To Leash or Not Leash

Accountability and Your Dog: Staying Safe While Enjoying Outings

Dogs are family, but they can also be unpredictable. Take precautions to limit harm to anyone or anything while in publicThere is a good chance the town or city in which you live has open parks as well as separate, designated dog parks. Each is equally enticing for you and your dog to get exercise, so which park option do you choose to visit with your dog, and which side of the leash do you fall on?

Let’s talk about the options and share some personal stories to help express our viewpoint on which options we pick.

Open parks, or more specifically, a non-designated dog park, can be a great option because they are just that – open land where dogs and people can run freely. While the size and the rules of the park vary based on where you live, the concept of running free is the same. Cue the slow-motion video of a dog running through a park with the biggest smile you have ever seen. It sure feels good to flex those muscles and be in the open, fresh air. It’s healthy for our bodies and it’s healthy for our brains.

Most people agree that running through a park with your dog is fun on many levels. But do most people agree that along with this great freedom comes great responsibility?

As dog owners, we have responsibilities to ensure that our dogs are safe and healthy. And we also have the responsibility to ensure those around us are safe. Most states actually have a type of ‘animal care and control’ law which states that we are responsible for the actions of our dogs when we are with them. This applies whether we are inside or outside, in a park or on a sidewalk, or when the dog is leashed or not leashed. The basic premise of this law is that whoever is taking care of the dog at the time needs to ensure that the dog and any people or pets around your dog are safe. 

Following the Law

So what happens if you are alone in a park and want to take the leash off your dog so it can run free? According to most state laws, you are responsible for anything that happens as a result of your dog being off-leash. Of course, it can sometimes be impossible to know if someone else is around depending on how big or wooded your park is. But is the notion of the animal care and control law enough to convince dog owners to keep their dog on a leash no matter the circumstances?

Since most rural areas typically have enough space to limit such potential interactions when your dog is off-leash, we will focus on urban areas. My family and I live in a major metro, Chicago, so first-hand examples are easier to experience and talk about. 

At PetSoothe, we understand dogs and their need to exercise. We know that it doesn’t take long for your dog to build up unwanted energy, especially in a sometimes smaller living environment such as a city. Unwanted extra energy for your dog is unhealthy for many reasons, including exhibiting destructive behavior, developing bad behaviors, and simply not getting the opportunity to stretch their muscles and run around. Think of when you work out and get the great feeling when the serotonin and endorphins are released into your body. Our dogs experience the same thing.

Since we can all agree that being in the fresh, open air with our dogs in an open space is one of the greatest things of all time, a great thing to discuss is how we accomplish this. Do you run with your dog on the sidewalk, or throw a ball in your backyard? What about those open spaces or parks in cities or towns? 

Open park space can certainly be a premium in places like Chicago and other metro areas, but does that gives us the right to run our dogs with no leash if the park is not designated as a dog park?

There is no shortage of love for dogs here at PetSoothe, but we are also big believers in social responsibility. The balance of exercising our dogs and ourselves in a safe environment is something PetSoothe believes in and strives for.

Non-Designated Dog Park Encounters

One of the parks my family lives close to is large with different, yet connected open areas. None of the areas are designated dog parks, yet many dog owners run their dogs unleashed there every day. So while it is not a city-sanctioned dog park, there is a section of the park that is commonly known in the neighborhood as a place where dogs run free. Alongside these open places are a kid’s playground, a baseball field, a basketball and volleyball court, and a public pool.

Over the past few years of living near the park and visiting it frequently, we have experienced first-hand how dangerous it can be to encounter an unleashed dog.

We were in the park last winter enjoying the snow hills created by all of the local plowing, perfect for small kids to play. This particular day there were a bunch of families enjoying the same thing. While we were sledding down the hill and getting ready to run back up, a dog sprinted across the field and began to tackle and jump on our four-year-old. While the dog seemed to be playing with our son, the dog was twice the size of him and began pouncing on his head. Our son was screaming and crying, as most 4-year-olds would do, and I ran over to remove the dog from him. 

Meanwhile, the dog owner was screaming to us that the dog is friendly and that she has young kids at home. I’m sorry, is that consolation and permission for your dog to attack and trounce on a child? No, no way. I understand it was not intentional, but as long as someone is with a dog, it is their responsibility to keep them away from a harmful situation. Did we mention it is a law too? Yes, we did. The dog could have easily injured our son and now he is scared of dogs. We’re still trying to re-acclimate him into liking dogs.

Another example occurred in the same park over the summer. Our son was driving his motorized car through the park when I noticed a dog starting to walk toward him. The dog was on a leash, but the leash was on the ground and not being held by the owner and no one was around. The dog started to slowly circle our son and once he raised his scruff he started to bark and lunge at him, trying to attack him. Fortunately, I was able to run around the dog and step on his leash and gain control. I walked the dog around for a few minutes until I found a group of people and asked if this was their dog. A woman barely apologized and said it was hers. I asked her to please make sure she could properly control her dog in a public place after the dog tried to attack our son.

“Just In Case” Moments

Dogs are instinctually wild animals that have been bred for human companionship. While we can control most breeds through love and training, all dogs still have instincts and unpredictable behavior that needs to be watched and monitored for those “just in case” moments.

Don’t get us wrong – we were once believers that we couldn’t be one of those “just in case” moments. Many years ago we had a huge German Shepherd that was incredibly well trained by expert trainers. We would often walk him without a leash because he was so well trained and knew all of the neighborhood dogs. But one day, our neighbors had their triplets out in the front yard playing. Our dog looked at them and beelined right for them. All of the commands and yelling could not deter him. But fortunately, he walked right past the kids for something else. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many proverbial heart attacks I had during this incident. And never again did we walk our dog without a leash. That sticks with me almost 15 years later.

The unfortunate thing is that most dog owners, just like we once did, think these “just in case” moments” will never happen to them. Not only do we have first-hand experience to the contrary, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that every year more than 4.7 million dog bites occur in the United States. And that was reported way back in 2001, 20 years ago! Of these dog bites, it is estimated that more than 50% of them involve children.

The common denominator among all dog owners is clear – we all love our dogs like family. 

Our mission is to keep the love going strong and to keep in mind the safety of our dog and of others when it comes to exercise. Please be conscious when you are out with your dog to be a safe and responsible pet parent and ensure the safety of those around you. And when it comes to giving your dog delicious and all-natural and organic CBD dog treats, check out the latest from PetSoothe.

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