City neighbors can fall on two sides of a great dog divide. One group controls their dogs on short legal leashes, while the other group’s dogs are off-leash or uncontrolled on illegally long leashes. You’ll know the second group by the often recited cry, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” as their uncontrolled dog runs up to you.
But, He’s Friendly ...
Yes, your dog may be friendly, but you don’t know what you would need to know about the people or dogs around you to make a long leash or off-leash decision. Trailing the equivalent of one or two car lengths behind your dog, you can’t control what is happening or communicate with people around her.
- A dog being approached may be reactive when on the leash like the one in the illustation above. (It's from the Boston Public Library's 19th Century American Trade Card Collection.)
- Or, your healthy pup may be bouncing toward a dog about to share a contagious disease.
- The person may be out for a quiet dog walk after surgery or injury and may not want your dog exciting their pup.
- Or, the dog may be old and frail and the person with the animal could be worried sick that one fall might be fatal. For years, I walked with a lovely, elderly Afghan named Crystal who was game for a walk but very wobbly. Her friends would form a protective circle around Crystal whenever we saw an uncontrolled dog near her.
What's Legal in Boston?
The city website lays out the rules in detail, “When your dog is off your property, it must be on a leash.” And, a Boston city ordinance is specific about the length of a legal leash saying that your dog must be, “... effectively restrained by a chain or leash not exceeding ten (10') feet in length.”
Your leash length and style should be determined by the size, temperament, and successful training of your dog. Short leashes are needed on crowded sidewalks and in places where you are likely to encounter the fools who don’t control their dogs properly.
Tips on Dealing with Uncontrolled Dogs
Since the problem is the human on the other end of a retractable leash or carrying the leash around their neck, I try not to get angry at the dog. I treat it like an unaccompanied stray. I also put little stock in anything the trailing person is saying. I don’t consider someone who routinely breaks the law as a reliable source of information.
- Protect Your Dog: Step between your dog and the approaching one. If you have a second person with you, one of you can make a U-turn with your dog while the other deals with the problem.
- Give a Command: Step into your strongest alpha dog pose, stand erect, and use your deepest, firmest voice (along with hand signals) and command the approaching dog to stop and sit! I’ve surprised myself at how often this works.
- “Please Control Your Dog:” By now, the person should be close enough for you to take a deep breath and ask them, as politely as you can, to please leash or control their dog.
- Don't get into a debate or discussion with the scofflaw. They will be sure they are right and you are over-reacting.
- Just walk away and remember what Mark Twain was famous for saying, “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
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Words: Penny Cherubino (previously published as one of her City Paws newspaper columns)
Illustration courtesy of the Boston Public Library's 19th Century American Trade Card Collection (used under this creative commons license. )