To Leash or Not to Leash: Risk vs. Reward

When I see an off-leash dog walking next to her owner, I think, “Wow, I would never do that – that is so risky.” When I an off-leash dog sprinting towards me and my dogs while her owner A) is totally oblivious or B) trailing along yards and yards behind the dog, vainly yelling the dog’s name, I think, “I’m going to kick this dog in the face with an almighty passion if he tries to bite me or my dogs.” I love and respect dogs so I don’t particularly enjoy contemplating physical violence against a dog, especially when this situation is so easy preventable.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m not a proponent of dogs being allowed off-leash in public areas that aren’t fenced in and purpose-built for off-leash dog play. For me, off-leash play is a question about risk versus reward.


Risk #1: Your dog causes injury

A loose dog can cause car accidents, fight with other dogs, bite an adult or child, or injure or kill livestock, among other injurious scenarios.

“Not my dog!”, you might say – but you’d be wrong.

Any living dog can and will bite in the right – or wrong – circumstances. The first recommendation from the ASPCA to prevent dog bites is to acknowledge that any dog can bite. Any dog of any size or temperament can be provoked, and as humans, we don’t always notice the provocation or warnings signs until its too late.

“But my dog is so friendly!”, you might say – but that’s not always the case.

Just because you dog tolerates your children, or some children, doesn’t mean she “likes” kids or that your dog will tolerate or like all children. The same goes so other dogs and adults alike!

Risk #2: Your dog is injured

An off-leash dog is relatively or completely unsupervised and unprotected. Your dog could be injured or killed by a fearful or malevolent human, attacked by another dog or cause injury or illness to herself by ingesting something toxic, rotting or inedible.

Risk #3: Your dog gets lost

No dog is 100% predictable and 100% obedient because dogs are not robots. While you dog may respond just fine to a recall command, you just can’t guarantee she’ll come when called regardless any distraction that comes her way. You love your dog, and you’d be devastated if she got lost. You do the math – an $8 leash is way cheaper than spending $35,000 recovering your dog!

Risk #4: Your off-leash dog makes public areas unpleasant for many people 

People have just as much of a right to expect dogs to be on-leash where leashes are required as they do to expect cars to stop at red lights. Some people are afraid of dogs, some people have dogs who are afraid of or aggressive towards other dogs and many people would rather your dog didn’t sprint at their children. These folks deserve to have fear-free access to public spaces where leashes are required! Finally, I know that this bad behavior befalls leashed-dog walkers too, but I frequently see owners of off-leash dogs turn a blind eye to their dog’s bathroom breaks. Dog feces are a public health and environmental hazard, people – CLEAN IT UP!



The rewards of being off-leash – namely, enrichment and exercise – can be gained in ways that substantially reduce the probability of these risks.

  1. Owners can utilize fenced-in dogs parks, fenced-in yards and secluded open areas.
  2. Owners can teach their dog a distraction-proof recall and other safety measures, such as “Stay” or “Down” at a distance
  3. Owners can socialize their dogs with other dogs, people (adults and children) and other distractions, like loud noises, skateboards, wheelchairs, etc.


The Bottom Line

It’s unfair for owners to ignore the risks off-leash activity in public area poses to their own dog as well as other people and pets, and disrespectful to others who use those public spaces.



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