Why should dogs be on leash in public places?

Close to where we live, there are not many beaches that allow dogs, which means that the one beach that do allow dogs, is always full of people walking their dogs, letting them swim or throwing retrieve toys for them in the waves. I love seeing people out with their dogs and seeing how the dogs enjoy themselves.

While walking Ben and Cindy on the beach the other day, I was just about to mention to my husband that it is so wonderful to be able to go to the beach with our dogs and everybody being considered of each other. When someone comes closer to you, they put their dogs on lead, walk past and then a distance on allow them off again. Well, right at that moment I spotted two woman walking their approximately five month old fluffy mix breed puppy on a lead, walking towards us. We are probably about 20 meters away from each other, which means they HAD to see us. Now if I, even as a dog trainer, see two large breed dogs on lead, I’m definitely NOT going to take my dog off leash, even if those two dogs are on leash.

And what the owner did next absolutely left me speechless with anger. It almost happened in slow-mo, because I just had a sixth sense of what was about to happen. She looked up, and let her puppy off lead. This puppy was already straining on his leash, bouncing around with joy, and when the leash was clipped off – he literally propelled forward and came straight for us. One happy, bouncy little puppy, probably thinking “oh what joy, some dogs to play with”…

A few things spring to mind here:

* This owner does not know our dogs’ social abilities.

* She does not know if our dogs are on leash because we are considerate of other owners and dogs or if our dogs are on lead because they might be unsociable / aggressive to other dogs.

* She has no control over her puppy’s meet-and-greet ritual.

* She is expecting her very young puppy to know what to do and cope with whatever happens next, as they are about 20 meters away.

* She is allowing her dog to interact with a strange dog – two actually. (Cindy is very sociable, but she does not know this.)

* She is allowing her OFF leash puppy to interact with strange dogs, who are ON lead.

* Does she think it’s okay to have her puppy off lead, because my two adult dogs are on lead?

*Does she think because my dogs are on lead, that nothing bad can happen to her puppy?

* How does she know if I can ‘control’ my dogs – even if they are on lead?

So back to the puppy who is happily running towards us. I immediately do a quick recall (my ‘kissy’ sound I teach when we do our loose-lead-walking exercise) to get Ben next to me, as at that time he was enjoying the extra freedom the retractable leash offers. He gets back to my side and we start walking happily away. At the same time I keep my eye on the owner (and the puppy), because by now they surely should start to notice that I’m trying to get away, they watch me, but do nothing, no calling the puppy, no coming to get the puppy, I ask them to call their puppy…they just leisurely walk on ????  But fluffy puppy follows us and starts to bounce around in Ben’s critical space, bouncing towards his face, bounces back, towards his face and so on. Eventually Ben delivers two air-snaps towards the puppy’s face, which causes him to cower and run off. And during all this time, the puppy’s owners did NOTHING.

Now there are two reasons why this made me so angry. Firstly as a dog-owner it is my responsibility to keep MY dogs safe. You might think now “protecting your big German Shepherd from a small puppy???” No, I’m not thinking size wise, but it is also my responsibility to protect my dog’s emotional state. Being put in that situation, caused his mood state to drop, it forced him to go into a defensive state (which releases a cascade of arousal and stress chemicals in the brain) and it caused a bad habit/behaviour to resurface. And we all know how difficult it is to get rid of a behaviour…ever been on a diet or tried to stop smoking?? For the rest of the walk he was almost back to his old ways, pulling on the lead towards other dogs, scanning the environment, seeking them out and watching them with an aroused body posture.

For those of you who know me and my dogs’ history, will know that I have worked months and months to get my dog-reactive Ben to such a level that he can now calmly walk pasts other dogs, with just a quick relaxed glance in their direction and then carry on with investigating the environment. And for those of you who have worked with me with your dog-reactive dogs, will know how much work that entails and how much management goes into every walk.

The next few days on walks, he was still vigilant and so aware of other dogs, which meant going back and doing a bit of re-training.  This I can deal with, however disrupting and disconcerting it was, but what this owner exposed her puppy to is absolutely unfair to him and also just plain irresponsible. What would have happened if her puppy bounced into the critical space of another dog-reactive dog and who’s owner did not know what to do in such a situation.

It can have a disastrous consequence for her puppy’s social development. A negative incident like this, especially at such a young age could be detrimental to this puppy’s future. It can sometimes only take one bad social experience to create a dog-reactive dog, which means no more free-running and the puppy would probably be left at home, because working with a dog-reactive dog, is too ‘difficult’ or takes ‘too much effort’ for some people.

It only took two negative social interactions (before Ben was 6 months old) to have him be reactive towards other dogs. Unfortunately nine years ago I did not know any better, and this is why I’m so passionate about teaching dog owners, because (unwittingly) making a few mistakes can have negative consequences for the dog.

It boils down to this …“Why can’t people just be considerate towards other people and their dogs?” It is irresponsible and owners with a ‘no-care-attitude’ like this that causes fewer and fewer beaches and parks being made available to dogs. It gets more and more difficult to find places to take our dogs. Yes we would all love to have our dogs run free and experience the joy of seeing our dogs sprinting on the beach or in the parks. One client described watching his dog run was like ‘poetry in motion.’

But if we don’t start to adhere to municipal rules like following ‘leash-laws’ and picking up dog pooh – there will be nowhere left to take our dogs – even on lead.