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Off-Leash Dogs

Posted 1/21/2021

Image by Mat Coulton from PixabayImage by Mat Coulton from PixabayI love dogs. I love cats and horses and fish and even snails. I love all creatures, except perhaps mosquitos. I have not found a positive thing yet to say about mosquitos! Dogs might be my favourite, however. There have not been many times in my life when I did not have a dog in my home. I understand that dog ownership comes with responsibility and that includes having control of your dog at all times. 

I have owned purebred dogs and mutts. I have owned working dogs and couch-potato dogs. I have owned overly confident and extremely timid dogs. I have owned well behaved and stubborn dogs. It is true that I love all dogs, but sometimes I get frustrated with their owners. When I encounter off-leash dogs in non-off-leash areas, or off-leash dogs in off-leash areas who are not behaved enough to be in off-leash areas, I get especially frustrated. (How frustrating was it to read that sentence?!)


Image by Tom und Nicki Löschner from PixabayImage by Tom und Nicki Löschner from Pixabay


Currently, my only canine snuggle buddy is Ozzie. Ozzie was found running wild at the age of seven months in a rural area of the Dominican Republic. He was caught and taken to a rescue sanctuary because of the numerous poisonings and dog killings in the area. Due to the sheer volume of dogs that the sanctuary looks after, he received gentle but limited handling from the rescue volunteers for the two months that he was in their care. Ozzie was then put on a charter plane to Toronto where I picked him up and put him on another plane to bring him home to Alberta. Needless to say, Ozzie is not well socialized. In fact, he is terrified of everything and everybody. It took him two days to build up the courage to pee and poop after I got him home. It took him a week to go down stairs by himself. It took him ten days to eat and drink from a bowl. One time when I was trying to pet Ozzie, I dropped my glasses about six inches to the floor and this scared him enough that I could not pet him for the rest of the day.

I try to be very aware of my handling of Ozzie and what experiences he has. I try to expose him to challenging but not overwhelming situations. I try to set him up for success. I expect him to be skittish and cautious most of the time. However, I was very surprised the day that I first took him out of the back yard and into the park for a pee break. He had been home for two and a half weeks and had not walked on a leash yet. I could not believe how his demeanor changed. His ears and tail perked up, and he became more like a ‘real’ dog than I had yet seen. He was showing more confidence than I had seen since I had brought him home. After that short walk in the park, we started doing multiple short walks every day. I was thrilled to find an activity that he enjoyed. It was a huge relief to see him become more confident…and then the incident happened.


Ozzie, terrified of everything!Ozzie, terrified of everything!


For most dogs, the incident would be nothing. For Ozzie, it was terrifying, and devastating to his progress. I took Ozzie out for his usual walk around the park. I saw a few girls at the playground. The oldest, at maybe twelve years old, had a leash on a young labradoodle. The puppy was probably only five months old. I should have taken Ozzie back into the yard, but I made the mistake of assuming that the girl could hold the puppy. I think what really happened is that she just was not paying attention to her pet. After passing the park, and with my back to it, I heard a bit of a commotion. I turned around to see the labradoodle bounding towards us, leash dragging behind, followed by a yelling twelve-year-old. She was yelling ‘he’s friendly!’, the recognized call of people who cannot control their off-leash dogs. And she was right, he was super friendly. Gleefully running at us with all his golden fluff and his leash waving. Ozzie took off in the opposite direction, maxing out his retractable leash and slipping his flat collar. Thank goodness that I also had a slip collar on him that snugged around his neck and held him once the flat was off. I was able to grab the doodle’s leash as he passed me and secure him before was able to reach Ozzie, and the girl arrived to take him back, but the damage had been done. The noise and sight of both dog and girl charging at us had completely overwhelmed Ozzie and he was crawling on his belly trying to get back to the yard. I tried to continue our walk, but he was very shaken. I ended up taking him home and hoped he would be okay for our next walk.

On the next walk, unfortunately, Ozzie refused to leave the yard. He would not go through the gate. It took me days until he would walk in the park again. And that was only if there were no people or dogs to be seen or heard. It has been five weeks and I am still working on building his confidence for walks. He is perfectly fine now until he sees or hears people. If he does, he will cower and try to move towards home. It is heartbreaking to me to see his confidence so low, and his vigilance so high, when walks were his favourite thing before. Being rushed by this girl and dog has reminded Ozzie that people should not be trusted, just as they could not be trusted when he was living wild in the Dominican Republic.


Ozzie on a family walk in the woodsOzzie on a family walk in the woods


Of course, Ozzie is a special case, and this was not a situation where a dog was purposely off leash. However, this is one reason why allowing your dog off leash because ‘he needs the exercise or freedom’, and because ‘he is friendly so it will not matter if he encounters other dogs’, is wrong. Just because you know your dog’s history or temperament, does not mean that he cannot cause problems for other dogs if he is off leash. You cannot know the history or temperament of all other dogs.

A good example of this is our other dog, Hulk. He is dog reactive. He is not mean or aggressive to people. He loves kids. But he has had some previous experiences that now make him respond poorly to other dogs. Although annoying, this is not a problem for us because he is always on leash and under my husband’s control. Our concern, however, is off-leash, out-of-control dogs. Before, with my previous dog, Toby, I was able to intercept runaway dogs before they reached Hulk. And I needed to do it more often than you would think. Thankfully, Toby was able to handle these charging dogs without being frightened or defensive. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard ‘It’s okay, he’s friendly!!’, shouted at us as an off-leash dog charged us. Our response is usually ‘well mine isn’t!’.


Hulk taking a breakHulk taking a break


A third issue I have with off-leash dogs are the innocent people. As much as I like dogs, I understand that not everybody does. In fact, there are many people who fear dogs, whether they are large German Shepherds, or tiny Poodles. Not every person or child can handle a dog running up to them and they should not have to. A person should be able to walk through a park or down their street without having to worry about loose dogs.


Image by Merry Christmas from PixabayImage by Merry Christmas from Pixabay


My final concern is for the dogs themselves. Even the most well-behaved dog cannot be expected to respond like a machine. There is always a chance of a dog making a poor decision for himself. We have wild rabbits in our park, like most cities, and there are cats whose owners allow them to roam free. (This is another topic I have strong feelings about but that is for another time!) I am always nervous about unleashed dogs running into traffic or getting lost. It just does not seem worth the risk. Last year, I watched another doodle-type dog run into traffic and get hit by a car. I stopped and tried to console the teenage owners as we watched the poor dog take his last breaths. I helped carry the dog from the street onto the boulevard and waited for the kids’ parents to arrive. This dog was not off leash on purpose, he escaped from the yard and followed his kids. But the risk for any off-leash dog is there, they do not understand the dangers of traffic.


Image by Candid_Shots from PixabayImage by Candid_Shots from Pixabay


There are designated places you can go to play with and exercise your dog off line if you think you need to. Almost every city has multiple off-leash parks. But you should not go to these areas until you have good control of your dog off line. Be aware that if you go to off-leash parks, you can run into dogs with no recall or manners. This could be a problem unless both you and your dog are able to handle untrained dogs running up into your dog's space. Your dog relies entirely on you for its care and safety, both at home and away. And you are accountable for your dog's actions, both at home and away. Please make responsible choices.


Image by AlkeMade from PixabayImage by AlkeMade from Pixabay


Interesting note: As I took a break from writing this post to take Ozzie out for a pee break in the park behind our house, I saw an Australian Shepherd loose in the park. He was well behaved and stayed within fifteen feet of his owner. So did Ozzie, since his retractable leash is fifteen feet long. Odd that both our dogs had the same amount of running room but mine was on leash. Seems like the Australian Shepherd could have been on leash and still had the same walk experience, without making me nervous that he might take a run at my poor dog.


But this is just my opinion,...well that, and it is the law!


Just J and OzzieJust J and Ozzie


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