Friday, August 21, 2015

I may have saved your dog today (a rant about off-leash dogs in public spaces)

Walking a dog off-leash in a public area requires far more training than what is possessed by 99.9% of the dogs and dog handlers out there. When potential adopters ask me: "How is he off-leash?," I generally say something about that being a very advanced stage of training that no foster dog is ready for, and then look for another adopter. The text below describes several encounters I've had with off-leash dogs while hiking. The pics are from recent hikes.

Theo, Maya, and Trooper
I'm walking two or three leashed dogs on the trails at Pleasant Grove. We come to an open space where I can see you up ahead, walking three dogs, only one of which is leashed and that is a retractable lead. One apparently senior dog stays with you, but your off-leash small terrier type comes running towards us barking aggressively. He wouldn't have lasted two seconds in an encounter with my dogs. I make an abrupt about face and take off jogging in the opposite direction. Your small "well-trained" dog gives chase for a while, paying no attention to your ineffectual attempt to recall him. He eventually drops off and perhaps returned to you, we continued our walk with a modified route.
Theo at the river. We don't go down here often
because it's an area a lot of people use, but on
a hot, weekday afternoon, no one is around.

Max, in hunting mode, with Maya, nose down, ears turned
outwards to catch any signs of wildlife.
We are hiking along and encounter you, on horseback, with your off-leash dog running along with you. It sounds like fun, if you are on your own property or in a wilderness area in Wyoming or Montana. You call out that  your dog is "friendly" as he runs up to us. I don't doubt that, but I also don't know how my dogs may react to a stranger approaching their pack and their human, while they are restrained on a leash. It's not all about you, you know? I could simply drop the leashes and find out, but I don't think that's the responsible thing to do. You obviously have no control over your dog and I'm left to handle the encounter on my own. I make another route change and get away from you as quickly as possible.

I'm walking down one of my favorite trails, one that I use frequently, when my dogs alert to the presence of humans and other dogs up ahead. I see you and a walking companion with two off-leash dogs and I make some noise to alert you. You grab your dogs by the collar knowing that at least one of them isn't all that friendly with strangers and hold them as we pass, remarking that you were surprised because you normally don't see anyone on your walks. Really?

I'm returning to the trail head near the dog park, which is an area that I normally avoid due to the possibility of encounters with people and unleashed dogs. You have apparently just left the dog park with your off-leash dog, who spots us and runs towards us. Your dog isn't "listening" as you say he normally does because at this moment he's more interested in us. Your supposedly well-trained dog isn't actually well-trained around interesting distractions.

Theo and Maya, late afternoon
Check out this round spider web.
I will not miss my many daily web
encounters when winter comes.
I encounter you and your off-leash dog at a narrow place on the trail, surrounded by brush on both sides. You don't even have a leash with you but you know your dog needs to be restrained, so you stop and grab his collar, effectively blocking the path. Turning around isn't a good option for me right now, so I dive into the brush and make a wide arc around you and your dog standing there not knowing what to do.

You've brought your dog up to Pleasant Grove to run around off-leash while you sit in your car. We pop out into the open from one of the trails and your dog spots us and runs towards us, wanting some company and something to do. I turn back on the trail to disappear into the woods and you yell at me to stop because your dog is following me instead of coming back to you. No.

I've experienced all of these scenarios and many more, although due to the extent of the trail system and the relatively light use, they are rather infrequent. I choose my routes and starting points based on a number of factors, (time of day, season, weather conditions) with the goal of avoiding encounters with other people when we walk. It's usually successful and we don't often encounter people with off-leash dogs. I keep an eye out and make route changes to avoid encounters when we can. We've never had an actual problem, but an off-leash dog is an unknown, both to me and to my dogs. I don't want to risk it, why would you?

The river was low and the water clear. Max
and Maya waded in but Max didn't notice
the drop off and plunged right in.
Max can swim and he seemed to enjoy it. It was hot
so I'm sure it did feel good.

Maya noticed, and stopped short of, the drop
into deeper water.

After a quick shake, Max was mostly dry.

I've never seen Maya do this before. Max found something
interesting to sniff. Maya stuck her head underneath him to
get at the same spot and sniff. I see her go under Theo because
he's so tall it's easier than going over or around him, but
I've never seen her do this move with Max until yesterday.
Maya and Trooper, on a short walk yesterday.


Anonymous said...

Great rant. The arrogance of the off-leash folks is incredible.

Anonymous said...

Well said.