Dog people: Leashes exist for a reason

My friends, it appears that it is once again time to talk about leashes, and why you need to use them. Whether you use a leash or harness, prong collar or no, or any other configuration of leash and collar is your business and not mine, but when your dog is not on a leash, you make it my business. And I don’t want your dog to be my business. So please put it on a leash.

This isn’t because I dislike dogs (admittedly, I’m not really a big dog person, but I don’t dislike dogs so much as I am kind of indifferent to them — I’m accustomed to relating to them as working animals and it’s weird to me that people keep them as pets, but, hey, guess what, people say the same thing about cats, so I think we can all get along). It’s actually because I care a lot about dogs and want them to be happy and healthy and safe! So it’s time to talk about the fact that all dogs need to be on leashes unless they are specifically in a private, designated off-leash area, whether that be a park or their own securely fenced yard. Yes, even your dog.

Dogs are unpredictable. They’re animals! Animals are unpredictable! A dog that is super chill and cool and okay and all right with humans and other animals might suddenly get freaked out, or triggered by something that you don’t even notice, and it could chase animals or young children, and possibly attack them as well. Maybe your dog is relaxing with you and suddenly she’s bitten by a horsefly, and the abrupt pain is stressful and upsetting, so she whirls  and snaps at whatever or whoever happens to be there. The whole point of being unpredictable is that you, uh, literally cannot predict what an animal is going to do.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen dogs attack people and other animals, especially young children and other dogs, only to hear “gosh, she’s never done that before!” “He would never hurt anyone!” Well, yes, until now. You know what sucks? Having a friendly, sweet, awesome, outgoing dog who gets impounded for rabies monitoring because of the one time your dog lost her cool. (P.S. Keep up on your rabies vaccinations, they’re free or low-cost and often legally required in many areas!)

People get scared of dogs. Yes, even little tiny dogs that fit in your purse. People who are scared of dogs are nervous and afraid around them for all kinds of reasons that are not your business, and being approached by a leashed dog can be stressful, especially with the handler shouting ‘she’s friendly! She won’t hurt you!’ An unleashed dog is a panic-attack inducing nightmare for some people. Even people who are totally comfortable and fine with dogs of all sizes can get a little nervous when approached by an unknown, unleashed dog. Dogs are also very smart and sensitive, and they pick up on it when someone is nervous and freaked out, so they get nervous and freaked out, and what do nervous and freaked out dogs do?

Other dogs get scared of dogs! There are a whole lot of reasons for that, from former bait dogs rescued by lovely people to dogs that are just uneasy around their fellow canines, for some reason. Whenever any dog is afraid of dogs, all dogs should be on leashes for everyone’s safety, period. Scared dogs can bite or snap, and even if your dog is very friendly, a dog that’s nervous around fellow members of the species is going to be upset on approach. People with dogs in this situation take a lot of steps to try to socialise them and make them safe and comfortable, including avoiding obvious danger zones like off-leash dog parks, and it’s really frustrating to encounter an off-leash dog where none are expected.

Dogs run away and get hurt! A loose dog is a dog in danger, period. Loose dogs can run out into traffic, get trapped on things and in tight places, eat things they shouldn’t, and do other things that endanger them. We don’t want that!

Dogs are a threat to livestock! Depending on where you live, there may be livestock around, and dogs can be dangerous not just to obvious suspects like chickens, but also sheep, goats, cows, and even horses. Whether they’re attacking livestock or scaring them and causing injuries, loose dogs can do tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage in just a few minutes, in addition to causing real heartache and stress for people who love their livestock. (Also, in many areas, if your dog gets onto someone else’s property and kills or harasses livestock, property owners are within their legal rights to kill your dog, and some will, especially in the case of repeat offenders. I really don’t want that to happen to your dog!)

Dogs can endanger service animals! I’ve seen a lot of really heartbreaking stories this year from service dog handlers involved in dog attacks. Aside from the initial attack, which is traumatic for everyone involved, some service animals never recover emotionally from dog attacks, and they’re too dangerous and unreliable to keep working. Training a service animal, and it’s usually specifically dogs in this situation because most service animals are dogs, can costs tens of thousands of dollars and untold hours, and it is a huge investment. There’s a reason retiring service dogs is rough for everyone. Having to retire a dog years early is a terrible blow. Service animals are working partners and an important part of their handlers’ lives. They are also beloved friends. Whether a loose dog distracts a service animal who needs to be working, or actually attacks, your loose dog can do a tremendous amount of damage in a very short period of time.

Someone who needs a dog to be on a leash might not want to cause a scene! Though leash use is the law in many areas, dog people can get very self righteous and uptight (not you, I’m sure!). Someone who needs a dog to be leashed for their safety, that of a service animal, or livestock, or children, or pets, or the dog’s own safety, might be shy about saying ‘hey, could you please put a leash on your dog?’ I see a lot of dog owners say that they ‘put a leash on as soon as they see another dog or someone asks,’ but by then, it’s too late. Don’t make people uncomfortable: Just leave your dog’s leash on unless specifically invited to do otherwise. (e.g. when I have guests with dogs and the chickens are closed up, I let them run their dogs loose in the pasture, which is secured so no pooches are going anywhere.)

So, dog owners, I am begging you, please: If you are in public areas, just leave your dog on the leash. At all times. Everywhere. Even if your dog is very mellow, and has never hurt another living thing, and gets along well with cats and babies and everyone else. There is no way to tell when your dog may become aggressive, or could be endangered, and it’s not fair to stress everyone else out just because you want your dog to be off leash. If your dog has bad leash manners that make it frustrating and difficult to maintain control while you’re out, go to obedience school. Do not make your dog everyone else’s problem.

Image: Golden Retriever puppy, ccho, Flickr