Wednesday, March 9, 2011

To Leash or Not to Leash - Is There Really a Question?

Nothing is more annoying than walking your dog in the neighborhood and having another dog rushing up off leash - whether to greet or to pick a fight. We have two problems in this area: the off leash dog and the flexi-leash dog. Both are equally annoying and innapropriate on city streets.

Off Leash
I know you think your dog is so well trained that they will never leave your side. Two weeks ago, I got to watch a well trained dog get hit by a car. All it took was a squirrel and training went out the window, leaving it with nothing but dog instincts. Can't fault the dog. Something runs, it gives chase. The owner, for all the training, hadn't bothered with "leave it" command. It didn't need one, after all. For five years it had never left the man's side on walks through our neighborhood. All it took was one moment. A mere two seconds. Well trained dog was now a dead dog. Was this the fault of the dog? No. The owner failed him. This is the second time I have watched that happen. We had a golden retriever who used to run with his owner in our Studio City neighborhood. The jogger felt the leash was too cumbersome. It was nice that his dog could stop to sniff and he could keep on going. Despite having numerous talks with him, he continued this practice. A cat was the cause of that dog dashing into the street. Cat made it safely to the other side. Dog did not. The owner was mad at the dog. Because a dog should never, ever act like a dog. It should behave like a well trained robot, right? Wrong. Dogs LOVE to chase things that move. Trust me, your dog is NO exception. Even Lily, who has an incredibly low prey drive (okay, she's lazy), will give chase once in a blue moon. The difference? A leash and a recall word that stops her in her tracks.

Another problem with your dog being off leash is that not every dog is into saying 'hi'. Your dog may enjoy the company of other dogs, but not every dog is that way. All it takes is your dog rushing up to a dog aggressive dog and we have ourselves a trip to the emergency vet. Just because someone's jack russell terrier is dog aggressive doesn't mean that they shouldn't be walked. It means your dog should be on a leash so that the jack russell can enjoy his walk in peace without your dog sticking her nose in his face. I have had well trained dogs race across the street to rudely greet Lily - darting across traffic to a strange dog. My dog is extremely tolerant when it comes to other dogs. But what if she wasn't? Now your dog is injured. That's not the leashed dog owner's fault. That's on you. It's your job to protect your dog - from everything, including themselves.

This also applies to hiking areas that require a dog be on leash. If you see that sign, your dog needs to be on leash. This may shock you (it certainly did me!), but not everyone likes dogs. Even people who are into nature, aren't always into a dog drooling all over them in greeting. It's your responsibility to have control of your dog. They are allowed to enjoy their hike without being rushed by dogs. Also, people who have dog aggressive dogs still like to hike those dogs. One of my bestfriends owns a cattle dog that is dog choosey. There was nothing more annoying than hiking him on a trail that had a clearly posted DOGS MUST BE ON LEASH sign only to have dogs off leash and racing toward him to greet. Their owners would shout "he/she's friendly" and we would have to shout back "he's NOT." More than once, we were faced with ignorant people who would callously state "if he doesn't like other dogs, why are you hiking him?" Because he likes to hike. He needs his exercise. He has just as much right to be on that trail as any other dog. We chose to hike on trails that required leashes so that her dog AND your dog would be safe. If you don't follow the leash laws on trail and your dog gets hurt, that's not the fault of the dog owner who obeyed the law. Your dog relies on you to keep him or her safe. Complying with leash laws is a great way to fulfill that responsibility!

When we were in puppy classes with Lily, we were instructed to purchase a flexi-leash for use ONLY in our own yard or a wide open park. This was to help us practice recall with her safely. We also enjoy using it while hiking her in places that require she be on leash. This allows her the freedom to explore her environment safely - she can get ahead or fall behind, but she's always attached to us. In my neighborhood, every small dog owner walks them on flexi-leashes. They have no control over their dog. Dogs will round the corner with their owners a good twelve feet behind them - far too late to do anything about a fight. I have yet to encounter even one flexi-leash walker who actually knows how to operate it. As their dogs are yipping and barking and snarling in my dogs face, they're simply shouting at their own dogs (which does no good since they never trained them in the first place). A few might attempt to reign them in by hand, which gets them a nice burn on their palm. No dog should be walked in neighborhoods on a flexi. You have no control over your own dog. Even if you know how to operate the leash, it can lock up on you (a friend had that happen when we were hiking). They're not fail safe. Your dog should not be rounding the corner without you. You need to be able to see what is happening. You can't do that if you are several feet behind your dog. It's also dangerous if you happen to encounter a dog aggressive dog. Your dog is already engaged before you have rounded the corner.

A six foot leash is all you need for neighborhood walks. You should exercise courtesy and caution. As dog owners, we have a responsibility regardless of the size or breed of our dog. If you are currently using a flexi-leash on your walks, you need to switch to a standard leash. If you are not using a leash at all, you need to start - for the safety of your own dog. Walks should be fun - for everyone!


  1. Great post! We've never used one of those flexi leashes. I never really liked them.

  2. Awesome post, Jennie! Good stuff to know and why it's important to know.