Off-leash, off control? – Dog Walking Etiquette Part I

I live nearby a beautiful nature reserve called “Brunssummerheide” which is an ideal place to have long hikes with my dog. The trails are very well maintained (by the ranger I guess) and dogs are allowed everywhere, hence walking on a leash. Keeping your dog on a leash seems to be quite a struggle for many people visiting the nature reserve. I don’t know why but I regularly see people who just break the rules and don’t care about nature. Yet, it is very important to keep your dog on the leash when hiking, especially in this season of the year where the animals of the forest are getting their offspring. Unfortunately, dog owners don’t seem to care because it happens all too often that dogs chase and kill deer and sheep. That’s why the police regularly keeps an eye on dog owners and even gives fines to those who break the rules. Although, I am glad that the police is doing this it makes me sad that it is needed. It would be so much nicer and safer if people would follow certain rules such as a dog walking etiquette so that every dog and human can enjoy walking in the nature. Sadly this is not the case. Dog owners often act very short-sided and do not understand that not all people are feeling the same way about their dog(s):

“#1 My dog is well trained and listens to me – if he wants to”
These kind of people think that their dog is quite well trained and often let them walk off-leash. When their dogs get excited or see something interesting they seem to forget how well trained they are and just do what they want. Chasing a bike, running to another dog regardless whether the dog is interested or not, crossing streets in front of cars..I have seen it all. In general these dogs can be quite friendly but here’s the thing: It makes me quite nervous if your dog is running (on high speed) to me and my dog whilst you are screaming his name. In those situations, I am not sure what is scarier, you shouting like a maniac or your hyper dog running to us. It doesn’t matter whether your dog is walking on or off the leash but you are responsible for your dog’s behavior. If your dog is walking off-leash (in fenced and unfenced) areas he must listen. If you call for your dog and he is not listening, your dog shouldn’t walk off-leash – as simple as that. Such behavior is not only dangerous for your own dog but can also make other people feel uncomfortable. Unfenced areas where dogs are allowed to run off-leash are not meant for dogs to go wild. They still have to listen and obey and don’t be a burden on someone else.

#2 “Everybody loves my dog”
Most people love their dogs which make them think that all the other people and dogs like them, too. Some dogs just don’t get when others are not interested in them and keep following, trying to sniff butts or even worse, try to ride the other dog. Your dog might be super friendly but that doesn’t mean he should force himself on others. You should be able to see when your dog bothers other dogs and call him. My dog Bobby is a very quiet and friendly guy who gets a bit anxious around big dogs and who needs his space. He very rarely wants to sniff other dogs and almost never wants to play. In the almost two years that he is now living with us we only met one dog he wanted to play with. He loves to take long hikes and is constantly busy with following scents. There were so many occasions in which I had to keep a dog off him just because the other person didn’t care. “He just wants to play” is often the reaction you get. Did you ever think about the fact that my dog might not be interested in your dog? I love dogs, really, but it is often the dog owner that just doesn’t care which drives me crazy. Some people even get angry or upset when my dog doesn’t want to play and tell me that my dog is not trained well and that I didn’t socialize him. How can you say such things when you don’t even know the history of a dog? Socializing a dog doesn’t automatically mean that a dog wants to play with other dogs all the time!

#3 “It’s ok my dog is friendly…”
is what she said before her dog ran to my dog and bit him in the face. Just like that! I know that this is an extreme situation but it already happened twice to us. Besides a flabbergasted look on the dog owners face we always get the same response: “My dog is very friendly, s()he never did that before!” Situations like that lower my trust in other people and their dogs. I, too would describe my dog as friendly just because there was never a situation in which Bobby showed aggression to me or others. Nevertheless, I keep an eye on him when we meet other people and dogs. If I see that he doesn’t feel comfortable I stay close to him so that he feels protected. When I see that he wants to sniff another dog I give him space. As a dog owner you should see how your dog feels and keep him close when you expect trouble. The most friendly dog can get angry or anxious and it is your responsibility to protect and control him.

#4 “Letting your dog walk on a leash is sad/animal abuse”

A lot of people believe that it is animal abuse if your dog always has to walk on the leash. I agree that dogs are supposed to run and play but I also think that you should be able to control your dog, for his and other peoples safety. If your dog doesn’t listen to you he should not be allowed to walk off-leash. Walking off-leash is not a given right that a dog gets by being born. He must learn how to behave when walking off-leash and if you are not able to teach him, than you must teach him to walk on the leash. There is nothing sad or abusive about a dog who gets at least 2 hours exercise everyday whilst walking on a leash. My dog always walks on a leash and if I could choose I would rather let him off-leash just because it looks so much fun. Unfortunately it would be too dangerous to let him off-leash so occasionally I let him walk on a very long training leash (only if I am familiar with the terrain). We got him from a shelter where he spend most of his life. They found him on the streets and when he came to us we had to teach him how to walk on the leash. It took us over six months to train him to walk (semi) properly on the leash but we are very proud that he learned it. Bobby is a real hunter and chases cats, rabbits, deer, squirrels, mice and sometimes even birds. We realized quite soon that training him to walk off-leash would be a real challenge. A challenge we decided not to tackle. He seems happy on the leash and it enables us to take long hikes safely. Of course, walking on the leash restricts a dog in his movement and freedom but if that means that we can control and protect him than this is a price worth paying.

I believe that if everybody would take into account the feelings of others and respect nature the world would already be a better, nicer and safer place!


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