Walking dogs off-leash can stress other dogs and people

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Walking dogs off-leash can stress other dogs and people

Updated Dec 21, 2021

Dear Cathy,

A few months ago we moved to a community that requires dogs to be leashed while walking. Leash walking has been clearly stated in our newsletter several times. If someone ignores this community rule, they are fined at some point, but I don’t know if that has ever happened.

In our previous home, our dogs had a large dog run for exercise. We don’t have that anymore so walk them several times a day. It took some time for them to get used to walking on a leash.

My issue is with people who, against community rules, walk their dogs unleashed. They seem to think it’s okay because the owner trained their dog to walk that way. Before reporting one person (after observing her unleashed dog several times), I asked her why she was walking her dog unleashed while holding the leash in her hand. She became indignant and cursed me out.

While driving, we passed a Golden Retriever off-leash with its owner. When the dog saw us, he began walking towards our car. The owner had to stop the dog from going in the street.

Recently, a man began walking his Labradoodle off leash. When I asked, “why no leash?,” he said he’s been training his dog for six years and the dog knows better. He said his dog doesn’t know he’s a dog. Mind you, I saw him walking well in front of his dog who was turning around and looking at my dog. My dog postured in a dominant stance, but never pulled on his leash. As a side note, my dogs are awesome in dog parks interacting with other dogs. It’s being walked on a leash where they stiffen up around other dogs.

I realize I may not be the best dog walker, but I am very aware of other dogs while walking, so we can all have a safe and fun walk. I don’t want to be the neighbor reporting on unleashed dogs. My husband feels it’s fine as long as the dog stays with its owner, but how can you know for sure whether a dog’s curiosity or even ire may cause an issue with other dogs and humans? No matter how a person feels, dogs (while extremely important members of our families) are animals. I would love to believe nothing can happen, but there is no guarantee. Am I overreacting?

I was thinking about posting an article in our newsletter regarding the importance of walking dogs on a leash in our community. Can you direct me to an article articulately written by a professional such as yourself, or advise me on what to include in it, so I don’t sound like a complaining community member?

Debra, Huntington Station, New York

Dear Debra,

I don’t think you’re overreacting, but I do think it can be difficult to police people in a neighborhood, especially when enforcement depends on neighbors reporting on each other. Educating, rather than confronting, your neighbors is the right way to go, so feel free to quote any of the following information for your neighborhood newsletter.

Many neighborhoods have leash rules for dogs to ensure the safety of the neighborhood. While a dog may listen to its owner while off-leash, there is no way for others in the neighborhood to know that when they see an unleashed dog or watch as one approaches. Very often, when an unleashed dog approaches, you might hear their owner say, “don’t worry, he’s friendly.” But what if you or your children are afraid of dogs? What if your leashed dog is not friendly with other dogs? These reactions can impact the unleashed dog’s response.

Even if your dog is friendly, communication is a two-way street and can change between dogs when one is on a leash and the other is not, which is why your dogs are friendly at dog parks but stiffen when an unleashed dog is nearby. The leash pulls and puts their bodies in a tense posture, which can change how the unleashed dog reacts to the situation.

Rather than address someone’s dog being off-leash, talk to your neighbor about how your dog reacts and handles off-leash dogs, so at the very least, your neighbor, if respectful, will give you a wide-berth when they see you. Educate the neighborhood by asking the management company to remind people about the leash rules in every newsletter, and the reasons for it. At the very least, every dog owner should leash their dog when they see another dog approach. 

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal

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Cathy Rosenthal, CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 25 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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