To Leash Or Not To Leash

It’s the classic trope every dog walker knows so well and wishes she didn’t:

Dog is walking on-leash in an on-leash park. Other dog is running off-leash. Dog keeps his distance from Other Dog and sticks to the perimeter of the park. Other Dog notices Dog and runs directly at him. Dog gets excited and starts jumping and flailing to get at Other Dog. Person of Other Dog calls Other Dog but Other Dog does not respond. Dog strains against leash and slips his collar. Dog proceeds to run around in giant circles like a lunatic, frighteningly close to a busy parking lot. Person of Other Dog finally puts a leash on Other Dog. Person of Other Dog comments to Person of Dog about Dog, “Wow, he really likes to run, doesn’t he?” Person of Dog gives Person of Other Dog a death glare.

Okay, maybe it’s not quite so classic, but I am sure many of you relate to the main elements of the tale. Unfortunately, if you replace the word “Dog” with the name “Shiva” this exact scenario occurred twice over the weekend. Luckily, both times Shiva eventually returned to her person without further issue. But I can’t help but fear the ending to this story may be much more tragic.

The obvious solution is to perfect Shiva’s recall. Which we are working on. I am proud of our success so far and after a minute or so Shiva will come back. Approaching off-leash dogs triple her already very high energy levels. They get her so revved up and so anxious that she has to release the energy before she bursts. The best way to do that is to run around at Mach 5. In those moments, she can’t think, can’t even hear my desperate attempts to get her attention. All she cares about is running.

As I say, we are working on this. But in the meantime, I still need to take her for walks and those walks will probably occur in public areas. If we lived closer to an off-leash dog park, I’d probably take her there a lot more often and it might help prevent the above scene. Because her recall is not yet perfect, I don’t like letting her off-leash in non-off-leash areas. It’s just not safe. That and I don’t want Shiva to harass other people or their dogs, dogs who may not be so friendly. I’ve been there. It sucks.

Personally, I have no real issues with dogs being off-leash in any public area. With the caveat that said dog has an excellent recall and minds his own business. If a person can walk their dog off-leash in an on-leash park and the dog leaves me alone, that’s just fine. In fact, that’s fantastic and I’m more than a little jealous. One day I hope to get there myself. Unfortunately, as we all know, this is not always the case.

But what is the solution? How do we encourage other dog walkers to either train their dogs or keep them on a leash?

All the death glares in the world don`t seem to make a difference. Nor does my hasty advice. I can warn people about the dangers of letting their dogs approach other dogs who are on-leash but they usually just laugh it off or look at me like I`m speaking Klingon. I tell people all the time that they are lucky Shiva is no longer reactive. Two years ago, I say, and your dog would have been in trouble right now. They still don`t get it. Unless one has lived and worked with a reactive dog, one doesn`t seem to truly understand the issues.

I admit, before Shiva, I was just as clueless.

More laws aren’t the answer. Dog walkers are restrained enough by current legislation. We don’t need more rules that will only punish good people. Perhaps the opposite would be better. I am reminded of my Philosophy of War class in university wherein the professor advocated encouraging countries to build up huge amounts of nuclear weapons. He believed that if everyone has the capability to destroy the world with the push of a button, world leaders are more likely to work toward peace. It`s a gross over-simplification of this argument, but I wonder if something similar would work in this case.

What if all public parks were designated off-leash areas? What if we removed all leash laws entirely? Would people then be forced to work more with their dogs lest they be hit by cars? Or would our animals just take over the streets?

I am all in favour of creative answers. Where do you think the solution may lie? Or is there one? Am I just destined to keep repeating the same thing over and over again?

32 thoughts on “To Leash Or Not To Leash

  1. We run into your issue all of the time when we are training. Other Dogs are always running up to our dogs with the owner running behind begging and pleading for them to “come”. Once they catch up to their Other Dog, we get a sheepish “Fido never did that before”. Our dogs have good recalls and we have e-collar insurance so we can quickly get them back to heel, but it is frustrating. We have tried yelling out to Other Dog’s owners that we have viscous Chessies and to grab their dogs, but that rarely works and they figure out pretty quick that our dogs aren’t going to look for trouble. As I say, frustrating.


    • That’s a tough one. Since I don’t have a fenced backyard, I don’t have a specific outdoor area in which to train without distractions. I do personally enjoy dog parks but believe they are more about fun than work. For instance, I don’t expect to be able to enter a dog park and be left alone to train. Not everyone at the dog park is going to have a solid recall and that’s okay, within reason. As long as their dogs are friendly enough off-leash. The only space I have to train outdoors where I can trust we won’t encounter off-leash dogs is a nearby forest in the very early morning. This is where we have done most of our work.

      I don’t think I or my dog have the right to go out and public and be left entirely alone. But I do hope there is a way all types of dogs and people can enjoy public parks in the ways they prefer without feeling afraid or infringed upon. Since this is such a common issue, I was wondering if anyone had any ideas for how this could come about. Is there a way we can all get along?


  2. You can’t stop what other people are doing in the park. You can work on Shiva’s recall, which you are already doing. You can also make sure she is wearing a collar she can not get out of. If you know she is capable of slipping her collar, then what is the point of having her on leash at all?

    I posted about my own personal off-lead rules a while ago on my blog, and one of them was… if a dog I am responsible for does not have enough training to be trusted off-lead in a public place I will not have them wear a collar that they can chew through, back out of, or break.

    That will not stop Shiva from reacting to the other dogs, but it will give you the opportunity to work on it (which you do not currently have) and it will stop her from running straight into that busy parking lot.


    • Fair enough. And perhaps that is part of my question. When off-leash from the very start, Shiva is usually very good at staying with me and has a terrific recall. We never have an issue at the dog park, for instance. She doesn’t bug other dogs that don’t wish to be bugged and stays within sight. It’s on-leash areas that are the problem. I am wondering if I should have just ignored the laws and let her off-leash from the start to avoid all this.

      I’m certainly not looking to control anyone else’s behaviour and am more than willing to take ownership for my own mistakes, but I was curious if others thought less rules, as opposed to more, would help encourage dog owners to take their training further.


  3. I experience this alot because Fred (bloodhound) is very agressive on a leash and reactive with other dogs in the neighborhood – anywhere else on a leash he is fine – store, vet, parks, public with other other dogs. Its just our neighborhood. We have a local school where your dogs are suppose to be leashed…no one does and I will admit I let Haylie run off leash up there but she is has always come when called. We get bum rushed all the time when I have Fred and he flips out and the owners always say the same thing…come blackie, come here blackie… dog ignores and then the owner does the same song and dance – blackie never does that, blackie normally always listens. Im dead tired from dealing with a 1oopd bloodhound that was like wrestling an alligator to ensure he doesnt get loose and then im pissed.

    What I really hate is when the owner says “its ok blackie is friendly” I yell “well my dog isnt” that is why we are in a leashed area.

    I do leash up haylie when others come into that area with their dogs leashed because they could be like Fred and aggressive in those situations and I cant say for sure haylie has 100% recall. Fred has a 5% recall and it will always prolly be that way with a bloodhound.


    • Right, exactly. I try to do the same as well. Unless it’s a desginated off-leash area, I will make sure Shiva is on-leash during the common hours and when anyone else enters the park with a dog. Just in case.

      I think a lot of these types of problems could be prevented. Since every one I talk to has experienced similar issues many times over, it seems to me there is quite a large gap. Are we doomed to just keep battling it out with other dog owners?


  4. Augh! One of my biggest pet peeves! It drives me crazy when people let their dogs off-leash in an area not designated for such when they don’t have excellent recall with their dogs. I think that Sam makes some good points on the collar and working on recall, but that doesn’t help you in the in between stage (i.e., as you are working towards excellent recall).

    I have found the same issue at the dog park and I have found that if I am very firm and very clear with people they tend to listen. I once told a Husky owner (who’s dog was displaying a whole sh*tload of machismo) that he needed to call his dog away from mine “NOW”. He did. I have also told dog owners to come get their dog or to call their dog NOW. The problem is too many dog owners don’t have good recall with their dogs and/or they don’t take it seriously when an owner (me) asks them nicely to get their dog NOW.

    I just have no patience for these type of dog owners or the ones who say “It’s okay. My dog is friendly.” I also don’t care if I look like a bitch when I say something to the owner because in the end, it’s my dog’s health and safety I am responsible for and I don’t take that lightly. I have found, unfortunately, that looking like a bitch works more than just asking them nicely to leash their dog. They take me more seriously when I am a bitch. Isn’t that sad it takes that to make them take me seriously?


    • Indeed. As I avoid confrontation as much as possible, I have not had much luck with this. If I was to even attempt to be bitchy, it would probably come out more like an apology. Not that I think you are in the wrong for doing so. You have to do what you have to do to keep your family safe.

      Do you think there is a way to turn the light bulb on for people who don’t realize their dog being in your dog’s face could be an issue? I’ve been the clueless owner many a time. I’ve wanted to disappear into the ground while my dog circled around a jogger, barking her head off. I’ve been justifiably yelled at by other dog owners. I’ve lived both sides and it sucks either way.

      Short of stricter enforcement of mandatory leash laws, do you think there is a way this can be avoided? Am I just an idealist, hoping we can all just get along?


      • I should clarify that me being a bitch is more my interpretation than anything. Mostly I sound like a bitch because I am trying to stop something from happening and trying to do it quickly before someone gets hurt. One of the things I learned volunteering at the shelter was that saying something quickly was the best option. So if a child was running full bore at me, who was walking a dog not good with kids, I would shout “STOP!” loudly because it was the most effective way to get a child to stop quickly, before they reached the dog. It’s the same with people and their dogs. My directness (and possibly bitchiness) is al about getting their attention quickly because I can see something about to happen. Sometimes it sounds like I am a bitch, but better that than my dog, or someone else’s getting hurt.
        Is there an opportunity to educate? Yes. After the owner has leashed their dog or stopped their child from running. In the moment when it’s all chaos, there is not time. I hope that makes more sense than what I was trying to say above. I was a little worked up when I wrote it. 🙂


  5. Ugh! Yeah, have been there numerous times and it sucks. I agree, though, that more laws aren’t the answer. For one thing, the people we’re talking about probably aren’t going to obey those new laws either.


    • No, probably not. Laws like these tend to only punish those who are already obeying them and doing their best. It won’t help us solve the problems, if there even is a solution, other than just not going outside.


  6. The life lesson I hope to internalize by the time I’m 80 or so is to realize I can’t change anyone but myself.

    I understand your frustration. I’ve been there. And I’ve also been the person chasing the dog who, five minutes ago, was perfectly well-behaved off leash.

    But it’s obvious your death glares aren’t glarey enough. And really, did a death glare every change anyone?

    It sounds like you had a big success here. Shiva has found a great way to work off her energy when confronted. You were lucky she didn’t dart into traffic. And once Shiva got her excess energy out, she returned to you. So congratulations! This is a sign of your success.

    And as for the clueless dog people all around you–maybe you should try lasers. 🙂


    • I’ve been there too, which is probably why it all feels so personal. I am not after judging anyone or ranting about ignorance – maybe just a little – what I was hoping is that someone would have some brilliant solution to a very common problem. But you are right. I can’t change others and should probably stop worrying about all the other dogs in the park who have nothing to do with me. *sigh*

      It’s not going to be easy!


  7. This is one of the ongoing issues of our lives too. And no, you can’t legislate stupidity. I’m just as put off by people’s unleashed children rushing at my dogs even though I keep saying that they will bite. (They never have) I can’t seem to get it through the parents’ brains that they are putting their children in danger.


    • That’s another issue entirely, but may be even more important. I don’t like doing it, but I have yelled at kids in the past who ran up to my dog screaming. A well-placed hand and a very firm “stop!” typically does the trick. The parents may give me dirty looks for talking to their children in such a way, but it’s better than having a child get bit. Not that Shiva has ever bitten anyone to my knowledge, but I’d like to keep it that way.

      Maybe I should just buy my own island or start my own country where dogs can run without people getting involved and messing everything up. Perhaps that’s the best solution.


  8. This is a great topic. It too is a huge pet peeve of mine. You already know I run my dogs off leash as much as I can, as a simple walk does not wear them out. Even an “at heel” for an hour plus walk. Luna and wyatt both need to run and hunt and sniff to have any hope of being tired afterward. One reason I love winter is because less of the “stoopids” are out with their dogs… so we can have more drama free walks without having to always look over our shoulder. Whenever I see someone coming, whether it be on bike, foot, or another dog I call them back and have them under control before that person is even near us. This is mainly for my own dogs safety as I do not trust other people’s dogs to listen (I actually am quite shocked when one actually does listen and return to the owner as it is seriously rare). I often get the “it’s okay my dog is friendly”, that comment makes me want to scream. People just don’t get that not all dogs are, or that some people don’t want their dogs saying hi to joe schmoe just because they are dogs.

    I will second what others said about having a collar that you know Shiva can not get out of, that will eliminate a whole problem in itself. Because of what you mentioned about traffic, parking lots or worse… I don’t feel the solution is to just have her off leash from the start. Dogs are still dogs/animals at heart no matter how much you train, you can’t fault them for acting like animals/undomesticated at times. For this very reason (not to mention the fact that both of my dogs are official hunting dogs) I have an e-collar on mine in any public environment.

    I am a firm believer that off leash time is a huge reward for already having walked nicely with you. And I follow this rule whenever we go out. We start on leash and when I feel they are listening well I will then let them have the reward of off leash time.

    I don’t know what the solution is, I highly doubt having less rules will make people take to training their dogs. I think it will just give people more freedom to let their already untrained dogs run free. Even people who spend the time and money on training don’t always stick with it, which i find even more frustrating. There are some counties here that allow you to take a test, that if passed means you are allowed to actually have your dog off leash. i think this not only is a great training motivator but also would give trained dogs more freedom. but still would not stop others from running theirs off leash. maybe repeat offenders should be punished?? but how does one keep track of all that??

    I hope the “stoopids” stop interrupting your walks 😉


  9. I don’t think there’s an answer. There will always be reactive dogs, there will always be dogs who don’t or can’t achieve a reliable recall, and there will always be people who feel their dog is entitled to be off leash or don’t understand why their off leash dog is causing problems with your on leash dog. There will be dog owners who understand the other side of the coin and those who don’t. I think explaining your side of the coin when an opportunity presents itself is the best course but sometimes you have to be the biyatch to protect yourself and your dog. Or just turn around and walk the other way. Or keep telling yourself that all of these encounters are training opportunities, right? I feel that “training opportunities” sometimes is code word for dealing with crappy dog owners and their dogs. 🙂


    • I think that is the best attitude I have read all day. Training opportunities. I like the sound of that. It switches a negative into a positive in such an easy way. Instead of getting all grouchy, I need to see how we both can learn from the experience. That’s how a badass would handle it, after all. 😉 Thanks!


      • No problem. Portland seems to be the land of off-leash dogs sometimes so I’ve had lots of practice keeping my temper and looking at the bright side 🙂 Glad I could help!!


  10. Hi Kristine, more laws, free advice, yelling or death stares are not going to help at all. People always believe that certain laws only apply to others and not to themselves. All of us walk on leash because it’s just not safe for them to be running around loose. Our recalls are non-existent to good, depending upon the dog and exactly what is happening. We have reactive dogs in our four-pack and sometimes other things take over our ability to even hear our mom and dad. If our mom or dad see an off-leash dog running or approaching us, they will call out to the other owner to call their dog back while at the same time gathering up a large handful to treats to throw at the other approaching dog in order to give us time to move us out of the way. That’s pretty much how we deal with it all. We’ve been pretty fortunate insofar as most dog owners keep their dogs on leash and ask if our dog is friendly or my mom and dad will ask them the same thing before allowing them or us to go in for a sniff.


  11. One of my pet peeves and it drives me bonkers! If it is not an off leash designated area then your dog should NOT be off leash. Sophie does much better off leash than on and if off leash we usually have her e collar on but if it is an on leash area then she is on leash. If most of the population can follow the rules, why can’t everyone? Furthermore, those that do not follow the rules make it really hard for the rest of us when someone wants to ban dogs from said park because an off leash dog was ignoring their owner and being overly friendly to a non dog person.

    It also doesn’t help when the owner of the approaching off leash dog insists their dog is friendly. That is fine and dandy but my dog does not do ok with being approached while on leash. You clueless owner letting your dog approach are setting us back in training! Ugh sorry just as I said a massive pet peeve.

    I have had it happen a few times. Tried a few different techniques, putting Sophie behind me in a sit/stay or a loose approximation of stay while shouting no and body blocking the other dog. Also thrown treats at the other dog so that when they go to eat the treats we turn and walk away. That kinda worked.

    Maybe try a martingale with Shiva so she can’t break out of her collar. Good luck! What a frustrating situation!


  12. I had the escaping dog, who was also smart enough to know the difference between being let off-leash (at the dog park) and escaping. In one instance, he had perfect recall, in the other, none what so ever.
    But I understand your frustration completely. Sadly, we can not control other people, and more laws regarding dogs isn’t going to work. Smarter laws, maybe, but since when were laws smart?
    Best advice I can give is to get Shiva some sort of harness. It’s what we use whenever we walk the dogs. They can’t slip out of it, and it doesn’t pull at their neck if they start to pull. (Common with the Beagle when she gets a new scent). We’re also able to get harnesses that help prevent the pulling so that it’s easier to teach our dogs to walk on a loose leash.
    In addition, the harness is hugely helpful at the dog park, especially since our terrier has no back down in him. I don’t have to try and get at his neck to pull him away, I can grab the harness on his back- safer for him AND me.


  13. When I walk my dogs, they are always on a leash. It has nothing to do with whether or not they have excellent or nonexistent recall. It’s because I have no control over all the other outside forces around us. I can’t control traffic or other dogs.

    First, I would say start walking Shiva in collar that doesn’t come off, or put a harness on her. She may still react, but at least she will not be loose. You can’t control the fact that other people may have their dogs off leash, but you can control where your dog does or doesn’t go.


  14. So sorry that happened TWICE over the weekend. How scary. So glad to hear Shiva is okay. We run into unleashed dogs in leashed areas all the time by us, and I never know how to handle it. Toby’s gotten nipped and out and out attacked on one occasion…I now carry citronella spray in my pocket, just in case.

    But honestly, I’m not sure how to change things, or if they could even be changed. Unfortunately, most people won’t change, until AFTER something bad happens. You can put up signs, you can blog about it, you can write articles about it, you can tell everyone you know about it until you sound like a broken record, but people seem to believe that as long as THEIR dog is friendly, they are excluded from all rules.


  15. I also live in the land of off leash dogs. I love the idea of thinking of situations like this as training opportunities -but it doesn’t take away the stress or fear of something horrible happening at the time. I use martingdale type collars with any dog that I walk- they can’t back out of them, so at least I can maintain a certain degree of control over the situation. Sorry for your frustration- many people don’t realize what kind of problems their off leash dogs cause 😦


  16. I wish that I had more to say on this topic. I don’t go to off leash areas, for reasons that you mentioned and the fact that both the Newfs are intact and usually are not welcome in these type of areas, at least here. I would have to say that if the boys were neutered I would be more likely to go to off leash parks but I still think I would fear the untrained owner and dog.


  17. I agree with MelF. In my experience, the best defense I have with clueless dog people is to be proactive, firm and sometimes aggressive. I used to be embarrassed because Téa is leash aggressive, so I was very hesitant with my warnings: “Umm, we’re not all friendly when we’re on leashes, so if you could just -” (insert visual of Téa going insane as the other off-leash dog makes a narrow escape). One guy let his dog come up to us despite my protests (his dog was totally friendly, of course, so what did my concerns matter in the situation?) and while his dog made a safe get-away, Téa was so amped up that she turned on Toni instead. He ambled away while I was left struggling with 130 lbs. worth of snapping pit bulls. That was the last straw for me. Now if I see a dog coming toward us off-leash, I use my loudest voice while both the dog and the owner are still far away. I’m very clear: “Walking your dog off-leash here is illegal. If your dog comes any closer, I’m calling the police.” It certainly seems to get their attention more than warnings about leash aggressive dogs. Ultimately, my primary goal is to keep my dogs safe and healthy so if that’s what I have to do to make it happen, then that’s what I’ll do.

    I also agree with you that more laws are likely not the answer. The laws we already have (at least in Chicago) are so arbitrarily enforced that adding to them is more about the paperwork than the results they produce. And people who choose to ignore them will continue to do so, regardless of how many there are. The only real answer I can think of is education, but I can’t envision a scenario in which it would be universally taken up.


  18. I almost never leash Jersey, she has very excellent off leash manners. Being a show dog, she learned that dogs and people are no biggie and she walks right on by. Dexter, on the other hand CANNOT be off leash where there are people or dogs. He is just too damn excitable and wants to greet everyone.

    I do not mind if dogs are off leash, as long as they are well behaved. I have had a close call a few times with off leash dogs, but they were always friendly.


  19. This falls under the heading, “People believe what they want to believe.” They want to believe that their dog has perfect recall. They want to believe that they are in total control. And they’re going to behave that way, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

    DO NOT — I repeat, DO NOT– take your dog off-leash in an on-leash area. If an altercation happens, and the other dog gets hurt, even if the other dog started it,, you’re the one who will be in trouble.

    I have never understood dogs being off-leash anywhere but in a fenced, designated area. When I started driving as a teen, my parents used to worry about my being out too late. “It’s not your driving we’re worried about,” they’d say. “It’s the other people out there.” Call it defensive dog-walking. Play by the rules and keep both eyes open. And good luck!


  20. Gwynn is absolutely terrible at being the off-leash-dog meeting an on-leash dog. When he isn’t dive-bombing them, he’s circling around the owner and getting the dog to chase… it’s horrible. Before I get the death-glare, though, let me clarify – this is why I don’t let him-off-leash approach any on-leash dog. Our sit-at-a-distance is great, apart from his urge to walk a few steps towards me before sitting. I found that the ‘come’ command, when coming towards me means turning completely away from the exciting other-dog just wasn’t working for us when we were off-leash in not-off-leash areas. Sit (Right there, where he’s standing/walking), however, is perfect. He gets to stare intently at the other dog until I walk up and put his leash back on, and then, if the other dog is friendly, he gets to meet htem, On Leash. If that weren’t an option, I would not let him off-leash in an area that isn’t specifically designated off-leash.
    I like the idea someone previous mentioned, that you can get a test (kind of like getting your drivers’ license, but for the dog) that judges that your dog is/is not trained enough to be off-leash in non-off-leash areas. Though, even if Gwynn did get his ‘OL’ status, I would limit that to parks and such where he couldn’t easily run out on a busy road or parking lot.


Comments are closed.