Last week I took Rufus to City Park for a training stroll. It was a gorgeous Sunday so of course much of Denver showed up as well. This was ideal. I wanted Rufus to have distractions around him so that he could learn that as long as he stays next to me, he’s fine. He wore his dapper blue Freedom Harness while I armed myself with a treat bag. Off we went.
We encountered different people, dogs, cyclists, geese, the whole park she-bang. Everything went well with a little bit of curiosity from Rufus but mostly well-behaved loose-leash walking. This was the best reaction I could hope for and it had me doing internal cart wheels.
Of course there had to be the dude with the dog without a leash. I did not speak to him personally but I assume his reasons are one of these:
- “My dog is very well-behaved”
- “My dog prefers running without a leash”
- “Your dog is the problem, not mine”
- “I’m a complete douche-bag”
I’m going with #4 on the list.
Busy parks have loads of people who may or may not like dogs. They also have loads of dogs who may or may not like other dogs. The last thing any of us want is for my dog to get scared when an unleashed dog runs up to him making him feel trapped, generating more anxiety.
Leash anxiety is real. Sophie usually does not care about other dogs when she is off leash but boy-oh-boy she gets super agitated when she sees one while on-leash. Rufus doesn’t even know what he feels. He usually wants to play when he meets a new dog, but his size and his fear of others might provoke an unwanted reaction in the other dog. And holy moly, the doodle-bug is crazy strong. He generally behaves well on leash but I cannot promise that he won’t pull me over if he gets super riled up by another pup who comes bounding over. I have been lifting weights lately and I weigh about forty pounds more than he does, but that’s no guarantee against a sneak charge. The last thing I want is any sort of dog-on-dog conflict against an untethered pooch.
This is not as simple as “learn to control your dog,” the phrase of choice among the no-leash crowd. My dog, like many others, is a rescue, and I had nothing to do with his initial imprint stage. He has some fears that are not going away with basic clicker training. We are working on getting him more relaxed but much of that depends on a community that can follow the rules.
Every time we saw an unleashed dog, I stayed back and petted Rufus. I would give him a treat and tell him everything was fine. Generally I would walk to another part of the path and let the others go by while telling Rufus to stay next to me. I did not swear loudly, which I consider a victory considering how goddamn stressful it was.
I should say that most people proved they were fantastic dog-owners and kept their dogs on leash. But all it takes is that one dog…
I’ve encountered this issue in my neighborhood as well, which baffles me. People do yard work and let their dogs roam off leash while cars drive around. I’ve picked up more than a few dogs in my car and taken them back to their homes. Last year, Sophie was taken for a walk by my ex, who was dog-sitting, and was attacked by two little dogs running out of their front door, even though Sophie was across the street from them. One friend’s poor dog was attacked twice when she took her out for a walk. I posted about this on my neighborhood FB page and mixed reaction. Some people responded with a “Good point, I’ll keep my dog in the back yard,” while a few responded with a variation on “Don’t tell me how to take care of my dog! I’ll do what makes her happy!” I’d like to report that one of those people in the latter group was a middle school principal who went on a very long rant. (Awesome screening job, DPS)
People get weird about their dogs, almost as weird as they do about their kids. Co-dependency and over-identification of motives can lead to some screwed up situations. While the kid-thing is, in my opinion, decidedly weirder, all I want right now is to be able to walk my dogs and stay safe. Do leash laws need to be stricter? In my opinion, absolutely.
Leashes. Choose one. Use one.