Jessica Lockhart, MS, PhD, CAAB
I have noticed a growing trend around town with owners walking their dogs but holding on to a balled up leash. This leash is not tethered to anything or anyone, it’s just folded/crumpled/tucked out of sight while the dog trots along somewhat close to the owner. In an idealistic society this would be fabulous, but the truth is we live in communities made up of people and other dogs that may not actually be a fan of other dogs.
There’s always that one-off chance that even the most docile of dogs will spy a squirrel that runs too fast or a child that moves too quickly or some other normally benign stimulus that startles or otherwise ignites the dog’s internal drives and then trouble happens. Like it or not, our laws are set up to protect people (as they should be) and not errant dogs that had a bad day. If your dog is startled and bites a passer-by you are responsible for all damages, medical costs, and city costs for investigating the incident. In addition, the city could intervene and remove the dog from your care based on the severity of the incident. Leaving dogs off the leash is an invitation to heart-ache and trouble that is just not warranted.
If you’re walking your dog in a common area chances are pretty high that another dog owner has had the same idea. Some dogs are very friendly and can handle chance encounters by unfamiliar dogs; however, some dogs come from traumatized backgrounds or are poorly socialized and cannot handle meeting other dogs in close proximity. When your dog is off leash and goes bounding up to a reactive dog you are putting all involved at serious risk (this includes your friendly dog).
With all this being said, it is important to remember that as owners we have a primary responsibility to keep our animals free from harm. Following leash laws is a great way to help decrease chances for accidents (it’s not a fool-proof prevention).