Most of us humans have an innate desire to experience the outdoors and explore it whenever we have the chance, and our dogs are no different. As a result, many owners often give in to the temptation of allowing their dogs to roam freely off-leash on walks and hikes in order to give them that same freewheeling experience.
Leash-walking dogs, in general, is a popular activity in our area because of the many accessible trails and open spaces that surround us, just waiting to be explored. Along with this, however, is the growing problem of dogs being allowed off-leash when accompanying their owners in these very same places. Unfortunately, tragic incidents involving off-leash walking of dogs are becoming more and more of a problem, so it’s worth taking a look at whether or not the risks outweigh the benefits.
It’s the Law
Before we delve into the moral and safety issues surrounding off-leash walking, it’s important to note that most of the Denver metro area and the city of Lone Tree have laws requiring dogs to be on leash at all times when away from the owner’s property, except when in a designated off-leash area, such as a dog park.
What’s Wrong with Off-Leash Walking?
Allowing your dog off of the leash in a designated on-leash area puts everyone at risk, including:
- Your dog – Regardless of how well-trained your dog is, no owner has 100% verbal control over his or her dog at all times. Allowing your dog to roam puts him or her at risk of many potentially dangerous situations, including, chasing a rabbit into the street and getting hit by a car, being frightened by a loud noise and taking off, or becoming lost.
- Other dogs – Having an off-leash dog approach you and your leashed dog can be a stressful experience, especially if your dog is leash-reactive, as so many are. Even friendly dogs can react negatively to their personal space being invaded by an off-leash dog. Further, you have no control over what the other dog might do, and such interactions can lead to fighting and serious injury to both you and your dog.
- Other people – Most on-leash areas are frequented by pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, and small children, all of whom are at risk when loose dogs are present. An off-leash dog could be provoked to bite or be injured before the owner has a chance to intervene.
- Wildlife – Coyotes prevalent in our area could easily perceive an off-leash dog as a threat or prey, and become aggressive and attack. An off-leash dog could also be bitten by a rattlesnake hiding in grass, under a bush or a rock, or in an abandoned prairie dog hole, resulting in a life-threatening emergency for the dog.
Protecting Your Pet and Yourself
Even if you personally have never allowed your dog off of the leash, you can still be affected by others who do so. In April 2017, a Denver resident was killed when he was thrown from his bicycle in an attempt to avoid an off-leash dog that darted out into the road in front of him.
This example is extreme, but it’s an important reminder that off-leash dogs are not only a danger to themselves; they can pose a danger to other people and dogs as well.
What to do if an off-leash dog approaches you and your leashed dog:
- Try to keep your dog calm, and keep yourself calm
- Move your dog away from the off-leash dog by crossing the street or stepping behind a barrier, such as a parked car
- If the dog is still following you, put yourself between your dog and the other dog and say “NO” or “GO AWAY” in a loud voice, or give a command, such as “sit” or “down”
- Toss a few treats on the ground in front of the dog, and move away as he or she is distracted by the treats
- Call the authorities to report the off-leash dog