Before I brought home my first Pit Bull mix, a foster dog, I cared about leash laws. Now that I have a leash-reactive power breed, I care even more. And I have a few things to say about people who willingly violate those laws.
Crystal had been seized by the county due to neglect, and she sat in the shelter for a weekend before my kids and I agreed to take her after no one else did. On our first walks together, we discovered Crystal is leash reactive when she sees other dogs. We are currently enrolled in Reactive Rover classes at the Seattle Humane Society to learn techniques for dealing with the behavior.
Walking a giant, powerful, leash-reactive Pit Bull is challenging. Not only are you encountering people who fear them, but handling them when they are in a reactive state is even more difficult.
To avoid Crystal’s primary trigger — other dogs — we take her for longer walks later at night. However, we do have to take Crystal outside to go potty multiple times during the day. If we don’t encounter another dog, it’s fine. If we do, it can range from mildly awkward to a complete battle to restrain her from charging the other dog.
Recently, Crystal and I went for what I thought would be a quick potty break in the outdoor athletic complex near my house. And it would have been quick if some fool hadn’t been letting her dog meander all over the place off-leash.
Of course, Crystal alerted when she saw the other dog. And at first, I tried to retreat and let them pass through the park. My primary method of dealing with this type of situation is to prevent or avoid it. Crystal starts barking and whining when she sees other dogs. Many people turn around or cross the street when they see us because they have common sense.
Other people, however, decide that a barking, large dog is not a deterrent, and they continue toward us. Like this woman and her fluffy white dog.
The closer they came toward us, the more Crystal began to bark. Then she stood up and lunged toward them. She shook off her Gentle Leader. The only thing keeping her close to me was her Wonder Walker, which I held with both arms around her torso as she struggled, barked, and growled.
It takes a lot of physical energy to restrain a 65-pound dog in a triggered state. I did not understand why this woman and her fluffy dog would continue to walk toward us. Finally, she did attach a leash to her dog’s collar, but I couldn’t help but wonder why she would allow her dog to wander off-leash in the first place.
After she walked away, Crystal calmed down, and I was able to walk briskly home. But the whole thing left me feeling exhausted and frustrated at other people’s ignorance.
Handling a leash-reactive power breed takes a lot of energy, focus, and patience, but it is manageable when other people obey leash laws.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why urban dwellers decide to let their dogs wander around off-leash.
The only conclusions I can draw are that they don’t think they will encounter other animals, that their dog will never run into the street, or that they will not offend anyone with their presence. Or maybe they don’t care.
All of these assumptions lead me to believe that these people don’t think much about the experience of other people around them. In other words, they are selfish, ignorant, and have a strong sense of entitlement. They believe that their dog should have freedom at the expense of other dogs. Or maybe they just don’t think that much period. The dogs and owners I have encountered violating leash laws do not demonstrate perfect recall or, in some cases, any recall skills at all.
I don’t really understand why they have no fear. Maybe they’ve never encountered reactive dogs. I mean, if I let Crystal run off-leash, she could have broken that fluffy dog’s neck. Personally, I am less trusting of the environment around me. I am pretty sure my dogs would love to race through the people parks with no leash holding them back. But I don’t assume the environment is free of hazards.
And then there is the whole matter of licensing. I try to avoid incurring the fees associated with violating the law. I know that, in Seattle, anyway, you can be fined if your dog is not wearing a tag and is off-leash. That in and of itself is motivation for me to obey the law.
What about you? What are your thoughts about leash laws in urban environments? Let’s talk!
Read more about off-leash dogs on Dogster:
About Kezia Willingham: A Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia keeps busy by working for Head Start, contributing to Catster and Dogster, and spending time with her family, which includes a pack of rescued animals. She has an essay in the forthcoming anthology Blended: Writers on the Step Family Experience, and scheduled to be published in April 2015.