I’m sitting at home working on my dissertation literature review. I’ve hit a brick wall, I don’t know how to develop the current argument. Time for a break and in my house, that normally means going for a walk. Harnesses on, leads on, and off we go. It’s dark outside so I’m just doing a lead walk around the local housing estates. I’m about 1 mile into the walk when I spot a dog on the opposite side of the road. It’s a wirehaired vizsla (one of my favourite breeds). With the dog are two (mid-twenties) adults and the man is telling the dog to sit, which he does on the third time of asking. I’m always cautious when people start giving commands as we near each other; It makes me think they are worried or unsure about what their dog’s reaction might be.
I continue on my side of the road without changing pace. The guy continues talking to the dog, “wait, stay there, don’t you move”. The constant chatter tells me that he isn’t at all sure that the dog will stay. Suddenly the dog bolts across the road towards me and straight into the path of an oncoming car. Fortunately for the dog, the car driver was (at that moment in time) an awesome driver and somehow managed to avoid hitting the dog. The dog was friendly and just wanted to say hi to my dogs but you may be wondering (as I was) why wasn’t he on a lead?
I’ve seen off-lead dogs run into the road many times. I’ve seen dogs fatally hit by a car on 3 occasions and on 1 occasion, I was the driver. Why do some people choose to walk their dog by the road without a lead?
Image courtesy of Mighty Dog Graphics
I can think of only 2 reasons:
- Ego: Could it be ego driven? ‘look how great I am’, ‘my dog doesn’t need a lead’, ‘I’m such a great dog trainer’, ‘everyone must think I’m awesome’.
- Lack of understanding: The dog seems perfectly fine off-lead and stays close to their human. The human doesn’t realise the consequences of distractions or something spooking the dog.
To walk a dog off-lead by the road is to gamble with their life. We don’t know what’s around the corner, we don’t know what set of circumstances are about to unfold. Had I been happily plodding away on my dissertation, it wouldn’t have happened. Had I left a minute earlier, it wouldn’t have happened. Had the car driver left one second earlier, the dog would almost certainly be dead.
Please don’t gamble with your dog’s life. As animal guardians, just like with children, we are responsible for keeping them safe. Believe me, considering your dog’s safety and using a lead, makes you look far more impressive than walking along without a lead trying to project superpowers which you don’t have; plus you get to keep your dog.
Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read