Dogs Travel & Safety

Every Which Way but Loose: 7 Reasons to Keep Your Dog on Leash

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A worrisome trend that began during the pandemic is that more people are walking dogs off leash, even in crowded urban areas.  There are lots of concerns regarding this craze, but safety is number one.

Here are seven reasons to keep dogs on a leash:

  1. Safety First: It’s true that dogs can learn to navigate traffic, but even guide dogs, who know when to cross streets safely, are on a leash and harness. They also receive intensive training. You may think your dog won’t run into the street, but all it takes is one time, perhaps motivated by a bunny or squirrel.
  2. Dog vs. Dog: Your dog may be the most dog-friendly dog ever, but the next dog walking by may not be. If the handler isn’t paying attention, has little control, or is using a retractable leash, your innocent dog, even off leash, may not be able to get away. If both dogs are off leash, you may not be right there to at least attempt to intercept. And your off-leash dog may bolt when threatened.
  3. Dog vs. Human: Some people are afraid of dogs.  When I am walking our nine-pound therapy dog on leash and someone crosses to the other side of the street, I just think, “Really?” But when a dog is off-leash and a person is fearful, it’s only right to understand their point of view. They don’t know if an approaching off-leash dog is friendly or gentle. And people who are fearful are more likely to elicit a response even in a well-trained and well-socialized dog, as dogs pick up on their wariness. A simple bark may unduly terrify a person fearful of dogs.
  4. Running in Parks: Dog parks and dog beaches are a separate issue, and ideally a fence keeps off-leash dogs inside the perimeter. However, letting dogs off leash in parks that are not designated for dogs can cause problems. Dogs may keep running the other way, and get lost, and those darn squirrels or bunny rabbits may be there for them to chase. Dogs can run up to people fearful of dogs or swipe a turkey leg at a picnic. Even a dog happy to see a child may knock over a little person, and now there’s a potential lawsuit to deal with.
  5. Rural Areas: Certainly, there are still some places in America that are so secluded that being off leash is no issue. That said, dogs run a whole lot faster than people. If your dog runs the wrong way, he could get lost.
  6. Snack Time: Unless you are right there to prevent or to notice, a dog can snack on anything from rat poison to a discarded chicken wing. Without supervision, dogs are more likely to allow curiosity to take over, and a visit to the veterinary emergency hospital may result.  
  7. It’s the Law: True, you may not need to serve jail time, but you may be fined.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant) has written and contributed to many books about pets; hosts three radio shows; contributes to Veterinary Practice News, CATSTER and others; is on the Board of Directors of the Human Animal Bond Association and Winn Feline Foundation, and is chief correspondent for Fear Free Happy Homes. He speaks at conferences worldwide. His blog:

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