Asheville is a town that loves dogs, and we love to take our dogs out on the town! An important question to ask when you spend time with your dog in public places is, should you keep him on a leash or not?
Dogs are made to run, and for their physical and mental health they need time to play off of a leash. It’s important to give your dog time and space often to run and wear himself out, without you having to run five miles with him! However, when you take your pup out in public, courtesy and safety dictate that you think about the surroundings, including people and other dogs. There are situations where it is only appropriate to keep your dog on a leash.
When should you leash your dog? The short answer is, anytime you’re in a well-populated area. Even if your dog is perfectly behaved and will heel with you for a long distance, unexpected noises or surprises are bound to happen while you’re out and about. Small wild animals may distract your dog. When you meet and pass other dogs -- which happens a lot in Asheville -- you cannot control their behavior. Another dog may be dog-aggressive and not well-trained, and may pull his owner along to get to your dog. You can train your dog perfectly, but if another dog owner is not in control of their dog, a serious problem can still occur.
Some dogs tend to be nervous, so be conscientious when out walking with your dog. Walking is training. A yellow ribbon on another dog’s collar or leash is a warning that they don’t like to be approached -- usually, it’s a dog who is naturally nervous, and will not respond well to strangers coming close. You want to be in control of your dog so that she doesn’t rush another dog in this situation.
So, when is it safe to have your dog off-leash? Consider your surroundings. Are you in a place where:
The area is physically safe?
Both you and your dog are comfortable and know what to expect?
You are both familiar with the environment?
There is not a chance of a dangerous distraction where you wouldn’t be able to recall your dog?
A great place to have your dog off-leash is out in a big field or backyard. An area that is familiar, open, and not crowded is ideal.
For general safety, even if you don’t intend to have your dog off-leash in public, you should practice a good recall. This means the ability to come when called from a distance. If your dog does not come immediately and consistently, she does not have a good recall. This is an important basic skill that every dog should have for safety’s sake. For example, if your dog is in the front yard and a car comes down the road, you need to be able to call her out of the driveway. If wild turkeys are crossing the road and your dog wants to go after them, she should be able to leave them behind and come to you when you call.
Being prepared for circumstances where a good recall is needed is part of being a responsible dog owner. When you’re in a new or unfamiliar place, your dog is not as comfortable and not as able to be focused on you for recall. If you are not 100% confident that you will be able to recall your dog, then keep her on a leash!
Remember that anytime you’re in public, you have to think not only about your own dog but about other people and their dogs, as well as other variable factors in the environment. Practice both leash walking and consistent recalling with your dog, so that when you go out on the town you can both be comfortable and confident!