Running Off Leash

Does your dog have the opportunity to do this?
By Karen B. London PhD, February 2015, Updated July 2016

It makes me happy to see a dog running through the woods, in a field or on the beach. Few thing make dogs happier than the chance to run free, to make choices, and to move at their own pace. Many dogs would likely choose this as their treat of choice if only they knew that it existed and was a possibility.

Safety concerns as well as leash laws severely limit many dogs’ opportunities to run off leash. It would be wonderful if everyone had acres and acres of fenced land for their dogs to enjoy, but in most communities, there is a shortage of places that dogs are legally allowed to be off leash. Dog parks are a mixed bag, and while they allow off leash opportunities, they are certainly not right for every dog. It’s a big challenge for most guardians to find a way to let their dogs run unencumbered and unrestrained. It’s a shame, too, because it’s so good for dogs to be able to run without being physically attached to a person.

I’m not opposed to leashes, by the way. In fact, I’m a huge fan of them. They protect dogs from cars, from running away and becoming lost and from misbehaving in ways that get them into real trouble. As much as I believe that dogs can benefit from running off leash, it often makes me nervous to see dogs enjoying their freedom near roads or at parks full of children.

Dogs should only have as much freedom as they can handle, and that varies from dog to dog. A dog that won’t run away, always comes when called, is polite and social with people and other dogs, and would never chase cars or bikes can obviously safely be off leash in a lot more situations than dogs who don’t share these qualities. Some dogs can be off leash anywhere that it’s allowed without a problem. Other dogs are more limited, but an off leash romp in the right situation is still a ticket to happiness.

How often does your dog have the chance to run off leash, and where can you go to do this safely?

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 has authored five books on canine training and behavior.