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Does your dog have to be off leash?

March 31, 20243 min read

“Why would you even have a dog if you can’t take them off leash?” - Some Guy on the Street

Why Keep the Leash On?

There are a lot of wonderful opportunities to safely take our dogs off leash. You can go hiking, some folks have yards, dog runs, you can rent a Sniffspot, and in New York City we have off leash hours protected by law in our parks. 

Many of my clients are eager to have their dogs go off leash as soon as possible. It can be a vital form of exercise for some dogs here where not everyone has a yard or access to much greenspace. Off leash time is wonderful for many dogs.

For some dogs, though, it’s not a good fit. Every time I encounter someone whose dog can’t safely be off leash I think of the insensitive dude quoted above. One thing, like not being safe off leash, doesn’t make or break a dog’s life or their relationships.

A medium sized fluffy black dog with no leash lifts his leg to pee on a rock. A small brown dog on leash walks beside the other dog.

There are a lot of reasons that dogs might need a safe place to be on leash.

Here are a few:

  • They are working on their off leash skills but aren’t reliable yet. Having a place to practice these skills without the distraction of off leash dogs helps this training go more smoothly.

  • They are mighty hunters. Some dogs have an intense genetic drive to chase prey like squirrels, birds, even rats. For some of those dogs, when they’re on the trail of something their focus narrows to just that thing. This means they might not notice if they were going to run into danger. 

  • They are fearful of dogs. In places where folks can have their dogs off leash there are, of course, plenty of dogs. If someone’s dog is afraid of other dogs they might be able to say hi briefly, they might need a few yards of space, or they might need something different. Being able to explore, sniff, and have plenty of space from other dogs can help them feel calm and safe enough that their training progresses and is something they deserve, even if they never feel completely comfortable with other dogs. 

  • They are fearful of people. All the things that apply to dogs who are fearful of other dogs applies to the dogs who are fearful of people. Another concern for fearful dogs is that if they are startled they might bolt off, away from whatever they fear, and not think about what danger they might get into. 

  • Their human is cautious. It can be nerve-wracking to allow your dog off leash. You don’t know all the people in your park and their dogs so there are a lot of unknowns to off leash time. A nervous person is going to have a harder time giving their dog the support they need to have a safe, good time. It’s ok to keep your dog on leash if it makes you too nervous to let them off. 

  • They are street snackers. I once knew a dog who repeatedly ran out of the park and into the main roads surrounding it, following his nose to some tasty trash. He got lucky and wasn’t hurt but it was pure luck and a leash could have kept him safer. There’s plenty of food trash inside most parks, too, and some of it is dangerous for dogs. A leash can increase your odds of your dog only eating the treats you bring. (You’re bringing treats on every walk, right?)

For these reasons and more I’m a passionate advocate for safe times and places for dogs to explore greenspace while on leash. There are lots of great ways to give your dogs exercise and enrichment even while they’re leashed. 

So, if you’re skirting the rules with your dog off leash during on leash hours and you see someone with their dog on a leash, please give them plenty of space. If you really want to make their day, put your dog’s leash back on.

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Kizz Robinson

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-Written by Elizabeth H. "Kizz" Robinson, CDBC, CPDT-KA for IAABC Journal, Sept. 2021


-Written by Elizabeth H. "Kizz" Robinson, CDBC, CPDT-KA for IAABC Journal, May 2020

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