The Great Debate: To Leash or Not To Leash.

FB_IMG_1452266093209Some subjects are such hot buttons that it’s such a guaranteed argument trigger to mention them. Religion, politics and the ever-popular, on/off leash are way up there on the list. Opposing views on this subject can be heated at best. So many articles have been written about it that it almost seems like there is no reason to cover it yet again. My primary focus here is one just aspect of this subject but I will cover several areas of it.

Before I dive in too far, I need to be up front about my own personal view on this subject. I am firmly on the side of leashing one’s dog where one is legally required to do so. That said, I certainly have allowed my dogs to be off leash in certain areas, where although not technically legally allowed, the owner of the land was okay with reasonable exceptions. I absolutely would not permit my dogs to bother anyone when off leash and have only permitted my dogs off leash when alone with them in any given area. Adding to that, said dogs were as rock solidly recall trained as is possible with a living being capable of original thought and cognitive decisions.

As for my own pet peeve angle to be addressed on this subject, it concerns the fallacy that a dog cannot be truly fulfilled without off leash running in unenclosed areas. Hogwash at best. This is most frequently the excuse given when someone wants to break the law and allow their dog off leash in areas that forbid it. “They need the freedom.” Other variations are; “It makes him happy”. “He loves to run”. “He needs to run.” “He won’t be happy on a leash”. “He listens to me.” “He’s friendly”. “He likes to meet everyone.” Other reasons are also cited, among them; “There was no one here when I got here”. “I can’t keep up with him”. “He pulls me”. I could go on and on and on.

Let’s cut right to the chase about these excuses. You are the human responsible for your dog’s safety. You provide the safety net and you set the guidelines. If your human child wanted to do something that placed him in danger, are you all about allowing it or are you putting on your parenting hat? I suspect most of you are putting that parenting hat on. Then why are you forgetting to wear it for your dogs? It’s the same situation.

Dogs are not robots. They are sentient beings capable of individual thought processes independent of your desires. All of the training in the world won’t stop death if they make the wrong choice. It can happen in a literal instant. I am well aware of the potential dangers that my own dogs could have faced every time I unclip a leash in an unfenced area. I was always full of relief every time a recall was successful and they were safely back into the confines of my vehicle. If you never experienced that particular feeling, then I don’t think you truly comprehend what can happen when you make the choice to unleash in public without barriers.

The truly problematic part of this issue lies with the human part of this relationship. For some people, it is an ego trip, showing the world how well trained their dogs are/that they are an “alpha”. With others, it’s more of a perceived benevolence towards their dogs. They truly believe they are doing their dog the ultimate favor. And yet with others, it’s a complete disregard for how their actions affect others. And for hopefully the smallest group among those who choose this route, it’s a deliberate attempt to use their dog to cause a confrontation with others.

Regardless of the reasons, there are leash laws for good reasons. Regional differences are important in understanding this topic fully. In many countries, it is perfectly normal to see dogs off leash in many public areas. It’s not only legal, it’s encouraged. Understanding how that applies to those areas but not other areas is a matter of understanding the human/dog relationship that is encouraged in those countries. Dogs are respected much more as sentient beings in these countries. Humans are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. That follows that they also take responsibility for their dog’s actions by training them more thoroughly than most people in the US do. Sadly the same cannot be said for either point in the United States.

Let’s address the training aspect of this subject. Of my current crew, only Trent is left that I spent a huge amount of time training the recall. And although I considered Merlin, Kera and Siri’s recall about a 99%, I always considered Trent’s about a 95%. Kenzo has had some recall training and I would say that it’s pretty good but certainly not proofed like I made sure I did with the previous crew. My intent is to do better with training for recalls. My newest addition, Mela, has no recall because she just joined the family. She was a stray living on the streets of a not so good neighborhood for a few months. So she is a flight risk. But because she is super happy with her new circumstances, I cannot discount that she is probably fairly reliable because of that. However, would I test that theory? Most certainly not. I will train a solid recall first. Writing this has inspired me to rent a huge local play yard simply to practice recalls.

Back to training recalls. There is no such thing as a 100% recall. Dogs are thinking beings. You cannot guarantee that the outcome of any situation will match your own desires, when they have a choice in the matter. It takes literally one bad decision by your dog to take a happy outing from just that, to a tragedy that could have been prevented. Wildlife, another dog, a person that your dog likes, anything can cause a deviation in what you think they would normally do or how they respond to you. Is it really worth it? Is your training that good? Most dog parents don’t invest the amount of recall training that is necessary to place your chances of a recall in the plus column rather than the minus column. Even many professionals don’t train to that degree of reliability. I have in the past and writing this article is inspiring me to do it again. But even that doesn’t guarantee an outcome.

I feel at this point that I should mention what some people call e-collars and others with a more realistic view on them, call shock collars. They are not a substitute for a leash. I have seen some people comment online that this is what they use for a leash. Sorry, but where leash laws apply, an electronic collar does not qualify as a leash. Leash laws typically require a physical leash and many laws even specify a length such as six feet. Even where dogs are permitted to be off leash, many people have these on their dog because they believe that they have more control. That control is an illusion. Your dog still makes choices. A shock might stop him momentarily but I have personally known of two dogs who went AWOL wearing a shock collar. Not an invisible fence collar but an actual “training” shock collar. One was lost in the nearby woods overnight after a hiking trip that resulted in a dog more interested in wildlife than her owner. And the other one was running his neighborhood for a bit after a mishandling at the door. Both had batteries intact. Please don’t think that these devices guarantee that your dog stays with you. That is far from the truth. Also please consider what kind of relationship damage that using such a device to keep your dog in line can cause. That isn’t the subject of this article, however, so on that note, we will exit this subject for the next point on the subject at hand.

I would like to again address the enrichment issue since that is the reason so often cited by owners as a need to have their dogs off leash. It is a complete and utter fallacy that dogs are not having a fulfilling enriching experience by walking in partnership on leash with their humans. Done correctly, they certainly are. See this article for more on how dogs connect with their environment.

It doesn’t take much to provide the appropriate enrichment for your dog on a walk. Simply learn how to provide balance between moving around and remembering that you exist. Training is an important part of this. In order to safely have your dog off leash, training is a requirement so using the lack of it as an excuse to have your dog off leash in populated public areas just makes you look lame.

Of course, plenty of dogs absolutely deal far better with life when they have the ability to run full speed on a fairly regular basis. But expecting the public at large to deal with your dog when you want that option is not realistic or appropriate. As previously mentioned, I have trained a fairly reliable recall with some of my dogs. I do/did allow them off leash access in an area in a cemetery where I can see everything coming at quite a distance. That gives me time to gather my dogs to me and get them under control before anyone approaches. So far, so good.

I have even once had the misfortune of unclipping my dog’s leashes right before realizing that we were between two herds of deer. That really hit home with how my training was progressing. The three dogs that were at what I considered the 99% reliability immediately looked to me for their paycheck and the one that was at about a 95% reliability hesitated for about five long seconds before joining his housemates in asking for his paycheck. Payday was immediately followed by a group jump into the vehicle and our exit to the second favorite off leash area.

My point to that story is that I do agree that some dogs fare better emotionally with that option on a regular basis. I have a fenced in yard but it’s not large enough to allow full steam running. Many people don’t even have the luxury of a fenced in yard. I now have dogs that I need to resume my recall efforts with in order to be comfortable allowing them to run off leash in our favorite spot to do so. So how will I accomplish allowing the full steam running that I know that at least two of my current dogs need? I will rent a play yard that is securely fenced and allow it there. Is that an option everywhere? Of course not. But be resourceful. Scout around for fenced in areas that may be appropriate for dogs after the hours that humans use them. Beg your friends for the use of their own fenced in yards. Visit dog parks after hours when it’s empty. Or if your dogs are so dog friendly that you are okay with them off leash in public, then you have no excuse for not taking advantage of the local dog park. None. Most are huge and the possibilities for running full speed ahead, are readily available. There is no reason for using the “needs to run” excuse. Simple as that.

If your excuse is that you can’t keep up with your dog, so you let him run off leash, then train him! Or hire a dog walker that can keep up with him. It’s certainly less expensive than potential damage caused by your dog’s bad decision to head into a street or to a leashed dog that your dog gets into a tussle with. Which brings me to the final part of this subject that I wanted to address.

This is the area that you will find the most articles on this subject written about. Allowing your unleashed dog to harass leashed dogs. The dogs residing in a couple of city shelters in my city are not permitted to be taken to the city parks by volunteer dog walkers because of this problem. It’s that bad. Regardless of who initiates the interaction, if a shelter dog were to object (and it would be totally within their rights to do so!), and especially, if said shelter dog were obviously of breed lineage that frightens some people, that shelter dog would inevitably be blamed. The shelter could be sued. It’s not worth it. So the dogs get less enrichment than they deserve because of selfish dog owners.

I don’t honestly know anyone who hasn’t had an unpleasant interaction with someone’s off leash dog in an area that requires leashes. I personally have had literally dozens of such interactions, with one that came very close to being tragic. I still wonder what managed to save my dogs that day. I now carry Spray Shield with the nozzle in the on position on every single walk. I walk multiple dogs at once. I cannot take the chance that a loose dog will charge us. An owner screaming “he’s friendly” is meaningless when you have a strange dog charging directly at your own dogs who are on leash. If you were a human in that situation, with a stranger charging directly at you, would you be worried for your own safety? Of course you would! That stranger screaming that he is friendly won’t change how you feel. You would be within your rights to defend yourself preemptively.

One last view that I want to mention that I never see addresses in these articles concerns those whose dogs are off leash but do not bother other dogs on leash. It doesn’t matter if they approach the on leash dogs or not. They are not visibly controlled by the human and the on leash dogs fully perceive that. How can I know this? Quite easily, watch dogs enough and you will see it too. It even applies to uncontrolled dogs on leash being viewed by controlled dogs on leash. The energy of an on-leash dog is going to be different than an off leash dog. And the energy of an untrained on-leash dog is going to be different than the energy of an on-leash trained dog. Many people deliberately take their dogs where leashes are required so that they can feel safer walking them. Regardless of whether your dog approaches other dogs when off leash in these areas, he presents a danger to the on-leash dogs. Why would you want to be part of the problem to those dogs?

In closing, I would like to ask those of you who allow their dogs off leash in public areas legally requiring leashes to examine your own motives for this decision as well as placing yourself in the position of others who follow the law. The world can be a far better place for all dogs if everyone understood their impact on others. Not only will the dog parents thank you, but the dog will view you with more benevolence as well.


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authorname

Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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  • Karen Smith

    While I do not agree with many of the author's beliefs regarding dogs being offleash, I respect anyone's decision to walk their dog onleash. Which is one reason that I find the tone of this article so offputting. Why does the the author believe that people who prefer to walk their dogs offleash are offering excuses? I do not need an excuse to walk my dogs offleash, and I do so where legally allowed.

    In addition the article mentions legalities, but does not mention that there are places besides dog parks where it is legal for dogs to be offleash - even in the U.S! First and foremost is private property where of course a dog can be offleash with the owner's permission. This could be a farmer's fields, privately owned woods, etc. In addition I noticed that the author is located in Pennsylvania, but makes no mention of the fact that dogs can legally be offleash on PA state forest trails as long as they are under control of the owner. There are other places where leashes are not required by law, such as trails on property owned by the Army Corps of Engineers at Raystown Lake. In many places such of these, leashes are required at trailheads, picnic areas, and recreation areas (such as boat launches, etc) but people are free to walk their dogs offleash on the actual trails. There is no need to allow dogs to romp at your local cemetery. That is frowned on and outlawed at many cemeteries due to dog owners not picking up their dogs' poop, but that is a whole other subject!

    I want to say that I'm not bragging about my training prowess or any of the other excuses mentioned in the article. I'm simply exercising my legal right to walk my dogs offleash. That is what we enjoy. I respect another dog owner's choice to use a leash. As long as my dogs and I are not bothering anyone or breaking any laws, all that I ask is that others respect my decision not to use a leash.

  • Kimberly Adsit

    Well I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s beliefs regarding dogs being off leash. People who walk their dogs off leash are full of excuses why they don’t or shouldn’t have to obey the laws which are utterly ridiculous. Laws are in place for specific reasons. There areas designated where dogs can legally run off leash and these areas are usually clearly marked and out of the way of the general public. Dogs being off leash in a non designated area are a nuisance and cause problems for others.

    Having a dog off leash on someone’s private property, field area, or wooded area, etc., is completely different because it is private land and it is awesome for those that can do this especially if they have a great recall on their dogs but a lot of people are not so fortunate. On top of that we all know that no recall is 100% and we all know that unexpected things happen.

    Whether or not the author is in Pennsylvania or another state is irrelevant laws are laws and should be obeyed. Forest trails and walking/hiking trails were created for people not dogs. People have the right to walk on these trails by themselves, with their children, or with their own dog without being accosted by some entitled persons off leash dog. Some people are afraid of dogs, some children are afraid of dogs, why should these people not be allowed to use these facilities created for them all because you want to walk your dog off leash.

    As far as being off leash on PA state forest trails I don’t know which ones you frequent but Allegheny National Forest, Elverson: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Gettysburg National Military Park, Philadelphia: Independence National Historical Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, just to name a few, all require that your dogs be on leash at all times and are not allowed in public buildings. Delaware even goes as far as
    to state that the leashes may not be any longer than 6 feet in length. PA State Game lands require that dogs must be kept on a leash not exceeding 6 feet in length at all times. As far as Raystown Lake pets are allowed at the lake. There are certain areas that they are not allowed access to and those are posted. You must clean up after your pets and they must ALWAYS be on a leash. Obviously you must never have read their webpage because it is printed right there in English.

    If you check the PA National Parks website it clearly states rules and regulations for all National Parks within the state and lists those parks, dozens of them, by name. Those regulations state that pets are welcomed in designated areas only. Pet owners must clean up after their pets. They must be current on rabies vaccinations and be wearing a current license. Pets are not to be left unattended and must be under PHYSICAL control at all times. Pets may not create a disturbance or be a nuisance. Pets can only be brought in to a designated area if caged, in vehicles, trailers, motor homes, campers, or ON A
    leash.

    PA Dog Law clearly states that dogs must be: 1.) Confined within the premises of the owner. 2.) Firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that they cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is firmly secured. 3.) Under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting, exhibition, or field training. Now we all know that you cannot have 100% physical control of your dog at all times unless they are on leash.

    If you want to run your dog off leash do it in areas where it is legally designated for them to be off leash not just where you want, because you feel like it, or because you are a superb trainer with an entitled complex. You have no legal right to have your dog off leash in a non designated area where they can cause problems for other people who are obeying the law
    and basically just trying to enjoy themselves.

    As far as respecting your decision to not use a leash, as long as you are in a designated off leash area, where you are legally allowed to have your dog off leash your dog can run and have fun as much as it likes.

  • Karen Smith

    This post is primarily in answer to some comments made by Kimberly since she is making the assumption that being offleash equals breaking the law in most places. This is so not true. Allow me to point you to some official websites which list leash laws for several agencies.
    1) Army Corps of Engineers for Raystown area
    2) DCNR for Pennsylvania state forests.
    3) Pennsylvania Dog Law
    These links should help clear up some confusion/misunderstandings.

    Army Corps of Engineers owned property in Raystown Lake area
    Here is a link to the rules - http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Missions/DamsRecreation/Raystown/Hiking.aspx
    Note the statement under rules and tips "Pets must be physically restrained at all times by a 6 ft. leash while at TRAILHEADS and ESTABLISHED RECREATION AREAS." This means that leashes are NOT required at places other than trailheads and established recreation areas. I am not sure what website you are reading Kimberly. Perhaps one that refers to rules for the marina and such at Raystown Lake, The link above provides rules for hiking on trails on land owned by the Army Corps on Engineers in the Raystown area, such as the Terrace Mountain Trail etc.

    There are 20 state forests in Pennsylvania
    PA State Forests are NOT the same as PA Gamelands, PA State Parks, or National parks.
    Yes leashes may be required in national forests and national parks located in PA (no idea, I don't hike there) and are required in gamelands when not training the dog. As I said in my earlier post, leashes ARE NOT required on trails in PA STATE FORESTS. See the State Forest official website link - http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_008795.pdf See Rule 21.106 for rules in picnic areas - 6 foot leash required. See Rule 21.121 for rules for trails - no mention of leashes... Obviously pets are not allowed in any buildings....

    Regarding PA Dog Law/Leash law, here is a link to an attorney's website that explains the "leash" law in PA.
    http://www.cordiscolaw.com/faqs/does-pennsylvania-have-a-leash-law-.cfm
    As you can see, PA does not have a clear cut leash law such as other states. PA dog law makes no specific mention of leashes, therefore reasonable control does not = leash. And leash does not always = control. And Kimberly "reasonable control" does not = "100% physical control". Of course as the website states, individual towns and cities can and do institute their own leash laws.

    When incorrect information is published on websites and blogs, I feel it is my responsibility to let others know the facts, so that those interested have somewhere to explore with their dogs offleash. Official websites speak for themselves. In closing I have no sense of entitlement, I am simply enjoying my offleash privileges where is it allowed by law.

  • Karen Smith

    Debby, please take a moment to read my post again. Nowhere do I discuss leash laws in national parks, national recreation areas or state parks. I discussed leash laws in STATE FORESTS - there are 20 in PA. And it is most definitely possible to have **reasonable control** and **attend to a dog** that is offleash. I am not a professional dog trainer, but I manage that with two dogs every day. If you read the DCNR rules for state forests in the link that you provide, Reg 21.106 does indeed state that leashes ARE required in picnic areas. Reg 21.121 for trails does NOT state that leashes are required. Can you see from comparing the two regulations that there is a difference between the requirements for trails and picnic areas?

    In addition your own link for PA leash law (www.animallaw.info in your post above) clearly states that PA leash law is NOT clear cut. The following sentence is copied directly from the website that you provided "As observed in Pennsylvania's law, a leash is not the only way to control a dog. In fact, some owners argue that a dog may be under the control of his or her handler by verbal or hand commands. In fact, most of the state "restraint" laws for dogs do not mandate leashes and instead outlaw dogs running at large" (Running at large means dogs running loose with no owners, such as when a dog gets loose and wanders the neighborhood by itself). Did you read the information for PA on that website? How do you interpret that information to mean that a dog must be leashed when not hunting? Again "reasonable control" is not defined as being on leash. Please take a moment to reread that information.

    I am in total agreement that dogs being allowed offleash in areas where they are prohibited can create problems.. My only dispute with your post is that you are not providing accurate information about where offleash dogs ARE allowed.

  • Karen Smith

    Debby, please take a moment to read my post again. Nowhere do I discuss leash laws in national parks, national recreation areas, or state parks. I discussed STATE FORESTS - there are 20 in PA. And it is most definitely possible to have **reasonable control** and **attend to a dog** that is offleash. I am not a professional dog trainer, but I manage that with two dogs every day. If you read the DCNR rules for state forests in the link that you provide, reg 21.106 does indeed state that leashes ARE required in picnic areas. Reg 21.121 for trails does NOT state that a leash is required. Can you see from comparing the two regulations that there is a difference between the requirements for trails and picnic areas?

    In addition your own link for PA leash law (www.animallaw.info in your post above) clearly states that PA leash law is NOT clear cut. The following sentence is copied directly from the website that you provided "As observed in Pennsylvania's law, a leash is not the only way to control a dog. In fact, some owners argue that a dog may be under the control of his or her handler by verbal or hand commands. In fact, most of the state "restraint" laws for dogs do not mandate leashes and instead outlaw dogs running at large." (Running at large means dogs running loose with no owners, such as when a dog gets loose and wanders the neighborhood by itself). Did you read the information for PA on that website? How do you interpret that information to mean that a dog must be leashed when not hunting? Again "reasonable control" is not defined as being on leash. Please take a moment to reread that information.

    I am in total agreement that dogs being allowed offleash in areas where they are prohibited can create problems. My dispute with your post is that you are not providing accurate information about where offleash dogs ARE allowed.

  • Debby

    Hi Karen, I am responding to your response to both my comment and Kim's comment. I strongly disagree with your interpretation of attended to. I offer you the definition of attended.

    at·tend
    əˈtend/
    verb
    past tense: attended; past participle: attended
    1.
    be present at (an event, meeting, or function)."the entire sales force attended the conference"
    synonyms:be present at, sit in on, take part in; More
    appear at, present oneself at, turn up at, visit, go to;
    informalshow up at, show one's face at
    "they attended a carol service"
    antonyms:miss
    go regularly to (an educational, religious, social, or clinical institution)."all children are required to attend school"
    2.
    deal with."he muttered that he had business to attend to"
    synonyms:deal with, see to, manage, organize, sort out, handle, take care of, take charge of, take in hand, tackle
    "he attended to the boy's education"As you can see, being present and dealing with are both mentioned. Neither of those apply when one's dog is at a distance. So while the PA state law does not explicitly say that a leash should be attached, there most definitely is that implication if one is going to comply with the actual definition of attended to. One cannot immediately attend to one's dog if they are not near and if they are not near, then one is indeed breaking that law. And if one cannot allow one's dog to drift away physically, then a leash is a requirement and a necessity.

    As for the implication that a dog can be off leash everywhere but the trail-head and camping areas as you mention, it does not say that so just because it not not specifically state that leashes are required everywhere in state forests, since you are specifically referring to PA public lands, then one must fall back on the PA state law so therefore that applies. See previous comments on that. Private lands in PA are up to the owner of such. All public lands have to follow the state law.

    So you see, no inaccurate information is being spread as you suggested. Thanks!

  • Karen Smith

    Debby, have you read the rules under each link that I provided? If not, please take the time to do so. Each government agency for which I provided a link clearly uses the word "leash" where a leash is required (picnic areas, trailheads, recreation areas) Clearly where the word "leash" is not used, but instead "attended to" or "reasonable control" is used - a leash is NOT required. Why do you think the agency uses the word "leash" for certain areas, but not for others?? Because leashes are not required outside of the areas where it is indicated that a leash IS required. If a leash was required everywhere in PA except your own property, it would state that. If a leash was required in the entire PA state forest, it would state that. If a leash was required on all land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, it would state that. Instead every single regulation and rule page states where a leash is required. And then uses terms such as "attended to" and "reasonable control" for the areas where a leash is not required.

    We could debate this until we're both blue in the face. However I sincerely hope that anyone who reads your article and desires to have their dog offleash takes the time to read the rules in the links that I provided for PA Dog Law, DCNR/PA State Forests, and the Army Corps of Engineers. They can then form their own opinions rather than depending on how either one of us interprets the law.

  • Debby

    Hi Karen, you said it yourself. We could debate this until we are blue in the face. I DID read the rules and I also gave you the actual meaning of attend. I also gave you the info with regards to the state of PA leash laws which specifically use the word attend. If you want to interpret the word attend differently than the actual dictionary definition, that is certainly your prerogative. But that in no way makes your interpretation correct. The law is the law and if you are not in attendance to your dog because your dog is off leash and at a distance, then the law is indeed broken, regardless of YOUR own interpretation of it. You are free to break the law if you wish but that doesn't change the law.

  • Karen Smith

    Debby, neither choice 1 or 2 in the definition that you provided for the word "attend" sheds any light on this debate. The only definition that be stretched to relate to this discussion is "be present" which in no way equals "leash" I recently spoke to a DCNR officer for the Buchanon State Forest regarding the laws for state forest. He verified that leashes are only required in picnic areas. In all other areas, reasonable control is the law. Perhaps you should send him the definition of "attend" to see how he applies it to the law...

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