If there’s one unfortunate byproduct of Vancouver’s off-leash dog parks, it’s clueless owners. Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing a couple pooches hamming it up, running around like lunatics and generally getting their dawg on – when the owners have both purposely come to an off-leash park for this reason.

Unfortunately, there’s a special breed of dog person who has their animal off-leash at all times, everywhere. We may see a bit more of it because we live right by one of the larger off-leash parks in Vancouver, but it’s all over our neighbourhood.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been charged by a dog, with an owner 20 or more feet away, yelling the standard refrain, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly …” That may well be the case, but it’s hardly the point. This attitude tells me right off the bat that the person doesn’t understand that it’s not just about their dog. What if I know my dog doesn’t interact well, but despite my best efforts, he defends himself and hurts your playful goof, for the sole reason that you’re too inconsiderate or stupid to have control of your animal?

As I’ve written before, we have had a rescue dog for close to a year now. We’ve worked hard, and had tremendous success, at helping him past many fear aggressions, not the least of which was with other dogs. When we can calmly approach another dog who’s also on a leash, a combination of reading both animals’ body language and some redirection usually results in a positive interaction. However, if the approach isn’t going well, we’re also able to avoid some potential ugliness because both owners have complete control of their dogs.

Happy interactions with both dogs under control
Happy interactions with both dogs under control

However, when a dog Brody doesn’t know bounds up quickly, friendly or not, he sees it as an affront and there’s no way to predict how he’ll react. Even when the leashed dog doesn’t have pre-existing issues, this interaction creates an imbalance of power. One dog flying around and, as dogs are wont to do, jumping, paw batting, running away, and the like, and the other dog restricted to a circle with a leash radius of five feet or so and, the leashed dog can feel trapped. Where there would normally be no reaction if both had complete freedom of movement, this can cause the leashed dog to lash out and hurt the other dog. Better yet, with both dogs on leash there’s almost zero chance of a bad outcome.

We’ve seen this happen with people who not only have no leash with them on the walk, but in one case, had no collar on their dog. In other words, no intention or ability to control their dog in the case of any problems. I’ve had an off-leash dog bolt across a street at Brody and nearly get hit by a car. When pointing the fact that their dog could have been killed out to the owner, all I received was an indignant grunt. Oddly enough, the off-leash everywhere people don’t seem to give a shit.

Perhaps most important in all this is that, when I’m walking my leashed dog on a public street I have every right to expect other dogs we encounter will also be leashed. It keeps everything working smoothly. If I want my dog to play off-leash with others, I’ll take him to an off-leash park where I expect the other dogs to be off-leash. The flip side of this is that it’s not entirely uncommon for careless owners to bring dogs who should clearly never be off-leash, to off-leash parks. If owners know their dog has significant problems with other dogs, they shouldn’t have them off-leash. However, when both dogs are off-leash in an appropriate environment, negative encounters are far less likely.

Since I know my dog’s tendencies and issues, I’m not going to put him in a situation where he could cause problems for other dogs. All I ask in return is that maybe these clueless owners could just keep in mind that being off-leash is not just about their dogs.