Leash Laws: Love 'em or Hate 'em?
You may have strong feelings about leash law requirements. Perhaps your dog has been the victim of an attack by off-leash dogs. Or maybe you’ve been bitten by an off-leash dog. Recently, a client’s dog was injured when an off-leash dog plowed through her, resulting in weeks of recovery and medical care.
On the other hand, nothing is more delightful to me than walking with my dog off-leash, letting her be her own doggie self. That’s often the reason people walk their dogs off-leash in public places. Even though I love walking my dog off-leash, that activity is reserved for private property walks. I no longer take my dog to public parks because we’ve had many negative encounters with off-leash dogs. (Shout out to SniffSpot! If you haven’t heard of the app, take a look. Ursa and I enjoy off-leash adventures on private property safely.)
Leash laws are common in all fifty states. Here in Michigan, dogs are required by state law to be leashed in all public places unless a dog is working (i.e., service work, farm work, or hunting). While working, the hunting dog with excellent recall still needs to be leashed when walking in the neighborhood or park. Local municipalities may have additional requirements, like specifying a maximum leash length (i.e., 6’ or 8’ max).
So why do people resist leashing their dogs? There are a variety of reasons. I observed that many people enjoy allowing their dogs to be dogs during the walk. That resonates. Dogs need to express species-specific behavior as much as possible. Frankly, it’s fun to watch a dog walk and explore untethered, which is highly reinforcing. It’s a strong motivation for ignoring leash laws and safety.
Another reason people forgo the leash is that they feel confident that their dog is under voice control. That sounds great, but let’s be honest. Dogs are sentient beings. They have their own goals and desires. They can make their own decisions. Those decisions are based on their worldview, which is through the eyes of a dog, not a human. What makes sense to a dog doesn’t necessarily fit with human sensibilities. In other words, dogs act like dogs, which may not fit their owner’s demands, especially when the demand is less motivating than chasing another animal or rushing to greet another dog or person.
People are using shock collars (i.e., field collars, e-collars) more frequently as a means to control their dogs. At best, this provides a false sense of security. These tools often have unintended consequences, such as increased fear, stress, and, yes, aggressive behavior. The reality is that no tool is 100% effective at controlling a dog. Remember, dogs are sentient beings, like humans.
Teaching a dog how to walk on a leash takes a lot of work. Product advertising may offer quick or easy solutions. No tools on the market magically make walking a dog easy. It takes work. Some dogs pick it up more quickly than others. I used to believe all dogs could learn to walk nicely on a leash. I’ve revised that belief. Now I think that while all dogs can learn the necessary skills to walk nicely on a leash, the environment is a more significant factor in a successful walk. And anyone who has ever walked a dog knows the environment is unpredictable! Sometimes it’s just easier to let the dog walk without a leash.
What’s the purpose of those inconvenient leash laws? Community safety. If your dog is on a leash, they are less likely to cause injury to someone else. Dogs bite. It’s part of dog communication. Dogs are passive by nature and will bark and growl before escalating to a bite. However, they may resort to biting if their warnings are ignored. People don’t like to think that their dog would ever bite. I get that. But to live with a dog – any dog – is to live with the fact that any dog in the right situation will bite. Our goal as owners is to prevent that from happening.
Where can you take your dog for an off-leash adventure? That is an excellent question! There are many places to take your dog for off-leash fun. First, check out the SniffSpot App. There are many wonderful SniffSpots where your dog can be off-leash. Second, you can let your dog run free on your private property. Once they step off the property, they are subject to leash laws. That leash also protects your dog from wildlife. Lastly, you and your dog can enjoy any area that specifically states that dogs may be off-leash. Michigan State Parks do not allow dogs off-leash on the trails to protect wildlife.
A leash doesn’t guarantee safety, but it’s a first step. There is no way on earth I could hold on to my 145-pound dog and prevent that dog from pulling me if she was intent on something. That’s where training comes in. If I’m not confident she will walk nicely on a leash somewhere, we don’t go there until I think she can. We’ve worked long and hard on leash walking. She’s great in most places.
Leash walking is a skill. Learning it takes time, practice, and understanding your dog’s communication. At The Learning Dog Academy, we want you and your dog to have happy walks together. We’re here to help you achieve that. Loose Leash Walking Classes are open for registration now.