There is nothing quite like watching your dog run free off lead, enjoying themselves and engaging with their environment. Playing with other dogs and splashing around in streams. However we must only afford them this freedom in safe areas and only if they have a good recall and can return to us when we want them to. Our job as dog owners is to be in control of our dogs in public and this includes when they are off lead.
This topic can be a hot one! I am on a dog related Facebook group that won’t even allow discussions on the matter as it is guaranteed to cause arguments.
When should your dog be allowed off lead?
Having worked as a dog walker, managing groups of dogs, many different breeds, temperaments and training levels for years, I can honestly say I am well experienced in the matter. My top tips are:
1. Only let your dog off lead if it has a reliable recall. Recall is a skill you must teach your dog. See my recall blog for some top tips.
If your dog is in training or has a poor recall, keep it safe and on lead until you have made progress. You can attach a longline to a harness to allow your dog more space to roam while you practice their recall.
2. Only let your dog off lead well away from the road. Seeing people walk their dogs off lead on pavements, next to roads, baffles me. Dogs are animals and even the best trained dog may get a fright from a loud noise, spot a cat or squirrel and bolt. Wayne witnessed a dog being knocked over and killed along Roath Rec. The dog was off lead on the path next to the road. It was a horrific and tragic situation that no owner should have to experience.
Our responsibility to our dogs is to keep them safe, and keeping them on lead when next to a road is imperative. They are like toddlers in their decision making and need us to look after them.
3. Try not to let your off lead dog run up to another dog unless there is some sort of consent between yourself and the other owner. Unless you know the other dog, you have no idea as to their temperament and they may not appreciate the approach. Instead recall them back to you and pass at a distance or put them on lead, especially if they are very excitable.
This applies particularly if the other dog is on lead. A dog may be on lead as it is nervous, aggressive, unwell, over excitable, in training, or the owner simply wants it on lead. Your dog’s approach may cause undue stress to both the owner and the other dog. Often dogs are less tolerant when on lead as they feel slightly trapped and so an off lead dog bouncing around them is rarely welcome.
If you are lucky enough to have a friendly sociable dog, you may not have experienced the stress of having an unknown dog approach. Help others by keeping your dog under control.
This brings us back to point 1. Only let your dog off lead if it has a reliable recall including away from other dogs!
NB: If you hire a dog walker, expect them to be really careful before letting your dog off lead. They should ask for your written permission and if your dog does not have a good recall, they should not be letting them off lead. If your dog had an incident with another dog or person while out with them, you may still be liable.
At Walkn'Roll myself and Wayne are very experienced and don't let off our client's dogs without due caution. We know each dog is precious to their owner and we take our responsibility to them seriously. We will first carry out a set number of walks onlead to test their response to name and recall. We will utilise long lines to test this further. There will be some dogs we never let off due to circumstances and others who we let off as much as is safe to do so. If we meet other groups of dogs we always aim to avoid them to keep our dogs safe and under control.
We are so lucky to have such wonderful parks on our doorstep here in Cardiff and they are for us all to share. As long as we are kind and considerate to one another and keep a keen eye on what our dogs are up to then there is no reason we can’t all get along! Things will go wrong, we can do our best and still our dog runs up and scoffs someone’s picnic or bounces over their nice clean white trousers, but just do your best, be aware of your surroundings and keep them on lead if in doubt. If your attention needs to be elsewhere i.e. on the phone, keep them onlead and out of bother.
Being your dog’s champion means keeping them out of trouble on their walks!