourself, or the other person and their dog hurt.
What drives me MENTAL is when dog owners see other people and their dogs (on or off leash) and decidedly do nothing.
Today I was leaving Killaly Meadows. My dogs walked on leash the entire time. We met one respectful dog owner- turned and called their dog to come along. And one disrespectful dog owner. I saw her from 50 meters away with her Golden, she was entering the start of the path from the parking lot, leash in hand. I judged the situation and decided I would allow it to play out, in hindsight I would have yelled at her to call her dog as she had zero verbal control or recall from her dog. As I approached the garbage to toss my poo (I even picked my dogs crap up vs leaving it alongside the trails like everyone else who seems to walk those trails) her rude golden rushed Sheldon and Kingston. I immediate saw it was a male from both my dogs responses. I tossed my crap and said, “I don’t let my dogs greet on leash.” It wasn’t until then she started to try to call her dog. At first in a happy voice until Kingston started growling.
“Oh is your dogs not friendly?”
“They just hate being rushed by off leash dogs”
This conversation is being played out as as Golden starts to escalate and growl himself. Her voice became hard and desperate then as she continued to call her dog who was still ignoring her.
“I was just walking around the block….”
This is when she finally grabbed her dog and I continued walking away; you see I never actually stopped moving. I tossed my poo and kept my dogs with me (Although I was using far more pressure on Kingston’s leash then I wanted too) and I tried to exit the situation as she continued to scramble to grab her dog.
Here’s another piece of information about me. I have social anxiety. My anxiety increases when it has to do with strange people, strange dogs, and possible conflict. You could say this pushes me over threshold. In stressful situations like the above I’d love to be able to keep a clear head and patiently explain to her like a toddler why allowing her dog to rush my on leash dogs is so rude and disrespectful. Instead I often walk away shaking (literally) with the thought of possible conflict. If the situation would have continued (Her dog pursuing us as we headed to the parking lot) I probably would have lost it and I would reacted in a couple different ways: I could shut down completely, I may say a few short, cross words or I could have just started screaming incoherently which after I calmed down and become aware of my actions, I become dreadfully ashamed of and can trigger my depression. I turn into a reactive person when faced with confrontation; this is due to history I don’t care to explain. Maybe one day.
So folks, respect isn’t all that hard. It means you leash up when there are other dogs in proximity UNLESS you have had a conversation with that person and they have assured you they are fine. No conversation is not consent. No conversation should be taken as a NO and you should leash up your dogs anyways.
Happy walking and happy training.