Recently, I shared this blog to our Pittie Committee Facebook page. “Your Off Leash Dog is Ruining My Walk”. And although I have written similar blogs, this one apparently struck a chord for some folks on our page. It got a decent number of shares, and occasionally when one of our posts starts getting shares, I will follow the links to see what people are saying on other people’s threads. The gist of the above blog, if you don’t want to read it all, is that off leash, uncontrolled dogs, leaving the confines of their own property are a risk. A risk to the owner, to themselves, to other dogs in their own yards, to dogs appropriately leashed and walking, to the owners or guardians walking those dogs, and so on.
I noticed a response on a share from our page that said, “Well, don’t walk past MY house, then.” Immediately my hackles went up and I had to reel in commenting on a post that wasn’t mine. A quick click on the Facebook profile picture of the person commenting, and I see that they have bully breed dogs and immediately my heart sank.
Here is what I have learned in my years and years working around animals. Dogs that LOOK a certain way are held to a much different standard by the general public. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t right, but it is a sad reality. I am a firm believer that those of us who love and provide homes for Mastiffs, Great Danes, Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chow, any of the Bully Breeds, any mix of the above, or any dog that shares any similar characteristics has a greater responsibility to our dogs than those who love more “approachable” breeds. Our responsibility is greater because of the stigma and the prejudicial assumptions about our dogs’ personalities. (Because people still somehow believe that physical characteristics somehow determine the whole of a dog’s behaviors.) Because the assumption is that our dogs will act a certain way, and it will be because they are already perceived as “bad dogs” my personal view is that we have an even greater responsibility to make sure that they are never set up to actually BE the bad dog. Our dogs aren’t socially allowed to react the way a poodle can, the way a lab can, the way a spaniel can.
If your dog has a 100% fool-proof, always, no matter what, kind of recall, then by all means. Feel free to control your dog with verbal ques instead of a confinement technique. But that means you can’t EVER walk away from your dog. You can’t ever turn your back. You can’t go water the flowers while they lie on the deck and watch the world go by. What happens if the temptation is TOO much one day when the squirrels are taunting them and they run out into the street while chasing the fluffy-tailed antagonizers? What happens when your dog runs out of the boundaries of your yard to confront or even just greet an on-leash dog with less than desirable results? What happens if a family is walking by and your dog is super excited to see that tiny human toddling between her parents, holding a finger on each hand? What happens when that child is knocked down and is injured? Or worse, what happens if something triggers your dog and there is an attack, on a person or another dog?
I know, I know… “Its my house and my dog is a good dog, I should be able to let my dog do what I feel is right when its on my property!” In our city, there is a confinement restriction in our animal ordinances. Animals are required to be confined to the private property of the owner. That does NOT include public sidewalks or streets. The sidewalk provided by the city here is public domain, not private. I cannot ask the woman who walks her 2 large labs by my house every day to please walk elsewhere. She stays on the sidewalk, but the one dog who is completely off leash and always up against my fence line 50 feet south of the sidewalk is always antagonizing my dogs, and forever crapping in my lawn. (Thankfully this year I haven’t put much effort into my yard, AND she’s good about bagging it up.) And her other dog is just as bad, it isn’t off leash, but it is at the end of a 25 foot flexi lead, running ahead and running through my yard. (I never thought I’d be that crotchety “old lady” but every night I smile and wave when what I really want to do is yell at her to “GET OFF MY LAWN!”)
There are so many “What would happen in the event that _______” questions here when there aren’t effective barriers that contain an animal out of a public space. Leash laws are in place for a reason. Your dog doesn’t like a leash? At some point in their lives none of mine have either, but with consistency and reinforcement, the leash is their favorite thing in the world now. It means we get to go for a W-A-L-K. It means we get to go meet new friends. It means we get to go work with people and teach them about safe interactions and body language. You don’t like how your dog pulls on the leash? Oh, giiiiiiirrrrrrlllllfriend, me either! I have had to learn (through the help of our own beautiful trainer, Jessica) how to address those issues with each of my dogs. It took work, it took consistency, it took ACTION on my part to create an expectation of safety and responsible behaviors on the part of my dogs.
When we say things like “If you don’t like off leash dogs, don’t walk past ME, then” what we are really saying is “I think I’m above the potential for anything to happen to me or my dogs while they aren’t contained and supervised appropriately. But, God forbid, if something DOES ever happen, it certainly isn’t MY fault, its yours because you chose to walk where my dogs are welcome to roam.” The attitude of being so flippant about the whole thing is so incredibly irresponsible I don’t have the appropriate words for it. Containment and supervision are for our own dogs’ safety as much as it is for others.
I get it, we all want the dogs that walk well off leash, that don’t need to be told to ignore everyone and everything else and only have eyes for us. I have one of those. He still sniffs a little further from me sometimes than I like. All of my dogs (save one) are good off leash and have a pretty sturdy recall. They come back when I tell them to, they wander to the end of the “safety zone” of where my verbal direction becomes Charlie Brown’s teacher, then they check back in with me and move out to the end of that zone again. That is NORMAL dog behavior. Don’t let your dog’s natural tendencies to sniff, to patrol borders, to police his surroundings visually eventually become a negative thing. In places that I have lived, it is legal to shoot dogs who wander off their property or threaten livestock/poultry. (Threaten could mean chase/play with, not just cause physical harm to) In places that I have lived it is legal to shoot a dog if that dog comes off their property and approaches in an “aggressive” manner. I’ve seen dog fights, I have kicked off leash dogs away from my dogs on walks, I have been followed by off-leash dogs, I have been concerned for my personal safety around some off leash-dogs.
I couldn’t live with myself if ANY of my dogs were harmed because of my negligence. Did they run out in the road and get hit by a car? Did another dog come into my yard and there was a fight? Did someone fear for their safety because my dogs are big and muscular and square and kick my dogs, or otherwise hurt them? Did the mailman pepperspray my dogs because of how they look and that they weren’t behind a fence? There are so many what if’s. But the 1 that takes care of them all is: containment. I keep my dogs within the confines of my private property. I keep the dogs on a RESTRICTED 6 foot leash so that they can’t wander while we walk. I take precautions to keep my dogs safe. It is my responsibility. As a pet parent, and even moreso as a Bully Breed pet parent. If my dog were to end up in a fight with the off-leash lab that aggravates them on his walk every night, you do realize who society is going to blame right away, right? That’s right, mine.
As guardians of dogs with social stigmas and pre-conceived ideas about their temperaments, we owe it to them to NEVER, EVER give society (or the media) a chance to be proven right(ish). Ever. We owe it to the dogs who love us and who we adore to make sure that we aren’t allowing tragedy to be set up for them. Set them up for success, always. Encourage appropriate decision making from them, always. Create and enforce boundaries for them, always.
Its not rude or arrogant to have an expectation that others do the same. It is being a good neighbor. It is being a responsible pet guardian/parent. It is being a responsible member of a community, and in most cases, a law-abiding citizen. Off-leash dogs aren’t “No Big Deal.”
Thank you for being a responsible pet parent!
(see also, previous blog: The MDIF)