Dug Up at Dogster: Why Dogs Should Be On Leash in Public Areas

Is your dog leash reactive? Does it upset you when other dog owners have their dogs off leash in public areas when your on-leash dog is reactive?

Tampa Bay (left) and Justice out for a walk on leash.
Tampa Bay (left) and Justice out for a walk on leash. We typically attach Justice's leash to the harness front instead of to the back as it is here. By Melissa Kauffman

My dog, Justice, is undergoing private training lessons due to his on leash reactivity. We’re now living in Charlotte, North Carolina, so after some research I chose a wonderful accredited, positive trainer named Camille. We chatted for almost two hours in our first meeting. Since Justice loves walks more than anything, and walking keeps him from marking inside, I was unwilling to stop walking him while we worked on the reactivity issue. So she made me promise to walk him when he wouldn’t encounter any other dogs so he would not have a reactive experience, therefore reinforcing this behavior.

Walking my reactive dog

“No problem,” I said. “I’m good at this.” So today I started out with Justice and Tampa Bay for their morning 25-minute walk. I live across from a small marsh with a sidewalk around it and a dog park at one end — Dog Central in my neighborhood. But like all reactive dog parents, I’ve learned the off-times for dog walkers. So I was pretty confident I could do this. The difficult part was the street right in front of my house.

We walked down the street and started to take a left at the corner. Nope, I saw a dog being walked in the distance. I continued down the street and took the next right — nope, there was a dog being walked, so I took a left. We finished out another 20 minutes with no dog sightings.

Encountering off-leash dogs with a reactive dog

That was until we turned the corner onto my street. Right in front of my house was a lone dog walking off leash, no pet parent in sight. Hmm. How could I get my dogs into the house and then run after the other dog to keep him from getting hit as he was heading toward one of the busiest streets in our neighborhood? I scooped up 20-pound Justice (a Min Pin/Vizsla mix), covered his eyes with my hand and began trotting toward my house. As I got closer, I did see the pet parent walking a little bit ahead (she was hidden by a truck) with another dog on the leash. At least the dog was not lost, but why was she walking one of her dogs without a leash? And, she was walking on the house side and not on the dog-walking sidewalk across the street.

Then began the internal war — say something or not. I chose to say something. I didn’t recognize the woman, so she was probably new to the area. “I’m so sorry to bug you,” I called out as I walked closer to her and my house, “you may not be aware that in our neighborhood all dogs have to be leashed.”

“Oh, I am sorry,” she said very nicely. “He’s old and just follows me around.”

“I completely understand,” I said, trying to be as positive as possible since I just wanted her to comply, not to hate me, “but my dogs are reactive and an unleashed dog is a problem to them.” She can see that I’m carrying one dog and covering his eyes.

As I was saying this, her old, but obviously sweet, dog swung around and started making a beeline right for my dogs, probably thinking he found some new friends. The poor woman, surprised, had to run after him. Meanwhile, Justice knew something was up and was struggling to get my hand off his eyes. Tampa, thank goodness, stayed quiet, eyes wide, drinking in the drama.

I got to my house as she got to her dog about 10 feet away from us. I ran up the stairs and put my dogs in the house — not a bark out of Justice. Whew! (Next time, we’re going out through the garage in the back!)

Make sure to bring poop bags with you on walks. Photography ©media point inc | Getty Images.
Make sure to bring poop bags with you on walks. Photography ©media point inc | Getty Images.

Reasons dogs should be on leash

This is why one of my pet peeves is an unleashed dog. The owners believe that their dogs are so well-trained or old or friendly that they can be walked off leash. But, it’s not about their dog, it’s about the safety and comfort of everyone else. All dogs should be leashed in public places for many reasons:

  1. In most HOA neighborhoods, many towns and cities, and even national parks, dogs must be on leash. It’s the rule or the law, and there is usually a financial consequence to breaking it. If you live in a neighborhood with an HOA like ours, you signed a contract saying you would abide by the rules.
  2. Around one out of every three dogs has a noise phobia. But all sudden, loud sounds can scare dogs. Our neighborhood has lots of construction with many sudden, loud sounds. Just one loud sound, and an unleashed dog could bolt, putting him in danger.
  3. Not everyone likes dogs, and people who are uncomfortable with dogs, downright scared of dogs or have dog allergies certainly don’t want a people-loving dog coming up to them. Believe me, when non-dog loving people find out I’m the editor of a dog magazine, I hear all about it.
  4. You never know what a dog can suddenly take off after. My cousin had his sweet Lab mix unleashed in a nice, new, fenced dog park. He was chatting with another dog owner, keeping an eye on his dog when he noticed she was spending time around one area of fence, and he started making his way over there. He didn’t realize it but she had found a small open area at the bottom, and she proceeded to dig with lightning speed under the fence just enough for her to get out to go after a deer she had seen in the neighboring woods. He spent the next hour searching for her while she happily chased the deer.
  5. Not all dogs are dog friendly all the time, just like not all people are people persons. There are many of us who have rescued dogs that have issues because of a less-than-pleasant past. We may have spent more money and time on training them than you could ever fathom, but these issues don’t just go away. It takes a lot of time and work. There are people with senior dogs who just don’t like the young in-your-face pups anymore. There are working dogs and service dogs who are on task and can’t be distracted with another dog running around. Bottom line: Your unleashed dog may be seen as a problem to other dogs.
  6. And last but not least, your liability goes way up if your dog is off leash and an incident happens. Dog owners have a legal duty of care to keep their dog from causing injury to another person, animal or property. A dog owner who does not act responsibly is considered negligent and therefore responsible for damages. An example of negligence that is commonly used is a dog owner who doesn’t leash their dog in a public area.

Surprising behavior

I have heard this same concern from many Dogster readers who have reactive dogs. There’s nothing worse than trying to work with your reactive dog than when you come across someone who has an unleashed dog. And what’s worse is when that person gets angry with you — even though they are in a public place with a posted leash law.

Luckily, my neighbor didn’t get angry, and we were able to handle the situation quickly. I think she was very surprised her dog turned around and made a beeline for my dogs. We all think we know our dogs, but they never fail to surprise us, which is why it’s best to keep them and others safe by keeping them leashed in a public area.

Melissa L. Kauffman is the executive editor of Dogster magazine. She lives in Charlotte with her two rescue dogs, a rescue parrot, a variety of rotating parrots she fosters and her husband.

Read more blogs from Melissa L. Kauffman:

8 thoughts on “Dug Up at Dogster: Why Dogs Should Be On Leash in Public Areas”

  1. Can you please publish an updated version of this post Central Park incident of the owner of an off leash dogs response to being asked to comply with the law? I face this on a daily basis walking my dog on leash at Okeehelee and Jim Brandon parks. The people turn nasty and aggressive everytime and they are breaking the law.

    1. i think that they should be allowed to be off the leash in public so they can do what they need to do but other dogs i think should be on a leash

  2. I am a little bit concerned by your attitude. You seem to imply the other dog/owner should be constrained because you dog is reactive.
    Is that your view?

    Holding to that perspective, should a driver be limited for driving at night if some other driver can’t drive well at night?

    The fact is not all dogs are the same, and well trained dogs can be controlled by voice.
    Spend the extra time and learn the techniques that make your fog react to you, not other dogs, then you won’t have to worry about unleashed dogs.. (unless they are aggressive, but that’s a different topic)

    1. Most cities and states have leash laws. The article even mentioned a neighborhood leash law. Where I live, choosing not to leash your dog comes with a $250 fine. Too many people think they are above the law. I had a neighbor tell me that his dog was well trained when my dogs were giving me a tussle because they wanted to chase the frisbee he was throwing. Then one day, I watched as his dog ran out in front of car even though he repeatedly told it to stay. Also, the car comparison doesn’t make sense. People with poor vision can drive on the road at any time, not just at night. That is just one of the risks we all take. But driving a car without any steering mechanism is more like walking a dog without a leash on it.

  3. Thank you SO much for this article! I’ve become so frustrated with people letting their dogs run loose in parks around us. We have three little dogs, one of whom is very reactive, and I spend my time walking with them constantly alert, until the inevitable, loose approaching dog causes mine to go into a barkfest, (no matter what time of day!) This is when people turn their nose up at me and my “untrained” dogs.

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