Karen B. London
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Concerns About Unleashed Dogs
How should we as a community respond?

In Juliana Keeping’s column Hey Ann Arbor—put your dog on a leash. A short one, she writes about bad experiences with off leash dogs. She shares her own stories and those of a few other people and complains angrily about so many dogs being off leash in violation of the laws of her city.

The comments in response to the article are highly varied and many are as angry as the original article, whether the point was to agree or disagree with her. The whole conversation prompts me to ask some questions: How should we as a community respond? That is, how should people with dogs react to the anger that’s out there?  Are we as a community largely obeying local leash laws with a few violators causing tensions, or could we do a better job overall of following the rules?

It’s worth reading Keeping’s article to hear her perspective, though I advise you to be prepared that you may dislike some of what you read, no matter what your views are. (For example, I objected to her saying, “By the way, if your menacing beast, with its bad breath and muscular jaws, comes near me and my child, I will end your pet.” Such a clear threat to an animal’s life made me very uncomfortable. I also think that Keeping strikes an inflammatory tone rather than one that seeks to find common ground, solutions to issues or even a worthwhile discussion of them.)

Despite these criticisms, I think Keeping touches on some important points that it would be wise for those of us in the dog community to address. The first and most important one is that many towns have so-called leash laws, but they are rarely strictly enforced. She also makes a fair point when she discusses that off leash dogs sometimes cause harm, and that not all people take responsibility for the situation.

For example, I was once out hiking with my kids in an area where dogs are required to be leashed. No person was in sight when an unleashed Malamute roughly knocked over my son, who was then two years old, and I still remember how angry the owner was to (finally) come around the bend, catch up to her dog and find me restraining the dog by holding his collar. (The nasty things she said to me and the fear I had that in her rage she would harm me or my children are pretty memorable, too.)

Additionally, I’ve had many clients whose efforts to help their own reactive dogs be able to walk on leash through the neighborhood were hampered by off leash dogs. When working with a dog with leash reactivity or leash aggression, it can be a major setback to have a loose dog come running up while a person half a block away calls out cheerfully, “Don’t worry! She’s friendly!” Kathleen St. John addressed this particular aspect of the value of leash laws a few months ago in her post Why I Like Leash Laws.

If too many members of our society are not happy with the way that people with dogs are behaving, it will become increasingly difficult for space to be allocated to dog parks or for dogs to have access to public areas including parks and trails. I think it’s so important for a high quality of life that dogs have opportunities to run off leash, but I do think that using leashes in the areas where they are required by law is a responsible course of action.

What do you think of Keeping’s article?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Sarah Arantza | July 5 2011 |

I agree with her general argument, but the constant vitriol, sarcasm, and snark with which she wrote was just over the top. It's a shame she didn't consider creating a dialogue, rather than attacking all dogs/dog owners.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 7 2011 |

This is exactly the type of article that needed to be written in order to ignite the public to begin discussing this issue. A less "sarcastic" article with a less aggressive edge would not have grabbed the public attention, and we would not be commenting on it.
Personally I thought the article was spot on, and am disappointed that annarbor.com took out the comment relating to "ending your dog if it comes near me". Because if I had to choose between a mauled baby and a dead dog...well, the answer should be obvious. And if it is not, please go your nearest pediatric hospital and take care of children attacked by these "wonderful pets" to see if it may change your mind. I love dogs (okay, not really when they are running at me while I am running), but a dog is a dog....is a dog.

Submitted by Kat | July 5 2011 |

I read the article and all I can say is Wow, she really didn't want to find common ground or acknowledge that there are responsible dog owners out there. I really dislike the unruly unleashed scary dogs we occasionally meet where I live. I hated the aggressive German Shepherd Dog on the next street over. Sorry folks, a gate across your driveway with no fence attached doesn't do anything to contain your dog. That's why I reported him to animal control several times. Fortunately my dog is pretty bomb proof but that doesn't mean your unleashed pup gets to run at him when we're out for our walk. In short, I completely sympathize with Keeping's aggravation. I just don't think her inflammatory diatribe does anything at all to advance the tone of the discussion. Education of dog owners and fostering a culture of mutual respect is what I want to see.

Submitted by edith | July 5 2011 |

Do you think she might hate dogs just a little? It's a bad article bringing up a good point. Keep your dog on a leash.

Submitted by Bailey's "mom" | July 5 2011 |

I live in a town where the leash laws are enforced to a tune of $300.00 if you do not have your dog leashed. We also have at least 6 off leash dog parks which are heavily used...a pretty big number for a town of 70,000.

As the keeper of a dog my thoughts are that dogs should be leashed in public areas where there are other dogs and children. I keep my dog on a leash at all times when in town and on most hikes in national forest. I do this for her protection. A leash is the best and cheapest pet health insurance you can buy. Even the best trained dog, when confronted in a way that puts them at harm will respond in unexpected ways....they simply want to protect themselves and/or their family.

As for the author...she obviously has a great fear of dogs and is simply trying to protect herself and her family.

Submitted by Christine | July 6 2011 |

Keepings article was full of anger. I'm guessing she doesn't like dogs, period. While I agreed with her I was also offended by her tone. I especially disliked yet another attack on pitbulls. St. Johns article was very well said. I have two reactive dogs on leash (and yes, one is pitbull). They also have high prey drives so there is no such thing as off leash for them. I've lost count as to the number of times I have heard an owner call out "she's friendly" as their out of control dog runs at mine meanwhile my dog is obviously ready to kill their pet. Are they stupid? Do they really need to be told that my dog is not friendly? Unless your dog walks right next to you, never strays away and responds to it's name immediately it doesn't belong off leash. In an off leash zone if you have to call Fido 20 times before he returns to you, you've got more work to do and he doesn't belong off leash. Bad owners are continuing to give dogs and responsible dog owners a bad and undeserved reputation. Get a clue people.

Submitted by Liz | July 6 2011 |

I find it inflammatory and one-sided. As the owner of a reactive dog, I LOATHE off-leash dogs. They are the bane of my existence. However, unlike Ms. Keeping, I hate ALL off-leash dogs, not just the big ones. She neglected to mention all the little dogs that people let off leash because "they can't do any harm." Or "they're cute and everybody likes them." Newflash - NO dog should be off-leash unless it is highly trained AND under voice command AND sticking to its owner side, not approaching other people and dogs.

Submitted by Laurelin | July 6 2011 |

As someone who lives (with a phobic dog)in an area where many people ignore leash laws, I can understand the main point of this article as well as the cause for the emotion behind it. I have felt that many times as a dog is charging down at us and mine begins to freak out. There are areas where I avoid walking because the risk of encountering one of these situations is too high. On one notable occasion, a dog raced accross a busy intersection and proceeded to leap at myself and my dog (I placed my body between them, well back on someone's lawn), while the owners walked slowly towards us (two teenagers). By way of appology, they shrugged and said 'he never listens'. The dog in that instance was playful, but could easilly have been killed by one of the cars driving by, and my dog was left shaken from the encounter. I understand how these issues can make someone upset enough to use the language found in this article. However, as someone who works in a public education field, this article made me cringe. The word choices throughout, the aggressive voice, and scattered layout did nothing to promote the message. Rather, they immediately polarize readers and incite further emotional reaction. Memorable? Sure. Effective? No way. When she did veer into citing specific cases, they were few and old. I'm sure more recent events exist, and I'm sure that, working in a paper, she should easily be able to find a few examples and at least cite the source (and, as an aside, the incident involving the judge does not serve to illustrate the off-leash arguement; rather, it brings up a new one, of unsolicited attention on leashed dogs. If the dog was under control of the leash, and he was bitten on the hand, all I can assume is that he reached for the dog - I have no way to know if it was in accordance with or against the wishes of the owner). If the author truely wants to see change, there are far better ways to go about it. From her own writing, the first thing I would look at would be getting involved with local government, even in a small way, to reinstate some form of Animal Control professional. In the same vein, she could speak up to make elected officials aware of the issue. Perhaps using her public voice to call all people concerned to an open forum, whether within her immediate neighborhood, or city wide. This is a huge topic that needs to be addressed in nearly all communities nationwide. She is fortunate to be in a position to have her words heard by many. It is disappointing that those were the words she chose.

Submitted by Lisa | July 6 2011 |

I have two perspectives, my former one (as an unknowing, uneducated, unaware first time dog owner) and my present one (six years later.)

In my first few years with my dogs, I was one of the offenders: I had no knowledge of dogs other than the Sheltie owned by my sister, which had been extensively trained by the breeder before she purchased her and would barely move without being told to do so. I read some books, some articles on the Internet and in dog magazines, but I violated a lot of the laws (the real ones and the unwritten ones) regarding responsible pet ownership. In particular, I regularly let my dogs run off the leash in the parks where I walked them.

Now, six years later, I rarely let my dogs off the leash. I have had too many encounters with the small dog owners who live in my neighbourhood, many of whom appear to believe that because their Papillon/Maltese/Shih Tzu/Miniature Poodle/Miniature Whatever dog is small, it can do no harm and therefore should be allowed to behave aggressively, and bark/snarl/charge at my two larger dogs.

Like the author, I have heard "Don't worry, he/she is friendly", or "Don't worry, he/she is just playing" so many times, as a miniature Tasmanian Devil, practically frothing at the mouth with aggression and hostility approaches my dogs, who by this point only need to see an approaching small dog to become agitated. I feel frustrated at having to explain to seemingly intelligent people that it's not a good idea to allow their small dog to attack my large dog. And I dread the weekends, when many of the small dog owners in the neighbourhood for some reason feel free to indulge in leisurely off-leash walks with their pets in my on-leash only park.

I think the only answer is mandatory education classes for anyone purchasing/adopting a dog. Make it a bylaw, whatever is necessary.

By the way, I've come to the conclusion that the same type of classes should be required for new parents also. I think both classes could save a lot of grief and heartache in the future.

Submitted by Sara | July 6 2011 |

I personally believe that if you are in a city that requires dogs to be on leash, then you should have your dogs on leash. We have numerous dogs in my neighbourhood who are allowed to run off leash, and despite them being friendly and very well trained (ie able to answer their owners recall command) they do still cause problems! Firstly, my dog is trying to learn polite leash walking, and can become frustrated if held back on his leash away from other dogs. Dogs running far ahead of their owners frequently rush my dog and break his concentration on learning to walk nicely, and sometimes cause me to have to try and separate the dogs, as the sudden rushing can spook my own dog.

I also think about what could happen to those off leash dogs if they were ever to run up to someone morbidly afraid of dogs. They're very sweet puppies.. but every now and then i'm out in my front yard and i'm greeted by a playful jump.. paws up on my stomach and tail wagging madly. I love dogs so i greet this happily enough... making them get down.. and then treating them to eat scratches... but what if i were afraid of dogs? It wouldn't matter that the dog was perfectly friendly.. it still jumped up on me... what if i were scared enough to react violently towards the dog. Who would be in trouble then? Then person who left the dog off leash and allowed it to run onto another persons property.. or the person who hit a "friendly dog". I love all dogs and would be very upset if someone were to strike my dog.. however i do understand that not everyone is interested in his face licking bouncing demonstrations of love... and why should they have to put up with my dog on their property?.

I think dogs.. when out in public need to be kept with their owners... and if this means a leash.. then on a leash!

Subsequently.... i feel similarly about cats. Not that they should be walked on a leash.. anyone who has ever known a cat knows that walks aren't exactly their thing.. but i feel that cats should be kept OFF my property. When i bought my house i did not have a cat installed on my property... if i wanted a cat i'd go and adopt one.. but i don't.. i dont want someone pooping in my flower beds, teasing my dog, sprawling on my bbq. I dont want a cat of my own.. and i dont want your cat... so just as i ask that people keep their personal dogs on leashes and out of my space... i ask that people keep their cats IN their houses and off of my property. I love animals... and if i were to come to your house i'd probably want to snuggle your cat... but i feel that i should be allowed to decide what animals exist on my property. I don't want your cat.. and i already have my own dog.. so i dont want yours.

Moving on to one more pet peeve related to this topic. Children. Now.. i know that saying this will make me sound like the most ridiculously horrible person.. but i feel it still should be said. Children.. like dogs.. need to be kept track of. If they are not old enough to understand the concept of property and personal space.. they need to be maintained NEAR your person.. and not allowed to run loose. No i'm not suggesting people leash their children... but children, like dogs offer similar problems when it comes to me being out in a public space with my own dog. Recently while at an event in a local park... i was forced to literally RUN away with my dog when a spare toddler decided to bolt after me and my puppy in an attempt to pet him. My dog is not huge.. but not small either.. meaning that i cannot pick him up.. and it is difficult to hold him back when a hyperactive child is running towards him. My dog is excited... he wants to lick.. pounce upon and generally wrestle with the child... and i .. who am currently struggling to hold him back.. do not have a spare hand free to grab the child and hold HIM back, nor do i feel society will look kindly upon my dealing with the child much like i do a loose dog running towards me (the knee to chest method). In my frustration i occasioned several startled looks when i was forced to run away with my dog calling back to my boyfriend "WHO OWNS THAT CHILD AND WHY IS HE OFF LEASH?".. i later explained to my boyfriend that until i had a child of my own.. i was likely to treat all children like dogs.. as that is the only experience i have when it comes to raising small slightly ridiculous creatures.

To sum up. Leash laws. YES.. oh god yes. And also.. keep your cat inside your house and off my property, and keep your child with YOU. not running towards me with mad abandon and leaving me with the difficult decision of either kneeing your kid in the chest to keep him back.... or allowing my dog to knock him down and possibly nip him.

Submitted by retrieverman | July 7 2011 |

I find it very amusing how many Americans obsess over leash laws.

If you go to any large European city, you will see dogs walking off-leash, but they will usually be so well-socialized and under control that they cause almost no problems. They don't run into traffic either.

I've seen off-leash dogs in Munich and Paris, and no one says a word.

It's just the way things are. There isn't anarchy on the streets.

And dogs are allowed in restaurants, and no one comes down with dog zoonoses either.

A dog that spends its whole existence either in a fenced backyard or on a leash is not living a very good life. It's not getting the full social life that it evolved to experience. It is kind of like what happens to prisoners in maximum security prisons who are shackled as they are moved from cell to cell or from cell to recreation. They become barmy and socially retarded. I see this in a lot of American city dogs, and I knew one quite well as a child. It was a Dalmatian that had grown up in a suburban environment, but as soon as he was turned out on my family's farm, he didn't have a clue about anything. Horses were scary-- so much for that theory that Dalmatians inherited a love for equines-- and he feared things that the more socialized dogs never would have. Although these socialized dogs had lived in a rural setting most of their lives, they could be taken into towns and cities with no trouble. This led me to question much of what is generally believed about dog keeping.

Dogs need time to reconnect with there lupine heritage, no matter how modified they are from it. Most dogs still have a need to run in a safe area and meet other dogs on their own terms. I think we've robbed them from these experiences too much, and what we're left with is an animal that is merely existing. They adapt to the cage better than the tiger does, but it is still an adaptation, not an ideal situation.

Submitted by janiek | July 8 2011 |

Wow, what an angry woman!

I wonder how she feels about children running right up to my dogs when I am walking them on a leash. Not that my dogs are mean, they're not. But, this is startling to them and it's upsetting to me as a dog owner trying to do the right thing and worrying how my dogs are going to react when approached abruptly. :o)


Submitted by Mare | July 10 2011 |

I so agree with Retrieverman; just to give you another example of what he/she said about caged or leashed dogs through-out the dog's life, I live in Forrest hills NYC where all the dogs here are very angry and only no how to be so

Submitted by canuckcattledog | July 20 2011 |

Living in urban places its a constant fight for space between dogs/children/people etc:

-dog's offleash in public parks (which parents and people with on-leash dogs hate)
-dog's on leash in public parks (parents didn't think dogs should be allowed at all in the local park)
-Children running around in dog parks (which dog owners hate and, to be honest, is just a bad idea)
-Community's fighting against dog parks because it takes up a nice portion of the park (where they could picnic, kids could play etc) and conflict with dog owners wanting a space for there dogs to run.

Its a difficult balance.

I personally don't use offleash parks because I have a reactive dog. However, I am in favour of creating green spaces for dog owner use as long as they are fenced and that dogs OUTSIDE the fenced area are leashed and this is strictly enforced. I think in this way they can help mitigate dogs running around offleash in public parks. However, a dog park was built near me and it has attracted many MORE offleash dogs as people flock to it but let there dogs run around the entire park offleash as well.

I just want greens pace where I can walk my leashed dog in peace!

Submitted by Anonymous | July 26 2011 |

I don't mind off leash dogs if they mind their owners and are not allowed to approach other people/dogs without permission. If an off leash dog stays away from me and the dogs I'm walking on leash, I have no problem. Unfortunately very few people feel the need to keep their dogs away from other leashed dogs because their dogs are "friendly." That excuse drives me crazy. Being friendly doesn't protect your dog from getting hit by a car as he crosses the street. And just because your friendly doesn't mean everyone wants your nose in their face.

Submitted by Tango2013 | May 19 2013 |

I disagree with the author of this article as it pertains to the woman's reaction to a dog hurting her child ("I will end your dog"). I am a dog owner, I love my dog, but, if a dog hurts a child, they are gone. She is NOT overreacting. ANY attack on a child, especially by a dog on the aggressive dog breed list should absolutely mean the end of that dog. Now, the parent of the child is responsible for NEVER leaving a child alone with a dog. AND, the dog owner is responsible for keeping their dog leashed per the law, strictly monitoring the dog around children and ONLY allowing it with the parent's permission.

Now, getting back to the unleashed dog problem, it is HUGE! These people who say that stupid phrase, "Don't worry, my dog is friendly!" with complete lack of consideration as to how YOU feel about their dog approaching for ANY reason without your permission, is a complete moron who shouldn't even have a dog. I am so mad about this now, I lost it today at the dog park. I asked the guy to put his dog on a leash as he entered the parking lot. The idiot said, "I have control of my dog". I said, "I don't" (just trying to make up something to get him to do it), and he refused. I started to yell at him at the top of my voice, "You are an idiot! Get your stupid dog on a leash! Shut up! Get in your car, you loser, and get out of here! I am reporting you. I have your license number." I was so mad that, if I'd stayed there longer, I would have come up with more personal things to get back at him for making my experience so stressful, like "I'll bet your wife never wants to have sex with you because you are such a moron!"....lol. This is called dog park PTSD (I'm serious).

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