Many pet owners have never considered the benefits of walking their dogs off-leash, but roaming freely can benefit well-behaved pets.
Should I walk my dog off leash?
Walking on a leash is so common it’s hard to remember it does not come naturally to our pets. Though some proponents argue that allowing dogs to roam freely creates a safety hazard, there are benefits to walking a well-trained canine off his leash.
Those who have never considered the subject may wonder why some pet parents are such strong supporters when it comes to allowing their dogs to walk without a leash. Roaming freely allows dogs to sniff and explore their surroundings at their own pace, which comes naturally to our pets. Some leashed dogs experience what is known as barrier frustration as they can become exasperated with the lack of freedom to greet passing pets or otherwise explore their surroundings. Because leashed dogs are confined to a relatively small area beside their handlers, it can lead increased defensive behaviors in some protective pets, too.
To help Fido learn good off-leash manners, he must master the “come” command in a highly distracting environment before being allowed to wander freely. Practice at home, gradually increasing your distance on a long leash and then, if possible, off-leash in a controlled environment such as a dog park. Establish a clear plan for what you will do if your dog does run away while walking freely. Remain calm in this situation, shaking and showing your pet a bag of treats, if possible, to entice him to return as you firmly give the “come” command. Though it may seem counterintuitive, you may also try walking away from your pet so he thinks you are heading to your car or home. When your dog does return, lavish him with praise even if you are frustrated by the process. Be sure to tag or microchip your pet, too, so that in the worst-case scenario, you are more likely to find a runaway pet. It is also important to research how to safely split up a dog fight, should one break out while Fido is walking freely.
There are, of course, disadvantages when it comes to letting Fido walk without a leash. Free roaming dogs can more easily run into oncoming traffic and run the risk of encountering an aggressive animal while outside of your immediate purview. Even the best-natured pets can bite when provoked, increasing the safety risk to other pets and people when you allow your dog to run without a tether. Other risks include the chance your dog may eat something poisonous or that contains parasites harmful to pets while walking without a leash. Other less serious, but still important, considerations include that your pet may use the bathroom in inappropriate places and that you may be fined for allowing him to run freely in some areas.
If you want to allow your four-legged friend to frolic free of any tethers, but within some boundaries, you can take him to a local dog park. You can also consider fencing in your yard or using a long-line leash to allow him to explore more freely when you are on hiking trails or in other less-trafficked areas.