We were recently very sad to learn of the tragic death of one of our agility and scent work students. Jordie Noelle was a Bichon- Poodle cross who loved to play and train and was friendly to every person and dog she met. Sadly, while on a leash walk at a local park, Jordie was badly attacked by a large dog who was running loose. She did not survive her injuries. In Jordie’s memory, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to make outdoor time fun and safe for everyone.
The easiest solution would be for everyone to keep their dogs on leash. Unfortunately, this is a pretty unpopular suggestion in some circles. I know that even some very high profile dog trainers regularly teach that all dogs need to be allowed to run free for extended periods of time. There are a number of problems with this idea, but probably the biggest one is the the world just isn’t a safe place for most dogs to do this. The other thing to consider is that not all dogs handle off leash freedom the same way, and it isn’t just a matter of “how you raise them”. I consider myself a reasonable competent dog trainer. Every Aussie we have ever owned has been very reliable off leash in safe areas from puppyhood. We have had some PBGVs who can earn some off leash freedom in very safe places after extensive training and others who never do- genetics matter. If all dog behavior was determined entirely by training, there would have been no need to develop dog breeds in the first place.
The bottom line is that no one has the right to force their dog onto anyone else- human or dog. I’m in the habit of walking my dogs on leash and have had many frustrating encounters. Sometimes it’s the pet person with the out of control doodle mix who can’t understand why I haven’t socialized my dogs well enough to appreciate the fact that “he just wants to say hi”. (I’ll talk about how I actually define socialization in another post). Even more annoying to me is when I can’t walk my dogs on leash at a show or trial because another competitor is monopolizing the walking space with their dog off leash- usually they respond by lecturing me about how my dogs should be trained not to need leashes either. This isn’t as bad at AKC events because leash rules are usually enforced if a complaint is made, but it’s the reason you will not see us at ASCA events anymore.
Rude behavior by people or dogs is one thing, truly threatening the safety of someone else is different. Unfortunately, reality is that there are more dangerous dogs in the world than there used to be. Acquiring a well bred, well socialized puppy from stable genetics is not easy for the average pet owner. At the same time, many animal shelters are now completely no-kill and are not always screening dogs for temperament before adopting them out to the public. I’m sorry, but loving an aggressive dog isn’t enough to make them a safe member of society.
Given all of the above challenges, I can see where some dog owners decide that their dog will never leave the safety of a fenced yard. At the same time, I feel that dogs and their owners deserve a more interesting and exciting life together than one lived in isolation. I will still walk my dogs, on leashes or long lines. I avoid crowded times of day and don’t go to the park on weekends or holidays, but I’m lucky to have a work schedule that allows me to do that. I have also started carrying Spray Shield, which is a small can of citronella spray that can be used to scare off loose dogs. There is no perfect solution and everyone has to decide where their comfort level is, but we owe it to our dogs and everyone else to keep safety in mind.
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