I want to paint a quick picture for you. Put yourself in your dog’s shoes. You are casually strolling in the park. Appreciating nature, taking it all in when all of a sudden someone you don’t know comes sprinting up to you comes right in your face and starts breathing and maybe even talking or yelling. You try to move but you’re being yanked back and this person just keeps coming into your space and is now upset that you didn’t think their behaviors were acceptable. I bet you’re thinking “Dang that person is crazy. What’s their problem? Have they heard of personal space?” You finally calm yourself down and continue to walk and then it happens again. This time there isn’t just one person but 2 and you feel trapped. Your only action is to fight or flight and since you’re already being held back and restricted can you really even “flight”? I doubt it and thus you probably fight and immediately you’re in the wrong because you were protecting your own personal space. Does this seem really fair? Could you imagine a human doing this to another human completely unprovoked? I can’t… unless of course were at a bar and things are getting crazy. My point is that if humans acted the way that many dogs do off leash, it would not be okay.
(The crazy one, controlled in public around other on-leash dogs minding their own business!)
I’ve been working really hard with my dogs to create a walk that isn’t about just sniffing the grass. It is exercise and work. I want them to stay focused and not only physically tire but also mentally. When your dog interrupts that not only does it make my dog uneasy but it also ruins a good portion of our walk. It takes about 5 minutes for them to calm down and another 5 to get them to refocus. Having this happen one time during a walk is enough but imagine when it happens 2, 3, 4 or 5 times. My purposeful walk has now become essentially useless and has probably stressed out my dog.
I need to address a few things before moving forward.
- No matter how “friendly” your dog is, mine may not be. My dog is still allowed in public parks as long as I have direct control. My dog does not need to like other dogs. My dog just needs to be able to walk without harming anyone or anything else.
- “It’s okay, my (big) dog loves little dogs”. Well, I’m sorry but it takes two to tango. My (little) dog may not love your big dog or your little dog for that matter. I’m not necessarily worried about your dog being big and hurting my little dog. I’m more worried about my dog reacting to your dog and thus setting off a perfectly friendly dog.
- Public parks that allow off leash dogs do not belong to off leash dogs. They still need to abide by the laws and respect others.
- In Ohio and specifically my city, dogs are required to be under direct control at all times. Although it is quite difficult to find a proper and exact definition, Columbus defines “direct control” as your dog will immediately come when you say come, sit and stay by your side. You should not have to say your dog’s name five times. And on that note, be aware that you should give your dog a command like “come” when you are calling them. How do they know that in this moment their name means “come”?
Many dogs are leash reactive. Dogs can be the nicest off leash but when they are on leash they feel restricted—think someone holding you back in a fight. This can be uncomfortable for many dogs. My dogs personally hate when a dog runs up to their face on or off leash. So you could quickly see the problem when your “friendly” dog approaches my dog when they are on leash. The unfortunate fact is that no matter how friendly your dog is mine may not be. And if a dog gets hurt (in Ohio at least) the off leash dog is at fault, not the on leash one.
I urge people to forget their ego for a second and think about their dog’s safety. I know that where I walk, people hate me because I am constantly asking people to actually gain control of their dog. I’m obviously annoyed that my walk is being disrupted which shouldn’t be the case but mostly I am concerned for their dog’s safety and my own dog’s safety. If I am walking more than one dog at a time, it is much more difficult for me to protect all three dogs from one another because I only have two hands. Furthermore, having a strong recall is so so so important if you ever let your dog off leash regardless if I am walking in the park or not. A strong recall can save your dog’s life. If your dog does not come when you call it, it shouldn’t be off leash in an open area. They could run into the street or into a dangerous situation and you may have no way to get them back and safe. I would suggest that an actual dog park is the best place for you to go with a weaker recall because at least it’s fenced in and can protect them from some uncertainties. Your dog getting to roam freely is much less important than their life or your ego. You may have a good dog, but if it doesn’t recall then you need to be a good owner and protect it.
A side note to recalling. Saying your dog’s name five times and slowly walking towards them is not a recall. A strong “Buster, Come” is a recall (given that Buster does in fact come). It is extremely rude to leave the other owner fending for themselves while you slower walk towards your dog to “help”. Typically “help” comes in the form of yelling at the owner with on leash dogs and dancing with their own dog because now Buster thinks the owner is playing. Just because your dog is “good” and is “playing” with other “good” dogs does not mean that you should be talking and not paying attention. Keeping tabs on the surroundings and possible threats to your dog’s safety is very important for all visitors and dogs. I can’t tell you how many times people just let their dogs run up and antagonize others and don’t even notice. It’s pretty scary especially when you can do nothing but run. I’ve literally run into the street before and forgot to look for cars. And guess who followed….Buster.
My dogs are by no means dog friendly. But I can walk them in a park with little issues because they are on leash and I am there to protect them. I am allowed to be there with my dogs and love getting them mentally and physically exhausted. Both types of dogs should have the same opportunities for exercise and be in a public place. It is up to the owners to be respectful of others and control their dogs.
My last plea about off leash dogs is the following. Please ASK me if my dog is friendly and if they can meat prior to letting your dog just roam up to mine. I will politely tell you no and after my response you need to have a quick way to secure your dog. If you don’t restrain your dog from coming up to my dog(s) I can only do so much to protect all parties.
A quick note about other on leash dogs in parks– Thank you! You have acknowledged that perhaps your dog is not under control and needs to be connected to you in some way shape or form. Obviously this is going to be a compliment sandwich so here I go with the “meat” of it. If your dog is on leash and you see another dog acting a little…err…crazy… why do you let your dog pull towards it. Please, bring your dog in closer. No good will come from a dog on leash meeting another dog on leash whom is leash reactive. Leashes can then get tangled and a mess can happen quickly. I don’t understand why people don’t try to pull their dogs in to protect them from the crazy that is passing. Another thing that boggles my mind is that unless you are training your dog, why do you place your dog in a sit while others pass? This is stressful for both parties and by just passing one another, the whole event happens much quicker. I just think that it may be easier for all!
Retractable leashes are the worst and basically the devil.
- If you drop that heavy handle, it can scare your dog and cause it to run into danger.
- If you don’t stop that trigger quick enough your dog may end up in the street and hit by a car before you can even react. This is a serious reality and happened to one of my best friends. It is tragic and the bigger the dog the worse this situation can be.
- If your dog is going to be on leash and next to you anyways, why do you need a retractable? 5 feet should really be good enough and you can protect your dog better.
- The leash material is easily tangled and it hurts! Try getting tangled up in that… it burns.
- Have you ever seen two retractable leashes get tangled….try to separate that quick. It won’t work.
Back to the good—I find that other people who walk their dogs on leashes seem to be more understanding of any struggles I am having. They smile at my dogs and acknowledge the progress I have made. That is super motivating and I love that we can both acknowledge improvements in our pups. Thank you for being another dog lover who understands!
To sum this all up—Be respectful. Ask me prior to letting your dog just run up. Have control of your dog. Be there for your dog and not your ego. Protect them from threats. Understand that not all dogs want to be friends. Parks belong to everyone and all dogs deserve to be able to enjoy nature with their owner. I try to not let me walk ruin your time with your dog, so please don’t let your dog ruin my working walk. I am happy that your dog is able to play with stranger’s dogs and enjoy life. My dog’s enjoy their walk and love to work.
And remember to not get mad at other dogs! I always remind myself that the ignorance and ego of the owner is not that of the dogs!