Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pooches: On Off-Leash Dogs and Speaking Up

Since adopting our pups, we've realized there are all kinds of challenges and considerations when owning dogs in the city, and the other week we wrote about the 'unspoken rules for dog owners' to be  considerate of others in our community.
After that post, we received an interesting question from a reader:
"How do you guys deal with other dog owners that don't respect the actual (leash) law, let alone the "unwritten rules" like you wrote about for today's post?  
At some point, you have to walk away, but how can we all as a community keep each other and our four (or three) legged friends safe?"
The reader then went on to detail a horrific interaction she had with a woman busy on a cell phone with 2 unleashed dogs.
This is one of the most frustrating things for us because when people disobey the leash laws and give themselves extra rights, they are actually taking rights away from other people.
They are taking away the rights of people who are afraid of dogs to feel safe in their own community.
They are taking away the rights of small children, older people, people with disabilities or unsure footing to do something as basic as securely walk down a sidewalk.
They are taking away the rights of fellow dog owners who for several reasons--working on training, needing space, needing to get to work, having an older dog or a dog with an injury, not wanting to get tangled in their dogs leash. etc--just don't want to interact with uncontrolled dogs on their walks.
Just like the reader who wrote to us does, we always try to make a point to speak up and represent those who can't speak for themselves. Maybe it's because of language issues, cultural fears, or just not knowing what to say.
Though at the same time, speaking up can make people defensive and hostile. We have an on-going issue with some neighbors, who despite our explanations, continue to allow their dogs to barrel down the sidewalk in front of them. It has gotten to the point where the guy even yelled at me for 20 minutes, as I stood in the street with our foster dog to avoid them, telling me things like nobody likes me, nobody likes my dogs, his dog is more popular than our dog, and the only reason we had the foster dog was because something was wrong with it and nobody wanted him (seriously...who makes fun of homeless dogs???). Despite having many other neighbors approach us with these same frustrations, they have never said anything to the off-leash people, so the off-leash people seem to think we are the only ones with an issue. We understand it can be difficult to speak up, especially when it can become a hostile situation, though DINOS wrote this really good article about standing up for your dog.

So what does everyone else think:
"How do you guys deal with other dog owners that don't respect the actual (leash) law, let alone the "unwritten rules" like you wrote about for today's post?  
At some point, you have to walk away, but how can we all as a community keep each other and our four (or three) legged friends safe?"

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Luv My Rosie said...

In my prior neighborhood I had alot of issues with people not leashing their dogs, especially the smaller dogs. I have made numerous comments to those dog owners only to get the reply" its so small, really what's it going to do?" Well, when your unleashed ankle biter attacks my leashed pitbull, Im the one who has to face the backlash since its a pit. I had to take major steps to actually report those people to the Village Animal Control office who reminded owners that unleashed dogs are breaking Village ordinance. I hated to be the "tattletale" but with a pit we are the first ones to get blamed. I follow the rules, you should too.

kathrynannew said...

Great post, and I agree that uncontrolled off-leash dogs are both a danger and a nuisance. However, I think you're over-generalizing off-leash dogs. We walk our dog (a pittie) off-leash when we are in wooded areas or out on trails because our dog is trained with a remote collar and we know that we have full control over her. She sit-stays when going around blind corners or up hills so that we can make sure no one else is coming, and we put her leash on her if another dog/person/etc is approaching. Walking our dog off-leash is a great obedience exercise, and she gets excited when we put on her remote collar because she knows she's going to have an extra-fun walk! (I should add that she has great on-leash skills, and we do not use a remote collar to cow her into behaving.)

Maggie said...

This is a real hot button for me. As someone who walks a reactive dog, nothing makes me crazier than off-leash dogs barreling down on us. At this point in our training, he can navigate most situations but that... And I can't blame him. Here he is stuck on a leash with an unfamiliar dog running at him. He already struggles to keep his emotions in check, so of course he reacts, and the other dog's owners ALWAYS get mad at me. It's frustrating and irritating. I always yell, "Get your dog!" And the person always yells, "He's friendly!" Which makes me have to yell, "Mine's not!" Then the people get mad or make snarky comments about taking an unfriendly dog out. If they would just follow the law, it wouldn't be a problem!

KS said...

Off-leash dogs outside of urban/suburban environments don't bother me as much; I generally expect to see them on our "off-road" hikes, and unless the dog is behaving agregiously, generally there's enough room to avoid or deal with the situation safely. But in my dog-dense neighborhood, or in city parks abutted by major streets? I can't believe people don't see the myriad ways they are putting their dog(s), themselves, and others in danger! On our group walks, a polite, "Could you please leash your dog? Our dogs are in training!" works 99% of the time...but there's always that 1% that refuses ("my dog is friendly!") or immediately unleashes the dog again once we've passed...and of course, that dog just turns and makes a run for our group again! I actually carry an extra leash in my car/hike bag, just in case I need to safely restrain another dog until its owner can be located.

Unknown said...

"However, I think you're over-generalizing off-leash dogs."

Here's the thing. If I can't tell your dog is off leash? Then you are fine with what you are doing.

If I can TELL, in an instant, that your dog is off leash and not under your control? Then YOU are part of the problem here.

I get REALLY tired of people saying 'my dog isn't part of the problem' when they ARE.

And I respect and admire the folks who do have that connection with their dogs that the give and take is seamless.

[In another discussion, I get REALLY tired of people defending their obese dogs by telling me their vet says the dog is at it's PERFECT weight. No. Stop lying at me. Stop being a douche to your dog, and for the love of dog, stop bringing your dog to agility classes.]

Anonymous said...

Off leash dogs do bother us in our neighborhood and at parks, Boomer can't seem to get a grip on himself and goes nuts when he sees one and Dottie has been attacked while on a walk from an off leash dog so she gets nervous and freaks out.

It's not fun to deal with and most of the time it's people out in their yard with their dog who they aren't supervising or letting their dog run loose in a park where they are supposed to be leashed. Very frustrating!

Rebelwerewolf said...

Tattling has worked for us, too. We live in an apartment complex, so most of the off-leash dogs we see belong to other residents. We call the apartment office and describe the dog to them, and I imagine they call the offender and explain that there is a leash law. No, we don't have many friends in our complex, but it's worth it to not have off-leash dogs running up to us.

KellyABD said...

oh my! That story about your neighbor yelling at you and about your poor sweet foster dog makes my cry a little. What is wrong with people? I adore pits and pitty mixes and it makes me insane when people make assumptions about them.
We have issue too with off leash dogs on the sidewalk. Our adopted Golden is good with some dogs but not all (not even most). People need to remember that it's not just about them. It's so stressful to have her on her leash (Where she is even more "weird" about other dogs) and have an uleashed dog run up to us. We try to pull her in tight as a signal, but sometimes they aren't paying attention.
I don't mind as much in large areas of the park where we can steer her away. We play ball with her off leash in large field-type areas and if other dogs are coming we just grab her and go before another dog gets at all close so that she won't bother them either.

Anonymous said...

Off leash dogs on sidewalks frustrate me (to no end) and put us in heated situations with the dogs since both my boys are leash reactive. I always try to say something like 'as a neighbor, I'm asking you to leash your dog, not just because it's the law but because it's safer for your dog and my dogs if they're leashed.' Usually this is met with either snarkieness, a claim that their dog is friendly (pretty sure the leash laws apply to friendly dogs too) or that they are sorry. It's no different than speeding or texting when driving, some people just feel entitled or that certain rules don't apply to them. The sidewalk is a tight area that we all have to share. PS, how sad it is that your neighbor dude had to claim his dog was 'more popular'? As if...

Christine Fischer said...

We carry pepper spray and citronella spray at all times. Our pitties have been attacked multiple times while onleash and we refuse to put them in that situation anymore. We warn people well in advance that our dogs are not "dog friendly", which isn't entirely true, but we want to set boundaries. Blu is one that will always let us know that he isn't happy with another dog's presence (very vocal).

What is worse is when we have the two leashed dogs and the baby and yet people allow their off leash dogs to approach, because of course their dog is friendly (until it inevitably attacks Blu).

Mayzie said...

At heart, I'm a rule-follower. I tend to think rules are there for a reason. So just on principle, it makes my head want to explode when I see people breaking the rules. And it's ESPECIALLY true when it comes to my and other dogs. We're lucky that in our neighborhood, we don't usually have off-leash dogs. But the few times we HAVE had to deal with it, I don't think I've handled it very well. There's just no graceful way to do it when you're trying to wrangle your own dogs who aren't off-leash-dog-friendly, block the other dog, and ask the other person to control their own dog. It just boggles my mind what people are thinking.

PLUS, I don't care how "under control" you think your dog is, dogs still have a brain of their own. In an urban situation, you are just asking for tragedy. It only takes ONE time for your normally well-behaved, "under control" dog to chase a rabbit across the street in front of a car. Just makes me batty!

(steps down from soap box and backs away)


Unknown said...

Joining the crowd of owners who have had their leashed pitty attacked by someone else's unleased "friendly" small dog. And thanks for handing me the vet bill when your little angel overestimated itself and my dog went on the defense.

domesticgoddesse said...

It amazes me that so many of us have issues with off-leash dogs. Not only is it the law in most places, it's common courtesy as a dog owner! We have had bad experiences with off-leash dogs charging us, but if I see them coming, we can usually cross the street and they don't follow (and my dogs don't lose it). My dad actually has a small dog (technically, it's my stepsisters' dog, but he does all the walking) and is so proud of the fact that this dog is trained to walk with him and stop at the end of the sidewalk without a leash. I keep telling him that's not just about him, it's the unpredictability of other dogs and, like you said, a courtesy to those who don't like dogs, have reactive dogs, are/have kids or are elderly... He doesn't think it's a problem and it makes me crazy. I have no problem talking to him about it, but generally keep to myself with neighbors unless there is a dog-dog issue.

Sarah said...

My husband and I walk our reactive dog together, just to avoid this issue. We feel that we are required to be on heightened alert at all times because others don't follow the rules. Atticus was attacked once and while that happened at class with lots of trained professionals around to save his life, I will never allow another off leash dog to even come close. My husband usually has the leash and I run interference. It works for us, but I wish we could just have a relaxed walk every once in a while!

szorn said...

The reality is that there will always be people that think they are above the law or that the law doesn't apply to them. It's sad but true.

The thing that dog owner's need to remember is that it's their responsibility to keep their dog safe and their responsibility to make sure their dog is not a risk or even perceived as a risk to others (humans or pets). Keeping this in mind we (dog owners) must all be willing to take the necessary steps to address people when they lack the common sense to keep their dogs on a leash, especially if it represents a potential threat to you or your dog. Obviously this means developing some assertiveness skills. This simply means being willing to stand up for your rights without stepping on the rights of others and to do so with conviction. You have the right to be safe and your dog has the right to be safe. So, we must stand up for that right. There will always be people that lack common sense, respect for others and truly don't care about the safety of their dogs. These will be the people that ignore your requests for them to leash their dog. In such cases, you will always need a back-up plan. This should include the following-

szorn said...

1) The appropriate Mind-Set to protect yourself and your dog. This means being willing to possibly injure another dog or a human if required to do so to help you and your dog safely escape. I am a dog lover and would prefer to never have to see a dog harmed. However, if any dog aggressively approaches my dogs (and I have reason to believe it IS going to attack) and I have no other choice, I will do what is necessary to protect my own. However, the concept is to simply use only the amount of force necessary to slow or stop the attack, no more and no less. This also applies to any human that intends to harm you or your dog.
2) Pepper Spray (if it's legal in your state and jurisdiction). This would be for those dogs that enter your space and pose a potential threat to you or your dog. Remember, it's your responsibility to protect your dog, not the other way around. This would also be used on aggressive humans that tend to become aggressive when asked to obey the law. If they pose a threat and you are unable to immediately escape, be prepared to protect yourself. Avoid citronella sprays as they don't have a positive track record for slowing or stopping an aggressive dog nor do they work on humans. Stick with pepper spray that has been proven to be effective for over 30 years with no permanent effects to humans or animals.
3) Proper and effective defensive strategies. This means having an emergency plan in place before something bad happens. Don't assume that just because you have never found yourself facing an aggressive off-leash dog that you don't have to worry about this. As the saying goes..."better to be prepared and not need it then to need it and not have it". Do you know what you are going to do if an aggressive dog approaches you while walking your own dog? Do you drag your's along behind as you run away? Do you let go of the leash? Do you place yourself between your dog and the aggressive dog? What if the belligerent owner physically attacks you? Do you know what to do? If you aren't sure now it's guaranteed you won't be sure when it happens and the adrenaline is flowing through your veins. Learn what to do right now and have an emergency plan in place.

szorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
szorn said...

kathrynannew, regardless of whether or not you believe you have your dog under your control, you really don't. Under your control mean being able to reach out and touch your dog, and if it's running ahead of you, it's NOT under your control. Take into consideration that you dog may be the best dog in the world but what happens when it meets another off-leash aggressive dog while it's too far away for you to reach in time. You have obviously never been exposed to dog aggression or you would know that your dog could be severely injured or even killed before you reach it. Not a good thing. Then there is the human factor. The fact is some people just don't like dogs and may respond aggressively when they see a dog approaching them with no owner in sight. Again, your dog could be injured or killed before you reach it. Then there is the wild animal factor. If you dog comes across a wild animal on those trails it could be injured or even contract rabies, again before you can do anything about it. A responsible dog owner truly understands "under your control" and applies it to keep their dogs safe from any and all of these situations.

Patty said...

Ugh unleashed dogs in a leash required area are the bane of my existence! I have a 70lb leash reactive dog. We had an incident a few weeks ago. I took her for a run in a park that requires leashes (it is also the home to some endangered animal so dogs aren't allowed off leash or off the path. This woman had 3 off leash chi mixes. The 3 dogs charged at us. When I called to her to please leash her dogs she became so rude. She said I shouldn't bring a vicious dog to the park. I always try to remain calm but the three little dogs were following us (as I tried to walk away) and my dog was getting worked up. I screamed over my shoulder that its the law so to leash them up. Then I called animal control as she stood by. Gave them a full description of what she was wearing and her three dogs. The expletives coming from her mouth were impressive. No clue if animal control came and ticketed her (she had no leashes with her). But i hope next time she will think twice.

Ilana Dunetz said...

I wish I couldn't relate. My pitbull was bitten over the weekend by an off leash dachshund. She didn't fight back as she's quite the lover but its just so frustrating the double standard us pit owners have to contend with.

Two French Bulldogs said...

We love when they yell, "He's friendly." Mom yells back, we're not
Benny & Lily

Christina said...

Ugh, I get this too. I live in a rural area where there actually is no leash law and the majority of dogs go off-leash. In fact, I've gotten comments from people that it's "mean" to keep my dogs on leash, when they just want to run free! (they do get to run around: in fenced areas and dog daycare).

Mine stay on leash in public areas because one of them is dog-reactive, and the other can be people-reactive in certain situations.

Admittedly, most of the unleashed dogs in my community are very well-behaved and under good voice control. Their owners usually call them back on their own when they see that mine are leashed. If they don't, I politely ask them to, telling them one of mine doesn't meet other dogs very well, and they usually comply with no problem.

But there always are the few unleashed dogs who bound towards us before I can intervene, with the usual, "He's friendly! He just wants to say hi!"-sort of thing from the owner. Drives me nuts.

We used to live in a more suburban community where dogs were almost always leashed; if an unleashed dog bothered a person or leashed dog, the owner of the unleashed dog was generally understood to be at fault (and they apologized appropriately). In my current community, sometimes it feels almost like the reverse is true.

Isabel said...

I have a leash reactive dog and just yesterday, we ran into three off-leash dogs. Two of them were far enough away from their owners that I thought they were strays and was trying to figure out how to manage my dog while getting close enough to see tags (or lack thereof). I yelled at the first dog's owner and of course her response was "he's friendly!"

At least in my city, 90% of the off-leash dogs we run into are medium/big dogs. I have a small dog and I'm always afraid that he is going to get attacked by a bigger off-leash dog that charges at us.

upsidedownjelly said...

Rambo just got attacked by an off-leash neighbors dog. Granted, the dog ran out of her house to attack my dog, but same thing applies... If you must have your door open, restrain your dog so that can't happen.
Now I have to worry about Rambo being fearful (he seems fine though) and there are many of the, "But he's friendly!" types around here.

I also live in a neighborhood where everyone leaves their (barking) dogs in their yards all day. But that's another can of worms.

Victorpitbull said...

This is my biggest pet peeve on the planet! I have been in identical situations that you describe, and each time I have ended up having to hoist my dogs into the air (no easy feat with 80 pounds of muscular pibble)while I waited for the owners - who were annoyed with me, by the way! - to come & retrieve their off-lead dogs. They all keep saying, "But my dog is friendly." Well guess what? I don't care! Because my dogs are DINOS, and/or are trying to protect me from your encroaching canine! It is for this reason that I will only walk one dog at a time, because if I have two of them out I'd never be able to lift them both. :( And I am following all of the laws! Your analysis is spot on - what gives them the right to take away the rights of other, law-abiding citizens? Thank you, Mr. B and Miss M. LOVE reading about your adventures and seeing your cute pictures. :)

houndstooth said...

It's a huge pet peeve of mine, too. If they get close to us, I will say something, but I don't chase people down to give them my opinion. We don't see it too often here where we live, but when we go out hiking, it can be a problem at times.

devineopine said...

I share many of these frustrations, especially having to say "mine's not," then just sort of watching in slow motion and bracing for the inevitable: owner calls dog, dog doesn't listen, dog approaches, my dog growls and lunges, I pull him up on his back two legs and hold him around the chest until a) my boyfriend controls the other dog, b) the other dog runs away, or c) the owner gets their dog, and then they walk away without apologizing or saying anything. It's gotten to the point where we don't take our dog to the park (Prospect Park, Brooklyn) because there are so many off leash dogs. It's had a huge effect on my dog's quality of life.

I always want to say something but I don't want to be in a situation where I just get written off as an aggressive owner with an aggressive dog. I like the idea of "can you put your dog on leash, my dog is in training" (even though he's not), but it also doesn't feel like it gets the full message across.

I know everyone is frustrated, but what about some constructive suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I would like to clarify a few things about the above post. I live in your neighborhood, know the neighbors you speak of and have you seen you guys as well...and the accounts of the situation you provided are slightly inaccurate.

I agree that there are times when walking dogs off leash is both dangerous (for pooch and owner) and can be off-putting for some people, but at the same time there are dogs that are very well behaved that can be walked off leash when others aren't around. I have seen the dog you're talking about - and it is very well behaved, as most dogs that are able to walk off leash tend to be. I understand your dogs might not like other animals or be comfortable with them, but this dog has never approached your dogs and is NOT violent in any way.

I have seen you make threats and get in these owners faces causing these altercations. Have you ever attempted to get to know them or their animal? If you did you would realize their dog is not threatening at all and has no interest in other dogs.

THere are many other individuals in the neighborhood that walk off leash and all enjoy the park area in our neighborhood. It has become a very friendly community environment where kids and dogs play. Have you ever attempted to be part of this community?

I know from talking to many people in the area as well that you are ones to be watched out for and have ruined our dogs play time, etc.

There are many areas in the city like this (i.e. OZ park, etc) where dogs roam free and owners enjoy each others company. It's people like you that ruin these great communities and judge the rest of us.

Maybe it's time to mind your own business.

Alden said...

e26452b4-f4b0-11e2-bf56-000bcdcb5194, at the end of the day, it does not matter how well behaved or friendly your or anyone's dog is. Leash laws are in place for a reason. If the law says to leash your dog, then leash your dog. Period.

Two Pitties in the City said...

To the anonymous comment above:
Hello neighbor! Thank you for contacting us and beginning a dialogue about the off-leash dog situation on our current block. We have tried several times over the years to have conversations with these neighbors, so perhaps you can communicate this information to them in a way they will listen to and can understand. As written in the post above, and evidenced by several of the comments made here, there are several reasons off-leash dogs are detrimental to a community:
--Some people are afraid of, have been bitten by, or just don’t like, dogs. Having a dog approach them or even seeing a dog in the distance that is not leashed can be very traumatizing. These people have a right to feel safe in their community.
--Off-leash dogs can be dangerous for older people, small children, or people with disabilities. They could lose their footing and fall while trying to avoid an off-leash dog. I’ve personally been sideswiped by a running dog and I fell so hard I was knocked unconscious, suffered head trauma and needed stitches. If this could happen to a healthy adult, imagine what could happen to a child or older person.
--Off-leash dogs can take away the rights of fellow dog owners walking their dogs on leash. I highly recommend reading this page to have a greater understanding of the reasons many dog owners are not comfortable with off-leash dogs: http://dogsinneedofspace.com/about/
-- Dogs are still animals. Despite how well trained a dog is, a dog could be startled by fireworks, a ball, people using canes, a squirrel or cat and could act unpredictably and ignore verbal commands. Even if the off-leash owner is willing to take this chance, a dog who is not under an owner’s control is dangerous to others in the community.
- Most importantly, it is against the law for people to walk their dogs in the city without the leash. The park area you refer to has a clearly marked “No Dogs” sign. This was something agreed upon by the city of Chicago to keep its many, many residents safe. I can understand your neighbors’ frustrations because it can be time-consuming to find the time to adequately exercise a dog in the city, yet it is unfair, for all of the reasons stated above, to compromise the comfort and safety of the many individuals who live here.

I think much of the misunderstanding comes neighbors are saying there should be exceptions for “well-behaved dogs” who are “not a threat”. What does it mean to be well-behaved and how does one judge a dog as being well-behaved? Could an owner believe that their dog is “well-behaved” when it is actually “off-putting” and makes other people uncomfortable? The specific problem with the dogs in question is that they are not physically or verbally under their owners’ control. The owners allow the dogs to run nearly a half block ahead of them, and they do not respond to their owners when they call.
While you see it as having a friendly play-environment taken from you, others see it as having something as basic as the ability to comfortably leave their homes and walk down the street taken from them. Understanding how your actions impact others and being empathetic to their needs is what makes a successful community. Walking dogs together can be a positive social activity for both dogs and owners. Plus, there are many specific areas created by the city where dogs are allowed off-leash where you can visit and even meet more people in a friendly environment.

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