I am often found enjoying country life on my farm. Sprawling with different species of animals behind a post and rail fence, there is plenty of open space and ample room for everyone to get along untethered with safe boundaries.
However, lately I have been called upon by several of my city clients to help them navigate their concrete jungle, New York City.
As I specialize in modifying aggressive behavior, many of these clients who call have dogs with some level of reactivity. Meaning they react strongly to some stimuli.
New York City is one of the best places on earth to live if you are a dog (or a dog lover). Have you seen the movie The Secret Life of Pets? A lot of that is real! There is so much for us to enjoy there with our dogs – it’s a pet loving city. Water bowls even line some streets and parks, and there are special bakeries and cafes where dogs are not only welcomed but catered to!
But I have noticed something recently that causes me great concern for the pets and owners who call New York City home. There seems to be an increasingly growing tendency, if not trend, of dogs off-leash outside leash-free zones.
We have to remember that dogs are not humans, and that they depend on us to keep them safe and secure both indoors and out.
What these leashless offenders may be thinking is that it is their right to enjoy, even proudly display their pooch’s ability to behave off leash. And I understand that sense of pride.
But it poses a risk not only to their pets, but to yours.
Let's start with the most obvious common sense reason this is not a good idea. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING with dogs or any live animal is ever 100%.
When you have your dog off-leash in an undesignated area you are most certainly putting your dog at risk; cars and cabs whizzing by, bikes and buses galore, and also every kind of pedestrian under the sun. The Big City can be very overwhelming for our pets, and there will always be something new to encounter that could elicit an unreliable behavior or new response.
Without having your dog on a secure leash, there is always a chance of danger, and you could be putting your dog in harms way.
I need to ask "WHY"?!
Take a look from my behaviorist perspective.
You see when a “friendly” and “well-trained” dog is off-leash, the owner is likely thinking, “my dog is friendly, he is no risk, he is in control and does not need a leash”.
I can’t count on my hands and my dogs’ paws how many times that an off-leash dog has come up to my leashed dog, and the owner of that dog says "don’t worry, he’s friendly!" To which my response is a friendly but stern, "but mine isn’t - please call your dog now!"
You see, I modify the behavior of reactive and dog-sensitive dogs on a daily basis with varying degrees of aggression. I am able to work with these dogs so that families can enjoy sharing a life with them that they never thought possible. How and where I work with these dogs is of no threat to the public as I follow the laws of the city. My dogs are always leashed. I only work in areas where leashes are required of all dogs and I am always in control.
However, I cannot say the same for countless dog owners I encounter on my travels, and I have to do my part to provide education on this issue.
It is NEVER a good idea to introduce dogs when one is on leash and another is off. Why? Because we are putting one dog at a disadvantage by feeling tethered and interfering with their natural instinct and defense drive.
Dogs have a defense drive made up of what's called FIGHT or FLIGHT. When they are in a situation that makes them feel unsure or anxious, they only have two choices of how to get away from that feeling. One is FLIGHT - to get out of there and run away from the moment. The other is FIGHT - which may include growling or snapping as a sign of “I am not comfortable so I better protect myself just in case”.
Think about if you are walking alone in a dark alley and an ominous stranger started to approach you. In your gut you feel he is posing as a threat and could do you harm. You would quickly assess how to get away and where you could run to stop that feeling of worry and feel safe. But, if you became cornered with nowhere to run, your only option would be to fight for your life.
Women have long been taught to carry their keys to use as a weapon if suddenly confronted in a dark parking lot. Get to safety but if necessary, fight. Same idea.
When we put a dog on a leash in a new situation where they may be nervous or insecure, we remove any option of flight. If they cannot flee, what is left? That's right...Fight. And who is the recipient? Often that unleashed dog.
When an off-leash dog gets in the personal space of a leashed dog, that leashed dog may start to have a cornered (dark alley) response, because there is just nowhere to run to get away from the interaction.
This not only forces your leashed dog into an unfair and uncomfortable situation, it suddenly puts that "well-behaved” off-leash dog at risk. The leashed dog is not able to be successful in his interactions and may even get a bad reputation, when he is not the one breaking the rules!
Another thing to understand is that the way we hold a leash communicates our emotions to the dog. Remember, dogs are driven by instinct.
For example, if we see another dog we are concerned about, we may tend to tighten the slack in dog's leash. That tells the dog that you are nervous, which will make him more nervous and on guard.
Don't do that!
Having at least one inch of slack in the leash is the best way to have calm control of your dog. That also means you need to be calm and in control yourself.
I would say most of the people I meet have no idea how to properly introduce a dog on a leash or the understanding of why it is so important.
Let me show you why it’s so important to introduce dogs on a leash properly and in a controlled fashion.
I have created this infographic to demonstrate the dos and don'ts of introducing dogs on leash. This will help dog owners be more successful in meet and greets on leash!
And remember...at all times, LEASH BE WITH YOU!