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More Than a Pet Peeve
Dogs Off Leash

By Lora Goerlich

Keeping dogs leashed is the law

Each year while teaching and advocating for equestrians and equestrian trails at The Park Ranger Institute Training in North Carolina, one of the discussions that continues to surface is dogs off leash and the rampant disregard for dog leash laws. Rangers from across the United States are exceedingly frustrated with the problem. Enacting zero-tolerance policies is the only way to truly resolve the issue. Zero tolerance means at the very least, every dog owner who is caught with a dog off leash would be issued a citation (plus applicable court fees). In the age of warp speed information dissemination and availability, "ignorance of the law is no excuse." 


Let's delve a bit deeper... Taking a dog onto public park land requires strict adherence to rules. Additionally, leash laws mean dog on leash + leash in hand… not, dog dragging an attached leash or owner holding an unattached leash while the dog zigzags back and forth across the trail or crashing through the woods. Leashes must be visible, not electronic and the leash must not exceed a certain length; six to eight feet is common. An exception to leash laws might occur in public hunting areas where hunting with dogs is permitted, select BLM lands, and of course designated dog parks. Ultimately it is the dog owner’s responsibility to know and comply with the rules. Why? Because dog owners are liable for damage and injuries their dog causes while running at large (off leash) on public property.


But, but, but… “My dog is well behaved.”  This is never guaranteed. By nature, dogs are predators and even the most well-behaved dog has the potential to act unpredictably. Disastrous outcomes are unlimited and could include (but not limited to):

1. Unleashed dog pursues a deer or other wildlife into a roadway directly in the path of a motor vehicle. The driver swerves in an effort to avoid hitting the deer and/or dog but strikes a pedestrian or loses control and rolls the vehicle. 

2. An unleashed dog attacks another dog, or human.

3. Unleashed hound gets attacked if it invades the space of a leashed dog.

4. On or near equestrian trails, a loose dog could easily frighten a horse with potentially tragic consequences for horse and rider (Ohio, Gibson v. Donahue 2002).]

     a. A dog who is not acclimated to horses might try to attack the horse(s).

     b. A horse might react by kicking out, resulting in serious injuries to the dog.

5. Let’s say you’ve allowed your dog to drag its leash when suddenly your dog darts into the woods. No big deal, right? Wrong!  A dog can easily become tangled with underbrush deep in the woods without ever being found.  It will definitely suffer before dying.

6. An unleashed dog is an easy target for animals in their natural habitat including venomous and constricting snakes, birds of prey, wolves (both federally protected), alligators or moose to name a few.

7. Dogs have the innate potential to hunt and kill native wildlife or endangered wildlife.


“My dog is friendly.”  There is no such thing as a friendly dog to a person who has a paralyzing fear of canines. Even the most pleasant dog can cause injury by inadvertently knocking a person down or getting tangled in the leash of another dog.


“There was no one else around.” ​Do you carry absurdly large periscope with you while at the park? My guess is no. (If you do… please, please contact me!) It is impossible to know who else is in the park, period.  


There are no legitimate reasons for unleashing a dog where leash laws are in effect. Other enforceable canine related rules might include: solid dog waste removal, possession of current year dog registration and proof of current rabies vaccine. 


To those who keep their dog leashed...thank you! Continue setting outstanding examples. If you’ve been negatively affected by an owner who allows their dog off leash, consider writing a detailed and factual complaint letter or email to the agency director, board members and/or city council members. This is an honest way to bring attention to ongoing, dog off leash, safety violations.


If you are caught with your dog off leash in a park or natural resource area and you receive a citation, you earned it.  Take the citation graciously and own up to your disregard for rules and safety without belittling or arguing with the officer; moreover, don't do it again.


In the end, our safety, our beloved dog’s safety, the safety of others, and natural resource balance are at risk every time we cross paths with a dog off leash. 

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