Dogs Off-Leash in On-Leash Areas – Problem?

I remember when my wife and I got our first dog and I was just entering into Dog Training. Our neighbourhood in Calgary had a nice pathway system next to it and it was away from any major roads. I used to take our dog off-leash in this on-leash area so that he could have a better run.

I remember one evening it was getting a bit darker and a guy was coming around the corner and our dog went running over to him and you the guy froze up and you could tell he was a bit scared. He then sternly said “Put your dog on leash!” I replied “He is friendly.” I thought what kind of a jerk doesn’t like dogs. You are in the wrong city if you don’t like dogs. All I could think about was how wrong he was and that it should be fine that I had our dog off-leash since he was friendly.

Years later I now work with a lot of people who are trying to rehabilitate dogs. They can have fear issues, fear aggression issues or dominance aggression issues toward other dogs. In order to rehabilitate these dogs they need to practice in the presence of other dogs while they focus on their owners. They need to build trust and see that their owner will keep them safe. I tell people to go near pathways where dogs are required to be on-leash to practice.

I receive frequent e-mails from these clients explaining how tough it is to train their dog because there are so many other dogs that come running over to them and the dog they are trying to rehabilitate. I would then tell them “Oh, just make sure you are in an area where dogs are required to be on-leash.” They tell me they are in an area where dogs are required to be on-leash.

These clients may be working with dogs that have certain aggression problems whether it is fear or dominance based. Other people’s dogs will go running up and their owners will say “It’s ok he’s friendly.” My clients will reply “My dog is not! Please call your dog back.”

There are so many dogs out there that are super good with other dogs. Many people their entire lives have never seen a dog with a really bad problem. It is easy to start assuming that all other dogs are just as good with other dogs as their dog is.

Thes people that let their dogs roam free in on-leash areas love their dogs and they love other dogs. They just want to give them the best exercise and life that they can.

I am not entirely opposed to having a dog off-leash in an on-leash area but what I think would be better for all is to assume that other people don’t always want your dog coming up or other dogs may not always be good with other dogs. If you do want to have your dog roam off-leash in an on-leash area it would be best to do so when there are no other dogs or people around. If you do see another person or dog you should call your dog back to you and assume that your dog should not engage that other dog or person unless that other person asks if you want to let them engage or if they can pet your dog.

Some of these dogs that are roaming off-leash don’t have the best of obedience. People often find they listen good enough and will come back in a bit after they call them which may be after they went up to greet another dog or person. They also don’t pull like crazy on leash if they are allowed to roam free which makes it more enjoyable for a walk. If this is the case these people may want to invest a bit of time in training their dog to walk nicely on leash and have top notch recall. That would greatly help out the people who are trying to rehabilitate their dogs.

You see the people who let dogs roam off-leash in on-leash areas and the people who are trying to rehabilitate dogs and give them a second chance both love dogs. They are the same people down to heart. However they can butt heads because the people who are trying to rehabilitate want the other dogs to be on-leash and the people who let their dogs roam off-leash think the other people didn’t do a good enough job at this or that and that is why their dog is the way they are.

It helps to think of this from a human example. A dog that is fear aggressive is a dog that has either had a bad encounter with another dog and turned fear aggressive or is a dog that didn’t encounter enough other dogs during their socialization period as a puppy (that doesn’t mean they have to go and play with a bunch of other dogs it just means they have to see a lot of other dogs while they focus on their handler). So let’s say it was a bad encounter they had with another dog. That would be the same thing as if you were mugged ¬†and attacked by a random stranger. Now imagine after that you are out for a walk and all of these random strangers come running up to you. You can imagine that it would cause you a great deal of stress. If you are walking down a street and see hundreds or thousands of different people can you tell which one has been mugged or attacked before? Usually no, it can be really difficult to tell. The same would go for picking out dogs that have been attacked before.

In the case of Dominance Aggression these dogs are not afraid they just want to take out all other competition or hurt them bad enough to let those other dogs know not to mess with them. These are the dogs you really want to be careful around. Many people have not encountered these types of dogs before so from my own personal experience I will give you examples to know what they might be like. These are the types of dogs where I have received phone calls where the owner says my dog escaped the front door and almost ripped the back end off a dog going passed on a sidewalk. I don’t think the dog will make it, what should I do. Or where the neighbours dog got out and this person went to go and put that dog back in the neighbours yard and this person’s own dog escaped his yard and came and killed the dog right there on the street and the owner himself, a grown man, couldn’t stop it from happening. I could go on with more stories than there should be but just to educate people these dogs do exist. Luckily there aren’t many but they are out there. For your own dog’s safety you will want to ensure they are well trained and will come when called right away. I always ensure I know and trust the other dog first before I let our dogs encounter that dog.

So if you are the same as I was and thought dogs should be allowed to roam free because everyone should love dogs and if they don’t then there is something wrong with them. I ask you to put yourself into the shoes of others who are trying to give other dogs a second chance to have the same good quality of life that your dog has. Be courteous and set an awesome example. Show off how well your dog loves their life and how well trained they are. Some other people and dogs have had a rough go or a bad experience. We can do our part to ensure everyone can enjoy their walks and lives.

If you are like I was you can go about and make the necessary changes. If you have friends that do the same explain this to them as well. You have no idea how happy you will make people who are rehabilitating dogs if you keep your dog by your side. You should feel good about that. You have aided those dogs in their recovery and you have set an example for the other people and why they are doing what they do to achieve the same level that you yourself have achieved.

Assume this Mantra: My dog will stay with me by my side when encountering other dogs or people until they are requested to be met or engaged.

Thank you in advance for making the necessary changes. The good you are doing for other dogs and people will be far greater than you will ever know.