There are leash laws in most parts of the US and in many other parts of the world as well. Those leash laws, whether you agree with them or not, are there for the collective safety of everyone. Unfortunately, not every dog is dog friendly. Even if yours is, the dog on leash that your dog runs up to may not be. Many children (and full grown adults we might add) don't know how to behave around dogs and can easily contribute to behavior problems and escalating situations. Many dogs simply don't have enough experience and training to make good decisions out in public (or often at home either).
However, there continues to be an epidemic of people who let their dogs off-leash. If you fit into the category of dog owners who feels strongly about needing to take their dog off-leash in leash law areas,
first - we DO NOT condone this - there are other ways and places to give your dog the enrichment they need
second - if you MUST, at least do so with a solid set of safety parameters in place to prevent as many incidents as possible.
Off Leash Safety Rules
1. Do not take your dog off leash if they don't have a solid recall (Come cue) in all locations and contexts.
2. Do not let your dog off leash if they don't have a solid leave-it cue in all locations and with all objects (greatly preferred they also know this cue with other animals and people). Leave-it DOES NOT mean leave it alone until mom/dad gets distracted and then I'll try again. If your dog continues to try to get to something they've been told to leave, leash them immediately.
3. Don't let your dog run up to unknown dogs and people. Just as you wouldn't run up to random dogs and strangers or let your kids run up to random dogs and strangers, don't let your dog either. It's rude without asking first. Some people are scared of dogs. Some dogs are scared of other dogs. Honestly, it's safer for your dog and better for your bond with your dog to not let them greet other dogs and people without a purpose.
4. Do not take your dog off leash if there are other unknown dogs within sight. I know. It's annoying. But this is a huge one. We've worked with so many clients that have massive behavior issues, trauma and vet bills that could have been avoided if this had been followed. I can't tell you how many times we've had dogs charge our personal dogs, client dogs and classes from across an entire park once they spotted us.
5. If you're going to take your attention off your dog to talk with a friend, work with another dog, pick up your phone, etc, your dog goes back on leash.
6. Always have a leash, treats and/or toys on you! This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's insane how many people we've had to give a leash to because they didn't have one. It's insane how many people have no game plan to get their dog back if they decide to run off. Make sure you have something your dog really likes and see rule 1.
But also, dogs aren't robots and you can't train 100% for every context. Odds are decent that even a well-trained dog will eventually find something more interesting than you. Always have a back-up plan and never get cocky.
7. Don't let your dog off leash around large groups of people, lots of kids or playgrounds. Again, I know. Your dog may love people, but the risk for trigger-stacking is way too high and liability skyrockets around kids. And honestly, our experience training service dogs out in public is that a lot of people just aren't trustworthy around dogs. It's easier to advocate for your dog and keep them safely out of trouble if they're leashed and next to you.
We hope this helps create a safer environment for people and their dogs. As always, we are open to answering questions and would love to chat with you!