Quite a number of people feel that every dog should be regularly allowed off leash, to be ‘natural’ and to ‘run free.’
Well, I agree.
An obedient dog who stops whatever it’s doing when its guardian calls it back is entitled to some extra freedom. A dog that’s not a menace to other pets, wildlife and livestock deserves the reward of some autonomy.
A dog who is wise enough to avoid speeding vehicles, dashing across roads, leaping fences or plunging into rivers – a dog who is able to listen to the calls of its guardian in all circumstances – should be trusted to range through field and forest.
Obedient dogs do exist. Many of them are members or mixtures of breeds such as Shepherds, Retrievers and herd dogs. The problem is, the noble creatures previously described are not the only dogs in our world. Some dogs may grow into the role of perpetually obedient and loyal pets, but most don’t start out that way.
As well, many dogs – such as hounds, terriers and quite a few members of the Northern Breed pack – are simply not wired to be obedient at all times and in all situations.
I learned the hard way.
When I was a kid I had a dog who was ‘high drive’ to the max. To add to our woes with her, she often escaped from our yard while I was at school to hang out with her completely unsupervised and out-of-control mother.
You don’t want to know half the crimes that dog committed in the 1960’s, but they included terrorizing people on bikes and motorcycles, fighting with other dogs, and attacking people delivering newspapers, the mail and even once a police summons.
Our dog was an absolute sweetheart in our home, and a monster outside. Once this dog was in charge mode, she went like lightning and ignored all calls. This dog brought much stress, grief and embarrassment to our whole family.
Our family had been firmly stationed on the ‘dogs need a chance to run free’ list, but we were forced to change into practitioners of on-leash-for-everyone’s-sake dog guardianship, lest we were run out of town or the dog had to be shot.
Please, please: Before bringing a dog into your home, whether it’s a purebred or a rescue from California (where thousands of dogs are desperate for homes), DO CAREFUL RESEARCH into the breed or mixture of breeds the dog is. Find out its energy requirements and disposition, and the jobs the breed(s) has traditionally been asked to do. Be honest about a fit with your lifestyle.
Phrases like High Drive, or High Prey Drive are hints that may be key to being prepared for a dog who does NOT live to please you. Others are ‘ independent thinker’, or ‘stubborn’.
Generally the latter are understatements, and if you hear such words in relation to a dog you are considering bringing into your life, ask for more information. Get the details. The truth about the dog you fancy could save both you and the dog from getting into serious trouble.
High Drive means ‘here is a dog you may not want to touch with a ten-foot pole when it comes to having a family pooch.’
A high-drive dog is not suitable for most people. It’s a dog that can leap tall buildings – or fences at least – in a single bound, a dog that may slaughter a fast-moving kitty or other animal just because it’s fast moving, and a dog that just may jump off a bridge because someone tossed a ball into the water down below.
High-drive dogs are used for hunting, anti-terrorism actions, search and rescue operations and police work. These activities require lifestyle commitments.
I learned quite a bit, as stated earlier, the hard way. I had to learn that my high-drive dogs (there have been three in my life now) are not to be trusted to restrain themselves when something exciting is in view. A High Drive Dog – ‘HDD’ – must be fitted out with reliable gear and good containment. A HDD needs more exercise than other dogs, and careful management.
Regarding Containment: This is about making sure gates and doors to the outside world are strong and securely latched, perhaps with springs to pull them closed. Containment is about ensuring the fence, runs and gates that keep your dog and your family’s reputation safe are the right height and in good repair. We have padlocks on the unseen gates, and a bell on the gate most often used.
Containment is NOT about confining your dog to a crate for hours on end. If you can’t afford to fence your yard, you can build a cage-style run or kennel next to a convenient exit and carefully fence that space with strong materials and a secure gate. Your last option is to keep the dog inside, with escorted trips to relieve itself.
Containment is not tethering or tying out your dog where it is exposed to trouble, but it is about teaching everyone who walks or manages your dog to ensure the dog is safely hooked to the leash before doors or gates are opened. Nobody needs a dog to spot a deer or the neighbour’s kitty and take off to be hit by a car because a leash didn’t get clipped to a collar. It takes just a second to be safe.
Collars or harnesses used for walking must fit securely. We found the martingale type, part fabric and part slip-chain, to be reliable. These are adjusted so the collar tightens to a selected snug size when the dog pulls, but releases instantly when the dog relaxes. If you’ve ever seen a dog slip its collar to run into battle- and later the vet clinic – you’ll know why a detail like this matters.
By secure we mean ‘ keep the dog with me so it doesn’t get into trouble and give me a heart attack’ secure. The well-made collar needs to be clipped to an equally well-constructed leash, rated for the weight of your dog and then some.
Every dog needs to be protected from his or her speedy impulses, for the dog’s sake and yours. Unless yours has perfect recall, release your dog to run off leash ONLY in a safe place away from traffic, wildlife, livestock, and dogs they may conflict with. We were fortunate enough in one location to find a landowner who had a fenced and unoccupied paddock he was willing to let our sled dog roar around in. Which brings me to off-leash dog parks.
Many dogs are NOT suited to off-leash dog parks, ever. You may have been told all dogs ‘need to be socialized,’ but I am here to disagree.
Just like humans, many dogs do not want to be partying with a bunch of characters they don’t know or trust. This brings me to the most important point of my essay.
As the Yellow-Ribbon Dog signs proclaim, many dogs have good reason for being less than happy when another dog rushes toward them, leashed or not. Dog guardians should never assume another dog is friendly to all other canines.
Some dogs are natural introverts. Some dogs have injuries or surgeries they are recovering from. Other dogs are aged and may have sight and hearing impairment that puts them at a disadvantage and makes them nervous. Some dogs need to build up trust in another dog by getting to know him or her slowly, one guided walk at a time. My dog, nearly 14 years old, wears yellow ribbons for all these reasons.
Please, if you cannot ensure your dog will return to you immediately when called, simply don’t let it off the leash.
Despite its owner’s attempts to call and restrain it, an off-leash dog attacked and fatally wounded my sister’s ten-year-old dog in a forested park last year. The unprovoked aggressor hunted down my sister’s medium-sized dog and rendered her unconscious in seconds. She died within two hours. The owner of the attacking dog knew his dog wouldn’t come when called, and on the scene blurted, ‘I came here because I thought we wouldn’t see anyone else.’ This was a double tragedy, as the attacking dog was put down by local authorities a week later.
So I’m urging you; unless you have perfect obedience from your dog, keep your dog on the leash when you’re anywhere you may encounter people who are aged, have little children with them, or are simply frightened of dogs. Ask first before you allow your dog to approach or be approached by other people or other pets.
I learned the hard way over the years, but I learned.
Accidents can happen, and a leash won’t prevent your dog from barking or snapping, but keeping our dogs properly contained at home, and on the leash or under reliable voice control when we’re out, CAN prevent accidents, fights, injuries, vet bills, and even death.
My husband and I are grateful for the fence that allows us to relax on the porch with our impetuous dog while keeping him out of trouble. It’s easier to enjoy our pets, and keep people and animals safe when you have a good run or yard, secure doors and gates, and a simple leash to prevent most problems.