Wednesday, January 09, 2008

More on dogs off leash

Francesca and I enjoyed our jog this morning without seeing the miscreant dog. We did see two great blue herons, grebes, sandpipers, and other waterfowl, and a soaring hawk.

As I drove away from the lake, I spotted the guy again with his two off-leash dogs, so I called the non-emergency police line. Hopefully they got him.

I remembered that I have seen some other dogs off leash near the lake, specifically two different women who walk their dogs in the fields far from the granite path, and their dogs listen to their owners and never come near us. One woman even has some sort of field training device (it makes a noise and possibly delivers a shock?).

We also have a large field behind our house that I will occasionally let Francesca run across when we are jogging around our neighborhood. I only let her go at off-peak hours if there is no one anywhere near the trails that might distract her, and definitely not if there are any dogs. I make her do a down-stay before I release her, and we always have the same pattern - jog across the field diagonally, and I pick up her leash at the other end of the trail.

This is to say I don't believe there is never a time to let your dog off leash. My golden retriever Montana was a dog who didn't need a leash most of the time, but still I didn't flaunt leash laws. Certainly, if the dude at the lake wanted to walk his dogs off leash in the fields far from dog traffic, I wouldn't have an issue with it.

The problem is that most dog owners like to indulge their dog in a little freedom, and then the dog takes this as a sign of his increased status. Then the dog travels far away enough to be out of the control of the owner, who futilely is calling the dog, who ignores him, and the dog learns to ignore the calls. Most people would like to have a perfectly obedient dog, but few put in the daily training that is necessary.

I actually believe ALL dogs can learn to be good off-leash. It takes a large investment of time and some knowledge of training dogs. The training facility where we took obedience classes has large fenced fields to build up to this skill. I do not think that 95% of owners can achieve it, however. I am currently in this failing category with Francesca - we were invited to go to the next level of classes to work off leash, but I did not have the time to commit. (I'll bet Laura is in the top 5%).

You may be surprised to know that most vet clinic employees are not fans of Dog Parks, either (places where dogs are allowed off leash to romp around together). The reason is that so many injuries occur there, because many dogs there are not well socialized or under their owners control. I think of Dog Parks like a preschool playground for children, where the caretakers are blind and over-indulgent. They cannot see their dog's behavior (because they don't know enough about dog communication and are blinded by love). Fights happen, and we sew them up. (Also, viruses are passed around, but that's not a behavior issue.)

So what's your opinion of all this? When and where should dogs be off leash, and how to determine which dogs can handle it?

Also, new post at Mia Cucina.


Sinda said...

I'm with you - very few people can guarantee (control) their dog's behavior around other dogs, adults and children, yet they risk it every day. Hopefully my children have learned from all my tirades that they may never pet a dog without first asking its owner for permission, and never a dog without a leash or person to ask.

The End is Near said...

i have a close friend in that top 5%. she spent hours training her dog carefully - and he is amazing. i dogsat him one week and took him to the vet school with me a couple of days - so that he didn't have to go unwalked for hours at home. he was off his leash in the vet school - and he responded to my every command. even in the presence of so many other interesting and interesting smelling animals, he never ignored my commands. he would down-stay at the doorway to the treatment rooms and watch with interest whatever i did.

she did an amazing job with this dog. my classmates and some of the interns were asking me (b/c they thought i did it) to train their dogs.

that wasn't really an opinion. just a boring anecdote because i want to brag on my best friend:)

jgjbfamily said...

Our new Boxer, Gus, is a very submissive pack oriented dog...we walk all three dogs on leash to the park near our house almost every day...there is rarely anyone there...when we get to the park, I drop Gus's leash and he runs with joy and passion across the open fields of the park...but he never goes too far and always come back when he is called...I did not train this it is just his natural desire to be close to the pack...our other two little dogs have way to much wanderlust to even consider being off leash...but I'm glad that Gus has this place where he can go and sprint for a few yards like a mad man with a great big grin on his face...the sign at the park says "Dogs on Leash"...which technically since I just drop the leash...he still is on...:) I never do it if there are a lot of people or other dogs at the park...we are just lucky to have such a wonderful place that is often deserted.

ColeBugsmommy said...

I agree there is a time and place. On Sunday, Cole and I were enjoying a morning at the local park when two unleashed dogs came charging up to us. One seemed friendly enough, but the other one was wary and his hair was standing up. We scampered up onto the playscape, just in case. SEVERAL minutes later the owner came out of the woods. He said they were "friendly", but don't they always say that.

This morning a woman had her small terrier sized dog, off-leased and it ran behind my car, as I was backing out. Good thing, I saw the dog, not away I wanted to start my morning.

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

I, of course, have lots of opinions. It is my firm belief that no dog will behave the way you want them to 100% of the time, particularly if attacked by another dog or frightened by a child. (We don't have kids and my dogs are afraid of small tykes.)

To keep top notch obedience skills, you have to practice them daily, no matter how many classes you attend. Reno, who is really Paul's dog, does not view me to be as high an authority as he does Paul. Therefore, he sometimes chooses to ignore my commands. And he will move further away from me than Ruby. That's why I have started taking Reno to obedience classes without Paul or Ruby.

I also agree that dog parks aren't necessarily great places. Dogs need supervision. If they don't get it from their owners, they'll create their own hierarchy and structure; but that only happens with dogs who interact together frequently. And dog play can quickly turn into a fight. In fact, a fight broke out in obedience class last night, and one owner was bitten by his own dog.

My opinion is that everyone who owns a dog should strive to train them to obey some really basic commands: sit; down; stay; leave it; and most importantly: COME! If your dog does not have a consistent recall, there's no excuse to let your dog off-leash in public. Period. If your dog is off leash, you need to have them within eye sight and be responsible for making sure they do not harass people or other dogs. The last thing anyone wants is for a dog fight to erupt, or for someone to be bitten.

There are lots of good tools for training, and sometimes electronic tools are helpful (they can use tones, citronella, or shocks) for distance work. There are also many, many different schools of thought on how to train your dog. Find one that works for you and practice it!

Anonymous said...

Wow....I so much enjoy reading your blog and comments, I found this entry quite interesting since they just opened a new dog park here, and I pass it everyday I was thinking how fun for my Cody, however after reading the comments I will not be taking him there, so many things could happen and I hate to say it but Cody is not trained, well very good anyway. He's a bit of an idiot as sweet as sugar but a bit of a dummy! Thanks for the advice! And Laura sounds like quite the expert! ;) THANKS!-Trisha

mainlyclearskies said...

Unfortunately, most people think of their dogs as children and treat them as such. I'm not saying a dog can't be your family member/companion, but they need to be treated and trained specifically for them.

I am OK with not obeying some leash laws sometimes. Unfortunately those who think they can disobey the laws are those who shouldn't.

Laura said...

Just so we're all clear. I'm not an expert or even a professional; I'm just obsessed. The way I look at it, no matter how much experience you have, there's always more you can learn. Sometimes, that means you learn about yourself from your dogs. :-)

peevish said...

I think, when it comes to leash laws, most offenders are people who see their dogs as people rather than dogs. They don't understand that dogs (even their dogs) react sometimes unexpectedly to things we, as people, don't even notice. For that reason all dogs should be on leads almost all the time. I can't even control my dog's behavior 100% of the time when we are at home!

That being said, I used to let my darling dog Mabel run off lead sometimes because I knew for a fact she'd never dream of biting anyone. I realized she might endanger herself, but I always stayed close and put her back on the lead whenever I had doubts about her next move, or the surroundings.

However, I once made the mistake of letting her run too close to an elementary school (it backed to a green space) during school hours. She adored kids, and when she saw a chance to enter a classroom, she took it. She ignored my calls and plunged in to group of kids like they were a swimming pool. They squealed with delight and she wagged her whole body as I made a mad dash towards her to pull her out of there, all the while apologizing and telling the teacher that she would not bite, I promise! The teacher was not amused, and I didn't make that mistake again.