13 Mar 2014

Dogs Off-Leash on Trails

I struggled a little bit to write this post because reading it could really go many different ways.  Let me start by saying that I like dogs.  I had one growing up but that didn't go over well (my dad and the dog just didn't see eye-to-eye).  When I first moved out of my parents house, I got a dog (a black lab mix).  I loved that dog and had him for quite a few years.  However, my circumstances changed and I had to give him up.  While that was a really difficult decision for me, I acknowledge that it was probably harder on the dog and so I accept that I shouldn't have gotten him in the first place.  As such, I am a big proponent of responsible pet ownership.

For the time being, my wife and I have decided not to get a dog.  We like the flexibility of not having one and admit that we are simply too busy to properly care for one.  But I also accept that when my son is older, he may ask for one and so that is a decision that we have put on the shelf for a later date.

So I tell that story to give what I'm going to say next some credibility: if you don't have complete control of your dog, it should not go off-leash in a public area.

I run a lot on trails and natural areas.  These trails happen to also be very popular areas for dog owners and their dogs.  And understandably so - they are beautiful, natural areas with plenty of room to run, walk, and play.  Despite the fact that most of these trails are not off-leash areas, the majority of dogs I see on the trails are off-leash.  In theory, I have no problem with this.  I like to see dogs running around, playing, and enjoying the public space as much as I am.  And the large majority of dogs are perfectly capable of doing so without any problems.

However, there are a small percentage of dogs that simply should not be off-leash in a public area.  Most owners of those dogs know that and leash their dogs accordingly.  But there are a very tiny few that do not.  Over the years, I have been bit, nipped, gnarled at, growled at, and snapped at.

As such, I usually slow down around dogs, keep a steady line and pace, and try not to startle dogs.  Most dogs barely pay me any attention.  But a very small few inevitably run, chase, and snarl.  The owners almost always chase their dogs and apologize profusely for their brief lack of control.  I accept that I wear bright clothing which may startle or attract a dog's attention, but I am not unique in that regard.

Some dogs wander aimlessly all over the path and I have almost tripped over numerous dogs but this doesn't bother me.  What bothers me is the aggressive dogs that are still off-leash.

So my argument is simple: if you do not have complete control over your dog's behaviour, your dog should not be off-leash in a public area.  So far, in the times I have been bitten or nipped, I haven't needed stitches (luckily all minor).  But I hate to think of the day that I, or someone else, does.

Am I out of line in my thinking?  I don't think that I am.

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