Rant Related to Elderly Off-Leash Dog

It’s hard to understand why anyone objected
By Karen B. London PhD, September 2017

We have leash laws, and I understand the value of them. Leashes control some of life’s chaos and protect people (and other dogs!) from out-of-control dogs. For those who fear dogs, having them leashed eases many anxieties, and leashes have certainly saved many dogs from injuries. So, please understand that I support leash laws and wish more people complied with them. I also wish that many communities had more places where dogs could be off leash, but that’s a rant for another time.

Today’s rant is about someone screaming at a person in my neighborhood for having his dog off leash. I thought it was an odd battle to choose because this dog is so geriatric and moves so slowly that as you drive by, you can barely tell that the dog is out for a walk. You could just as easily mistake him for a dog waiting at a bus stop. Really.

I see this dog out fairly regularly, because his guardian takes him out daily for a walk, and their schedule often coincides with my drive to school to drop off my kids. The dog travels, on his own four paws, down the block and then returns home, but he is barely moving. The walk is so slow that I sometimes see the dog soon after I leave my house and again 20 minutes later when I return, though the dog’s journey could be covered by a younger dog in two minutes. The guardian shuffles along with him, continuing their 16-year tradition of enjoying the great outdoors together.

Yes, this dog did not have a leash, and yes, I realize that is technically a violation of our local ordinance. Still, I cannot imagine why anyone would be so upset that it would be worth making a fuss about this dog. He is in the latter stages of his golden years and shuffling along the sidewalk, bothering nobody at all and posing no threat to anyone. Yet, someone did make a fuss. A man came up to the guardian, yelling about our leash laws and threatening to call the police. He demanded that the guardian put his dog on leash immediately or that “he would be very sorry.”

I did not witness this firsthand, but heard about it when I commented to a neighbor that I was surprised to see this man was suddenly walking his dog on leash. It seemed so unnecessary after seeing him walk his dog without one for the last year or so. It makes me sad to know that this man was criticized so harshly. Luckily, I don’t think the dog minds the leash, and I’m pleased to see that the guardian has chosen to use the thinnest, lightest leash I have ever seen used on a 50-ish pound dog, and that the leash has a super light clip. I suspect it’s actually a cat leash.

I see plenty of loose dogs who should really be on leash because it adds to the comfort and safety of everyone around the dog. This dog just isn’t one of them. Being on a leash makes absolutely zero difference in his behavior. He is just as old and slow and harmless as ever. In my opinion, all that has changed is that the guardian has been made to feel rotten for no useful reason.

It’s easy to object to my distress on the grounds that the guardian of the dog was violating the law. It’s still hard to imagine what motivates someone to complain about such an extremely old and hobbled dog going on a walk without a leash.

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.