You will never find a more ardent lover of off-leash dog walking than me. But I’m lucky: I have access to thousands of acres of “wildlife area” near where I live. It’s not quite a state park, but state-managed land where certain types of hunting are allowed in various seasons. Dogs can be off leash there much of the year, except for a short period in spring, to allow the many species of ground-nesting birds to lay their eggs and raise their young. When that happens, I either leash up my dogs, or go elsewhere. As much as I love walking my dogs off leash, and as well-mannered as they are, with near-perfect recalls, I’m not ever going to be one of the many people I see who walk their off-leash dogs past the signs that appear there every spring saying, “Dogs must be on leash from March 15 to June 30 for the nesting season.” I appreciate and respect my access to that land the REST of the year; I don’t want to risk losing access to it EVER.
Recently I had an opportunity to explore a new hiking area a couple hours from where I live. I took along a friend who is accustomed to going out with me and my dogs in our local off-leash areas. She was surprised when I snapped on my dogs leashes, and waited for her to do the same on this new trail. So surprised, in fact, that she asked me, “Seriously?” “Serious as a heart attack,” I said. Who would walk onto a trail marked like the one in the photo without leashing up?
I’ve read a lot of posts and essays from people whose dogs are reactive about how far their dogs’ training can be set back by one out-of-control off-leash dog running up to them – even those so-called “friendly” off-leash dogs. I would be MORTIFIED if my off-leash dog caused someone else’s training to go awry, or if my dog caused a horse to spook, a fragile hiker to fall, or a bicyclist to take a tumble. That’s why, on multi-use trails, even with my super-well-behaved Otto, he wears a leash. With these near-perfect dogs, it can be tempting to “poach” a trail, but the sudden appearance of a mountain bike or trotting horse reminds us that there are other people out here, too, and the only way we can share the trails nicely is by cooperating a bit. Even if it takes a little edge off the fun.
Have you ever “poached” trails with your well-behaved dog off leash? Would you do it again?