Should you let your dog off-leash? The answer is usually no, but then how can your high energy dog get enough exercise? When leashed to you, most medium to large dogs are limited to a slow trot at best. Most dogs should run at full speed at least once a day, and that’s difficult with a leash on. For this reason, many owners choose to allow their dogs off-leash even in areas with leash laws, or areas where an off-leash dog could harm wild flora and fauna. Municipalities are fighting back by increasing the fines for violating leash laws. In some areas, animal control officers have been seen impounding dogs walking with their owners who wandered briefly out of the owner’s sight! The owner generally learns their lesson after collecting their dog from the local shelter, but no dog and owner should have to go through such an unpleasant experience unnecessarily.
Why Your Dog Should Stay On Leash
Off-leash dogs can endanger other plants and animals, but the most pertinent danger is to the dog itself. Even the calmest and most obedient dog can get in trouble when running free.
Your dog may be well-behaved, but what about the leashed dog he runs up to at the park? That dog’s owner may be conscientiously keeping it leashed because it is aggressive toward other dogs. Being approached by an exuberant off-leash dog could set off a “hot” (reactive) dog, causing a fight. Or how about the toddler on the playground? Your dog might mean no harm, but that won’t be much comfort to you if a frightened parent presumes your dog is aggressive and calls the police or uses pepper spray to ward off your dog.
When It’s Appropriate to Allow Your Dog Off-Leash
Even in urban areas, there are some places where it’s safe to let a dog run off-leash. Dog parks are one obvious choice. However, some dogs don’t get along well at the dog park, and some owners are wary of the risk of illness or a dog fight. If dog parks aren’t a good choice for you and your dog, look around locally for a park where off-leash dogs are permitted, but which isn’t specifically a dog park. Then go there at off-hours, like sunrise and the middle of the day. Always be sure that your dog has a solid recall before allowing it off-leash. If necessary, use a 50′ leash to control your dog while allowing him to freely exercise.
If dog parks aren’t an option and you can’t find another park where off-leash dogs are not prohibited, the best choice may be to take an obedience, flyball, or agility class. Most training centers have large fenced arenas for training. Avoid classes held at pet stores. Taking a class will teach you and your pet useful skills, and it’ll also provide an opportunity for off-leash exercise.
Finally, you could consider finding someone who has a large fenced backyard and a dog compatible with yours, and arranging regular playdates. Most dogs won’t get adequate exercise alone in their own backyard, but when a visitor comes by to play, will run and wrestle.