There is some low-grade tension, which boils up at times, in and around city neighborhoods, between off-leash dog owners and those for whom loose dogs are a “pet” peeve. In the open public spaces that we all want to enjoy, dogs can have a lot of fun running free. It is tempting to remove a dog’s leash for a while. When no one’s nearby, and there is a shady, inviting expanse of green all around, is it OK to unclip the leash?
Of course, most state, cities, and municipalities have leash laws. While the specifics vary from place to place, regulations abound everywhere. Off of our own properties, we are required to keep our dogs leashed, or risk being fined, and having the dog removed to the pound. But strictly legal points aside, there are other very good reasons to keep our dogs restrained. There are dangers in allowing dogs to run free: and these include dangers to the off-leash dogs, other dogs, and people.
As any fan of the old show “Emergency Vets” knows, cars and dogs are a dangerous, and, sadly, relatively frequent mix. Even the best-behaved dogs can have that chase instinct aroused by cats, squirrels, or other dogs, and take off running. The middle of a big city, even one with plenty of open parks and green spaces, simply is not totally safe from traffic.
Dogs that are roaming may also disturb the wild animals that live in the city limits. Many areas, especially in the West, are home to coyotes. They are usually small animal predators, hunting mice and other such creatures, but hunger and the territorial instinct can make them a threat to dogs. In addition, the presence of coyote pups in the spring makes the mother coyotes aggressive. Less serious, but still not pleasant—skunks may cross the path of dogs who can’t help but to poke their noses under every bush.
Dogfights are another danger. Even a dog that doesn’t have an aggressive bone in its body is not necessarily immune from encounters with other dogs. A friendly dog that is off-leash might not seem like much of a threat, but if Friendly Fido approaches another dog that is aggressive, things can get ugly in a hurry. Mixing restrained dogs with unleashed dogs, in fact, carries some danger on its own. Many off-leash dog parks not only allow, but require leashes to be removed when the dogs enter the parks. What is the reason for this? Leashed dogs tend to behave more defensively. This may be either because they are less able to escape an approaching dog, or because they are more protective of the owners to whom they are tethered. Roaming dogs and leashed dogs don’t always play well together.