Dog’s Eye View: Off-leash dogs |

Dog’s Eye View: Off-leash dogs

Dog's Eye View Laura Tyler

— A client sent me a link to an article from one of our popular outdoor magazines. He was interested in my thoughts about off-leash dogs and how my view might differ from that of the author.

City officials in Steamboat Springs are in the midst of negotiating how to allow more off-leash areas for people and dogs while keeping public safety in mind. There is more to it than designating specific locations so I’ll see if I can fill in around the basic issue of off-leash freedom for our dogs.

I too like having my dogs off leash in camp or on hikes out on BLM lands. It’s great to find lizards to chase or voles to unearth for my dogs.

The Boulder off-leash hiking trails are great for “good” dogs. The Canine Good Citizen test for off-leash permission is a good start. If only all dog owners took the time to successfully train and socialize their dogs.

The city is another story. Unfortunately, some dog owners “just want their dogs to be free” and do nothing to supervise their dogs outdoors.

In my line of work, I’ve seen a full spectrum of dog/owner relationships. So, my perspective is not “one-sided” like the author’s viewpoint. His is very personal and reflects the experience of his own relationship and standards.

Then there is the rest of the world. And it’s true to a certain extent that it’s the owner not the dog. Each time we turn them loose we roll the dice. We can’t know what’s around every corner.

And most people are so interested in having a conversation with the human they are hiking with that they lose track of the dog and miss out on environmental cues. This happens all the time in Steamboat or any other park or trail where multiple people visit.

I had a dog who was somewhat like the author’s dog. My husband rescued her, as a 6-week-old puppy, from a snow bank along the highway on the New Mexico-Arizona border. As she grew up she could hold her own in most any conflict and step in to let someone know she was there for me if necessary. I never realized how much I counted on that until she was gone.

Interestingly, the dogs I have now count on me for that role of protector and interceptor. So, I must be on the lookout on trails and in parks so that my small dogs do not become prey for larger off-leash dogs. We must constantly shift gears to accommodate an ever-changing environment.

The community of Steamboat is at a crossroads. Too many people allowing too much uncontrolled freedom in a town too congested to call rural anymore.

Due to lack of personal responsibility by some people, unfortunately, new laws and enforcement of existing laws becomes more and more wide spread. Plus, we’ve encroached on long-standing wildlife habitat to build more homes to enjoy living in the mountains. So, at times we conflict with the very wildlife we love.

In a perfect world, it would play out as it did when I was a kid. Everybody knew whose dog belonged to whom and sent them home when they roamed the neighborhood.

Same with kids! The local dogs played with us and stayed with us until it was time to go home. But, there were only a few …. population growth has changed the rules.

I’ve heard “don’t worry; he’s friendly” until I’m sick of it. A friendly dog doesn’t come up and flip another dog onto their back daring them to make eye contact. That is not friendly.

Another quote I hear is “It’s OK as long as the other dog knows who’s boss. He just has to show them who’s boss first.”

The sense of pride behind this comment is disturbing. This dog is a bully, and his very behavior is being reinforced by the freedom to accost any dog that happens by. And we wonder why there is so much leash reactivity.

It’s also true that off-leash dogs have the advantage to communicate intent much easier than dogs on leash. But the leash laws in the city are there to prevent bad things from happening.

It requires a lot more work on the relationship and training to have a dog who walks nicely on leash. And even more work to teach a dog to ignore passing dogs. We seem to want the best of both worlds. Dogs who can be friendly with all dogs they meet, and dogs who walk nicely on leash and listen to off-leash commands.

Talk to the next park ranger you meet about why dogs aren’t allowed to set foot on National Park trails anymore. A good friend of mine who just retired as a park ranger had this to say; “Dog waste is only part of the problem. Off-leash dogs harass wildlife, frighten people with other dogs and often need to be rescued due to injuries including snake bites or off-leash encounters with other predators”.

We see the signs that say “share the road” and gladly give space to cyclists on the road. We really need to “share the trail” and keep our dogs under control.

We also need to respect dogs on leash. They can’t correctly communicate the body language of distress at oncoming dogs racing down the path. And finally, there are people who are not comfortable with dogs running at them. They also deserve our consideration and respect.

Whatever the city decides, it’s up to all of us to respect the space of others.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25-plus years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.

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