Sometimes Dogs are Best Left Home


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.

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

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

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

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 foodand frozen as I left. I think it was a win/win situation.


  1. “Scofflaws.” I have such disdain for people who think they can do whatever they please regardless of the laws in place. “My dogs are friendly”- that’s great. You also described them running ahead of you, so what if someone happens to be walking down where the dogs are and you’re not. People are afraid of unexpected, loose dogs! You’re gonna be that person yelling, “They’re friendly! ”
    If I had my dog on a leash, it wouldn’t matter how “friendly” your dogs are running up. My dog would not react in a favorable manner due to the fact that he would think he needed to protect me from your loose dogs! You’re not cool, you’re irresponsible.
    Also, how can you be sure where they’re crapping? They’re ahead of you or they’re behind you, then running to catch up, by your own admission.
    I completely agree that dogs are more comfortable left at home sometimes, as for your blatant disrespect for other people, the natural resources and your disregard for the law, I can’t abide that at all.
    “… and a number of not very happy looking dogs. ”
    God, you’re a real piece of work!

    • I have to agree with the above writer regarding scofflaws. We have strict leash laws in the county where I live. However, my next door neighbor (who is a manager of a local neighborhood) decided–after her husband trained their dog with a shock collar(!)–that it was all right to walk him without a leash on our community’s paved pathway through the woods. She said he is a very exuberant dog and was “destroying our house and needed to work off more energy.” He runs through the woods and chases deer and other animals while she mostly ignores him. She carries his leash over her shoulder as if she could possibly put it on fast enough in an emergency. Before she started walking her dog off-leash, I had rarely seen any dogs off-leash on the pathway. But once people saw her doing it, many started doing the same thing. It makes me very nervous because I have had my very small dog accosted by a huge German Shepherd that was off-leash and was not responding to the owner at all. My dog is very nervous around all dogs that are off-leash (she is never off-leash), including those she knows, because they are very unpredictable in their movements. Also I have found my neighbor’s dog’s poop in the middle of the pathway and in my own yard where she probably had no idea that he had gone. She and her husband let him out their door minutes before they come out, and the dog wanders all over! A law is a law and should be obeyed–individuals cannot make their own exceptions!

  2. Thank you, that was very helpful and informational. First time dog owner getting the hang of things and training/exercising my dog a lot. He has improved quite a bit. I still would not feel comfortable taking him out yet like you do. He still has a lot of energy but it is an improvement. I have seen improvement on all things but I was wondering of you had any advice on how to keep him calm while on a car ride and any further advice about him reacting while on a leash. It is very strange. When we leave my unit, from the door to the hallway and even the parking lot he starts whining and trying to grab at the leash. He didn’t always do this. But once we are running or when he gets back and is tired he behaves just fine, he just wants to lay down and cool off. Any idea how I can calm him down at the beginning or in the car? Thanks