Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 11, 2019

Sometimes Dogs are Best Left Home

Posted at 01:59PM - Comments: (29)

I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago that I had taken a hike on a local public land where dogs were supposed to be on leash, and had hiked with one of my dogs – off-leash. A scofflaw!

Like all scofflaws, I have rationalizations: My dogs have good impulse control. My dogs are under reliable voice control. My dogs are friendly. My dogs are not predatory. My dogs have never started or even participated in an altercation with another dog.

table mountain california

Nancy Kerns

This dog was one of the few I saw on the trail who appeared to be fit and happy on leash. Her owners were well-equipped and obviously hike with her using this hands-free leash/waist-belt combination. Smart!

That said, unless I am in an area that is posted as a legal off-leash area, where anyone present could fully expect to see off-leash dogs, I always leash my dogs if I’m near any other humans, or especially any other humans with dogs.While I am confident my dogs are both trained enough and have good enough impulse control to not approach anyone without permission, the people we see don’t know that! Putting on the leash is just good manners.

But when my husband and I took a four-hour hike in this area three weeks ago, we saw maybe 10 other people – and all of them at a great distance. I leashed my dog only at the beginning and end of the hike, as we left and then re-approached the parking area. The area was nearly devoid of visitors, because the spring flowers had barely begun to bud, and the only real draw to walking in that area are the seasonal waterfalls, and the wildflowers a few weeks later. The rest of the year, the area most resembles Mars: hot, rocky and barren.

table mountain california

Nancy Kerns

Yesterday, I went for another hike the same area – and didn’t even bring a dog! Now the area is lit up with wildflowers. We’ve had an extraordinarily wet winter, and the earth is responding with a superbloom – drawing crowds from far and wide.

table mountain california

Nancy Kerns

Miles of lupine.

I knew that with so many people coming to see the flowers, bringing a dog would be no fun for the dog nor me. First and most of all, because at this time there are so many other people out there, it would have only been appropriate to keep my dog on leash the entire time, and this would have seriously diminished the enjoyment for me and my dog.

I was right. We passed dozens and dozens of people, and a number of not-very-happy looking dogs. Even though they were getting taken out to experience a beautiful day with their people, I don’t think any of them were having much fun.

table mountain california

Nancy Kerns

Three weeks ago, only the tiniest yellow flowers were blooming, and few visitors were strolling about. Woody had a great time off-leash.

The best part of being out in a gorgeous natural setting for most dogs is the opportunity to smell whatever they want, more or less at their own pace. And to have to stay on a leash and go at the human’s nonsensical (to dogs) pace, I think, would just be maddening. At least it would be for my dogs.

Dogs who are content to stroll slowly and simply be with their owners might have enjoyed it just fine. Since I usually hike in other local areas where it is legal for dogs to be off-leash, my dogs are used to running ahead, pausing to smell stuff whenever they want, falling behind, running to catch up again.

table mountain california

Nancy Kerns

Same waterfall, different view, three weeks later. See all the blue flowers? Crowds have arrived to see the superbloom, and there is no way I would take my dog's leash off, had I brought him.

It was also really nice to go on a walk and not have to pick up or carry poop!

Most of us dog lovers have the impulse to bring our dogs when we are going to do any sort of outdoor activity, but there are times when bringing them will cause them to have more stress than fun – when it’s very hot, when there are unexpected and loud noises (street fairs!), and anywhere there are crowds. (There probably are dogs that don’t mind crowds, but I don’t know them.)

I would just like to encourage you to really think through your decision to bring your dog to the next outdoor activities you partake: Will it really be fun for your dog? Can he deal with crowds easily, especially a crowd where there are likely to be lots of other stressed dogs? Will it be safe and comfortable for him? Is he fit enough to participate without getting hurt or exhausted? Are you prepared to bring water and poop bags, and turn back early if he’s looking stressed or overheated?

I made up for excluding my dogs from the hike by playing a ton of fetch with them before we left, and handed out Kongs that were stuffed with canned food†and frozen as I left. I think it was a win/win situation.

Comments (29)

This is a good dialogue and I enjoyed the photos, but am reminded that dogs in their exuberance or while chasing a critter or another dog have been known to fall off of drop-offs like those in the photos. Then the owner typically needs to be rescued after they go over the edge to try to rescue the dog. Leashes prevent tragedies like these and my dogs have always enjoyed their leashed hikes and runs with me. More and more, I am remembering to let my dog sometimes set the pace and sniff where she wants so she can just be a (safely leashed) dog.


Posted by: Isaac's Mom | April 18, 2019 7:58 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for this stuff what you had posted

Posted by: petsfolio | April 18, 2019 4:44 AM    Report this comment

Great article and beautiful photos! Isolated locations where our dogs can romp (controlled) off-leash are so enjoyable for them. Fully agree that crowded venues that people often enjoy offer little pleasure for dogs. Hopefully, more people will read the full article and consider their dog's comfort first before taking them along. As the weather warms, I'm sure many dogs appreciate relaxing indoors at home on a comfy bed in the air conditioning, rather than standing on the hot pavement at a street festival.

Posted by: BJG | April 12, 2019 5:45 PM    Report this comment

I understand what youíre saying. My dog is under excellent voice control because Iíve worked with him daily since he was a puppy. He is the happiest friendliest dog ever. I always have a leash (and poop bags) easily accessible weather itís an off leash or on leash trail. He is never out of my sight. I leash him when other humans or dogs are in sight. We hike many places where we see no one else. I feel as if Iím a responsible dog owner. After reading your article I have a new dilemma.
My dream is to travel with dog to ocean. I have reservations at dog friendly hotel at Fort Bragg. I will be stopping lots on way for hikes, etc Iíve made lists of dog friendly places to eat and explore but he will have to be on leash most of time. To prepare been walking him on leash in parks, stores and going to dog friendly places to eat. He is a three year old energetic golden but well behaved in all these situations except heís a little too friendly but never jumps on folks., just wiggles. A lot. But is this ocean trip for me or will he have fun too?

Posted by: gaylefair | April 12, 2019 4:16 PM    Report this comment

I live in a small rural country town in the south that has a large festival every fall. I hate the way it is set up because they make the vendors set their stalls IN the main street on each side of the street where everyone has to walk in the middle in a very cramped area. People come from all over to this festival and bring their kids, disabled and dogs. I have seen it all from newborns in strollers and granny in wheelchairs then along comes some idiot dragging their poor dog along like s/he is having the time of their life. It is very hot and on asphalt with people crammed in and smoking cigarettes carrying food and purchases. I hate it. You should never take your dog to festivals, fireworks, or flea markets. It is not fair to the dog. As far as the unleashed part goes, I agree; It is safer to leash. Anything can happen and will. I also think dogs should be leashed in a campground and not left to run loose. Too many of my friends have had accidents on horses d/t dogs and the horse spooking. Whether it was with play or not. They are all animals and anything can happen with a good animal at any time ending in injury that can be prevented.

Posted by: SunnyL | April 12, 2019 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I used to be one of those people who walked my dog off leash (in off leash areas) and then shouted "he is friendly" to people as he ran over by their dogs. He was friendly and I never had a problem. Then I started having dogs that did not do well with other dogs. So I walked with a leash and they had their harness on (even in off leash areas). When we came upon other dogs, way in advance I leashed my dogs up. People would shout "my dog is friendly" and I would scream back "my are not" as my dogs were growling at the dog running up on them. The owners did nothing. So I started realizing that I used to be one of those unaware and uncaring people and made sure I never made those mistakes again.

Posted by: kruzingwithk9s | April 12, 2019 9:04 AM    Report this comment

having a breed with a high prey drive for small, furry critters that 'go to ground' this kind of terrain would be HEAVEN for them -- other people and/or their dogs or not!! So... unless in a controlled environment, where they are SUPPOSED to ferret out ( no pun intended ) the small furries they were bred to hunt, they are confined to city sidewalks ( and the occasional lunge at a squirrel or even rat found in an urban setting! ).

Posted by: KatzDawgs | April 12, 2019 5:19 AM    Report this comment

Lovely Lovely photos and Lovely Lovely hiking area! If you have particularly athletic dogs, working breeds like I do, BCs, it can be so frustrating for them to remain on leash especially in wide open fields like this. Actually, it would be torture. I absolutely prescribe to what Nancy describes. No people remotely close, off-leash for a spell. Back on leash as soon as you draw relatively close. Otherwise, I too would leave them home if there was too much ďtraffic.Ē

Posted by: Stanleyhorse | April 12, 2019 12:47 AM    Report this comment

Reality check here. There are sound reasons to keep your dog ON leash in areas so designated. Regardless of how "well behaved" you believe your dog to be, wildlife can and does get disturbed just by the dog running around off the trail. Also, do you pick up after your dog in these areas when he goes off the trail? You are part of the problem if you let your dog off leash because you have failed to consider the big picture regarding the places you enjoy. People who feel entitled to let their dog off leash are a huge problem every where.
Please keep your dog ON leash in those areas where you are asked to do so. And also to leave your dogs at home when visiting areas that do not allow dogs. It is not just the people your protect, it is the wildlife and the environment.

Posted by: MarthaJ | April 11, 2019 11:46 PM    Report this comment

Itís interesting that you view leashed dogs walking with their people as not enjoying themselves. My two dogs and I always walk on leash together. We are an excellent team and have worked together for a long time in perfect harmony. They are eager to walk with me leash and all and I follow their lead for smells and investigations where I can. Youíre correct in stating that people encountering off leash dogs have absolutely no way of knowing whether you are a professional dog trainer with amazing dogs or a complete mess who just canít control their dog on a leash so doesnít try. When off leash dogs come barreling down the trail far ahead of their owner I just have my two sit until I figure out which situation it will turn out to be. Iíll try not to judge you for breaking the rules put in place for everyoneís enjoyment of the shared outdoor spaces if you try not to judge me for consistently walking my dogs on leash.

Posted by: Chaosbean | April 11, 2019 9:43 PM    Report this comment

Well, I do know a few people who insist that "their free bird" dog is fine off leash. Of course, they are they until they stumble across the birds nesting on the ground (yes, some birds do nest on the ground) or the small critter who can't get away. When people don't follow the rules it ruins it for those of us who do at some point there will be a NO DOGS ALLOWED because the free birds had to have their way.

Posted by: morganlefay | April 11, 2019 9:10 PM    Report this comment

Well, I do know a few people who insist that "their free bird" dog is fine off leash. Of course, they are they until they stumble across the birds nesting on the ground (yes, some birds do nest on the ground) or the small critter who can't get away. When people don't follow the rules it ruins it for those of us who do at some point there will be a NO DOGS ALLOWED because the free birds had to have their way.

Posted by: morganlefay | April 11, 2019 9:10 PM    Report this comment

A few years ago our eleven year old leashed, lab/ lurcher mix was knocked over by a much smaller, unleashed,playful puppy. Our dog was frail with arthritis but appeared to be ok following his fall. That evening he began to show signs of stress
and paralysis. The following morning we had to have him put to sleep.
We always believed the pup should have been leashed as there were several dogs being walked and he was not being trained. Once again the owner thought it hilarious a little pup could bowl over a large dog. Hope he never suffers the agony of watching his dog die. Please leash your dog in busy areas.

Posted by: Zowie | April 11, 2019 8:59 PM    Report this comment

I know I'm not the only one to say so, but geez, people, read the article before you start sniping!! "So, you are one of those?" No, Nancy is not one of those. She wrote...very clearly...that if there was any likelihood at all that other dogs or people would be around, she leashes her dog. And her comment about not picking up poop was because she didn't have her dogs with her. If you can't be bothered to read, you have no right to criticize.

Posted by: GiftofGalway | April 11, 2019 8:44 PM    Report this comment

Thank you, Mary Strauss. You said exactly my thoughts. Some people have a legitimate difference of opinion on this topic, but others just seem to want to self-righteously criticize without really reading the article.

Posted by: hg | April 11, 2019 8:04 PM    Report this comment

I agree with all of the above who feel that in on-leash areas, dogs should be ON LEASH, no exceptions! My Sheltie and I were attacked by a couple of off leash
Goldensand I was knocked down. The owner LAUGHED and then got mad when I tried to kick the dog off! Now I carry pepper spray and will use it if necessary (on the dog or the owner!) I also hate when people take their dogs hiking (off leash) on narrow mountain trails. Have had some narrow escapes there also. (Should mention that I am 78 years old and fear for my old bones when a rambunctious dog threatens me!)

Posted by: Sarah H. | April 11, 2019 7:35 PM    Report this comment

Geez, I can't believe the mean comments! Did you even read what Nancy wrote? Not only did she say that her dogs are not predatory (meaning they don't chase other animals) and that they'd never been in an altercation with another dog, but she also said that she immediately leashes her dogs anyway whenever she sees other people or dogs. And Feistdog, Nancy's comment about not having to pick up poop was because she took this walk WITHOUT HER DOGS.

Posted by: Mary Straus | April 11, 2019 6:44 PM    Report this comment

Amen, sister!

Posted by: llf | April 11, 2019 6:42 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the beautiful pictures - they are breathtaking! Good point about making a decision regarding whether to take your dog to an event that may cause stress, such as street fairs, etc. I have been fortunate to have a neighbor and/or a dog walker come in on days that I cannot be home with my senior dog. I understand about wanting to let a dog explore at will and agree that it may not be the same experience on a leash. I used to hike extensively on trails in upstate New York where dogs must be leashed. Many of these trails are isolated , very wooded and not many people, but they are full of wildlife, especially deer, at times coyote and bear. A solution I found that worked for my lab/boxer/hound gal was a harness and a longer leash that allowed her to explore, run and track but kept her within close bounds of the trails designated for people and pets- and also kept her safe from close encounters with the wildlife- northern deer are big but they are adept at hiding and have bounded out right in front of us at times. I 'hacked' two leashes together to make one that was longer. It gave quite a bit of freedom of movement, front and back, side to side but not so long as to tangle her up or trip over, especially with leash attachment on top of harness (a comfortable, non restricting Kurgo). I also had several knots to serve as a quick grab points, a handle that was closer to the harness for quick grab if needed, as well as a handle at the very end of the leash. Probably there are ones out on the market that can work, but this hack worked for hundreds of miles of adventures for us. Maybe Whole Dog Journal can do a review of different types of leashes (if there is not already one out there). Happy Trails everyone and keep on walking out there with your special ones.

Posted by: ellanine | April 11, 2019 6:08 PM    Report this comment

You wrote, "It was also really nice to go on a walk and not have to pick up or carry poop!" Do you mean you don't bother to pick up after your dog, if no one is around to see it happen, or there isn't poop left by irresponsible pet owners which you feel you have to pick up? It does sound like the former...

Posted by: Feistdog | April 11, 2019 5:43 PM    Report this comment

We kind of do as a combination - when we are around people (at the beach, mountains etc.,) the dogs (samoyeds) are on a short leash. When we are down on the beach etc and away from others, we have a 40 foot long line we can let them out on. The leaves us with control if anything starts to happen. If people want to pet them, they are welcome to, but we keep them from running up to people that don't want to say "hi" (and we always have our handy role of poop bags in our pockets to pick up after them). Not everybody likes dogs, we get that. We try to be responsible and meet the intent of the law (and have never had a park ranger complain to us when they were on the long line since they were obviously not bothering anybody and were under control).

Posted by: mikey | April 11, 2019 5:20 PM    Report this comment

I thought of one more awful and "please don't bring your dog" place -- those who bring their dogs to fireworks displays!!! You would think this would be a no-brainer, but would be surprised at how many people do this!!! DON'T DO IT -- the dog goes through agony, even if a hunting dog habituated to firearms.

Posted by: arcticheather | April 11, 2019 5:20 PM    Report this comment

I'm sure your dog is perfect off leash. Until s/he isn't. There is way to know that an off-leash dog will always have "good impulse control," and GOOD is not perfect. My best friend in the world used to take her dog off leash whenever it was around other dogs because "she just wants to play." Well, what if my dog doesn't? One of my pups is a 12 lb terrier/chihuahua mix who was adopted at about a year old, having never been socialized. Through a lot of love and training, she's now finally comfortable walking on a leash and no longer terrified of other dogs and people. Until a "friendly" off leash dog comes leaping over for play-time or goes bounding by without a human. If you want to walk your dogs off leash in public areas, you can rationalize all you like. But that's what it is: rationalization. At the expense of others (human and dog).

Posted by: TrekkerChick | April 11, 2019 4:32 PM    Report this comment

I agree with you, Nancy. I live in an arctic community in Canada, and see people with their dogs off leash all the time, and know there are many Inuit who live here who are terrified of dogs. It's not fair to them to put them in fear. I'm the Lay Vaccinator for the community and when people come in with their dogs off leash, I immediately say, "Get your dog under control or I'm not vaccinating it!" And, I'm no longer polite about it. I also give them a leash -- we buy leashes and collars in the dollar stores down south and bring them up by the bundle, and give them away as there are few for sale in our community.

Another pet peeve is people who bring pet dogs to sled dog races, and then cannot control those dogs..... Or, when I showed obedience dogs down south, people who brought untrained pet dogs to dog shows or sheep dog trials, and then could not control them. Use your heads, people -- untrained dogs do not belong around dogs that are in a certain place for a purpose!

Posted by: arcticheather | April 11, 2019 4:21 PM    Report this comment

How do you know your off leash dog won't mistake my small dogs for rabbits, squirrels, other small critters? I don't think any dog is safe off leash except in a fenced area. Be a responsible pet owner for other dog's well -being

Posted by: JoeyDog | April 11, 2019 4:20 PM    Report this comment

Your well behaved dog is one thing, but what about my old, arthritic Labbie girl (on leash) who is knocked down by your off-leash dog? Sure, he just wants to play, but that isn't the result. And the squirrels in the town square who have become accustomed to dog owners who obey the leash law, and your unleashed dog comes barreling at them and kills one or two? Much of the world is too small and too heavily populated for uncontrolled dogs in public places.

Posted by: dccarter | April 11, 2019 4:09 PM    Report this comment

I walk my dog off leash often...in the park and wooded areas near our home. I ALWAYS pick up his poop. This seems like a basic part of being a responsible pet owner.

Posted by: Rolliepm | April 11, 2019 3:51 PM    Report this comment

Iím finding a balance right now with my senior dog who used to be perfectly content on outings (ferry rides, trips to the auto shop, visits to the pet store, etc) but in his old age heís become more stressed about new situations and Iíve been having to make choices about what he will or wonít like more frequently, and finding important to remember that heís pretty happy snoozing at home too!

Posted by: mariaY | April 11, 2019 3:36 PM    Report this comment

So, you are one of those! Whose dog never does anything unexpected, never encounters an animal to chase, never does anything stupid etc. You must know my neighbor who has been fined for her dog being off leash, which killed a neighbors cat and still walks him off leash. I never let my dog off leash unless its safe for him in a fully fenced area and never take him where he's exposed to random dogs and people. And he is walked daily on a leash and remarkably seems quite happy doing so.

Posted by: rudy2005 | April 11, 2019 3:29 PM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In