Ever wonder when it’s ok to let your dog off leash?
Check out this handy flowchart created by the fabulous Jenny Williams. In just a few text bubbles (and with a sense of humor) it’ll help you make a responsible, respectful, safe choice!
Hate charts? Here’s the super short version: if there’s a leash law, the answer is “leash your dog.”
And just in case you’re wondering, you are not exempt from leash laws, even if you are*:
• The owner of a Lab
• A board member of an animal shelter
• A middle age white man without a criminal record
• The owner of a friendly dog
• In a parking lot near hiking trails
• A donor to your local humane society
*Yes, these are all real excuses used by real people. To my face.
Listen, let’s save some time: don’t bother with the rationalizing. It’s the law. Just like stop lights, it’s in everyone’s best interests if we obey these laws, rather than justifying why we’re the exception. Can you imagine if we all decided we were the exception to obeying red stop lights because we thought it was a dumb law and we’re better drivers than everyone else?! Crash, Bang, Blam-o.
Leash laws exist to keep all of us safe, including our dogs. They help create public spaces that are safe and welcoming to everyone, including the elderly, children, and the disabled.
There are a lot of us that don’t want to interact with loose dogs or are afraid of them. We rely on leash laws and purposely choose to visit areas where they exist, with the expectation that dogs will not be loose. When you let your dogs loose in areas with leash laws, you take away our right to choose. Not cool.
Here’s something you may not have considered:
Simply seeing a dog that is not leashed, even when that dog is very well behaved, can cause panic for some people.
While you may know that your dog won’t cause any trouble, the other person is freaking out about what might potentially occur. They’re afraid that without the leash, your dog might suddenly approach them.
Why would they be afraid of my friendly dog? I clearly have him under voice control!
Here’s why: Many of us have had frightening encounters with dogs just seconds after their owners swore to us that their dogs were under control/friendly. We understand that not all dogs are the same, but one bitten, twice shy, you know? It just scares the pants off of us to take a gamble with another dog that may or may not be as well behaved as their owner promises us. It’s not personal.
Plus, there are these reasons people might be afraid of a potential interaction with your dog:
• They have a physical limitation, such as poor balance or lack of mobility.
• They’re senior citizens.
• They’re children.
• They rely on Service Dogs that must not be distracted or harmed.
• They (or their dogs) have been bitten or attacked in the past.
• They own dogs who are injured, sick, or otherwise unable to safely interact with other dogs.
• They have a phobia of dogs. Remember, phobias like the ones lots of us have of spiders, snakes, or of heights, are irrational. But that doesn’t make it less debilitating (this guy died trying to flee a friendly dog).
For these folks, a leash functions as a visual signal, as much as a physical restraint.
The leash says to the concerned party: “Don’t worry. My dog won’t suddenly run over, knock you off your crutches, and eat your baby.” Seeing the leash prevents the internal panic-show from starting. Please have compassion for people and use that leash. You’ll be someone’s hero, without even knowing it!
Beyond those reasons, leash laws exist because we all have different ideas and standards for what constitutes a “well trained, friendly” dog. This simple management tool provides a baseline of safety for all kinds of dogs to be out in public, even if the handler is new to dog training (we were all new at some point!). Leashes are not perfect or foolproof – learn how to use a retractable here and leash etiquette here - but with one you’re covering the bases and being responsible.
With more cars, more people, and more dogs, crammed into less space than ever before, we all need to have our dogs under our full control. Leashes keep dogs safe and out of trouble. Dogs aren’t robots. Even good, well trained dogs make not-so-great choices sometimes. A leash can keep your dog from chasing a ball in front of bus, getting spooked by gunfire and taking off into the woods, accidentally scratching a kid and bringing on a lawsuit, French kissing a porcupine, or chasing a herd of deer across a park and making you a YouTube star.
Look, just because we want you to leash your dog in certain public areas, doesn’t mean we’re scrooges. Lots of us like watching dogs run off leash. The truth is that the perfect complement to areas with leash laws are designated, accessible, and welcoming off-leash areas. This allows everyone to enjoy public recreation with their dogs, in whatever environment – on or off leash – that suits them best. When both on and off leash areas exist, it gives everyone a choice and prevents responsible dog owners who prefer off leash recreation from being unfairly marginalized. If you or someone you know is interested in increasing off-leash areas, please see the following article from Bark Magazine.
In the end, that’s what all of us want: to choose what is best for us and our dogs, to be treated with common courtesy, and to be provided with safe options for recreation in our communities. Also, some of us want free ice cream cones every Friday. But since we can’t get everything we want, we’ll settle for dog owners who obey leash laws.