So when is it OK to walk a dog off leash? The sad truth is almost never. There are situations, few and far between, that allow for a dog to be off leash and I’ll get into those too. My opinion on this issue was affected completely by a conversation Michael and I had while on a local hiking trail in Huntsville. Tilly, our black lab mix, was just 4 months old then. We passed another hiker in a narrow bend. With a breath of relief, the hiker said, “Oh good, you have it on a leash!”. He then explained that earlier a large German Shepard had come bounding up to him off leash and the owner just laughed stating, “don’t worry, he’s friendly”. The hiker told me that while the owner knows and loves his friendly dog, he (the hiker) didn’t know this large animal that came running up to him. He also stated that he is comfortable with dogs. “My fiancé has two large dogs. So, it’s not that I’m terrified of them”, he explained. He made a very good point. Some people fear dogs. Some people are hiking with their children and will be very put off having a large rottweiler come running towards them. Rottweiler is just an example. A personal one though because my sister in-law had a rottweiler which was the absolute sweetest dog. Still when I first brought my little girls to her house and this massive hulk of fur and teeth came bounding off the porch toward my babies, I pushed them behind me. I didn’t know this animal.
Having been around dogs my entire life I can admit that they are unpredictable. Animals are ruled by instinct. Why do some dogs meet, sniff, and get along fine, while others will instantly fight? I do not know. I do know that if my dog is off leash the fault in any instance will be mine. So, in public, highly used areas, it is not only safer but also more considerate to walk dogs on a leash.
- an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection.
There are those few places as mentioned before that allow off leash dogs to run. One place we found is Cane Creek Nature Preserve, in Colbert County, Alabama. This is a beautiful private preserve. It is about an 90 minutes from us but worth the drive every time. Here dogs are encouraged to run off leash at the owner’s discretion. The caretakers do ask that dogs begin the trails on leash. This is because they have their own dogs and one of them is very skittish around other dogs. So if you are lucky enough to visit please have your friend leashed until away from the house.
No one wants to do it. Picking up poop is just gross and embarrassing. Then you must carry the bag of feces with you until a trash can is available. Still I do it. I have seen what it looks like when no one is doing it. In Germany I walked our dog everyday along a trail winding through the fields outside the village. During the snowy winter everyone stopped picking up the poop (not just me). In spring the trail was lined on both sides with poop every couple of feet. The village put in “doggy stations” along the trail and signs posted stating that everyone must pick up the poop.
Some people will bag the poop and if a trash can is not close by they will leave it beside the trail to pick up on the way back. This is only helpful if you actually pick it up on the way back. My assumption is that more often than not people forget to grab it on the way out. That is based only knowing myself and that I would almost always get down the road, just far enough to not want to turn around, then remember.
Since I am focusing on reducing my plastic waste using these plastic bags every time we walk Tilly makes me feel like a hypocrite. I do reuse plastic grocery bags for cat litter and dog waste, but I’d like to one day not use plastic bags at all. Since Tilly gets two walks a day for exercise (we have a fenced back yard) that is sometimes two bags a day. I have found a couple companies that make biodegradable poo bags. These can also be tossed in a composting toilet or if the city municipality says ok, they can be flushed down the toilet at home. If you have the yard space and do composting, you can have a separate compost for non-edibles to which you add the doggy doo.
When we go for a short walk I will always pick it up and take it out. What if we are far from a trash bin or on an overnight hiking? There are some who would say we should use a “poo locker”, but that is not going to happen. If you have never heard of these (as I had never either) they are canisters in which you carry the poo until a bin is available.
I understand the need to handle pet waste is a real concern and responsibility for all dog owners on trails, but I do not like this idea at all. Another option is to bury the poop like we do our own when hiking. This seems a more viable option for us. There is also the choice to have the dog carry the bagged poop themselves in saddlebags. I still prefer the idea of handling the waste immediately and not carrying it around. As of right now we have not taken Tilly on any overnight hikes and I’m not looking forward the trial and error rounds of finding what method is going to work best for us.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras (photographer and writer)
There is also the issue of extendable leashes. Notice the sign states leashes should be 6 ft. maximum. I do not like extendable leashes. However, my husband and dog both do. We have an extendable leash that is about 27 ft. long and a standard 6 ft one. I find extendable leashes dangerous. My daughter had one cause a rope burn on her face when she was 3. She opened our front door before I was ready when we were heading out for a walk. Our dog Soldier took off while she was pressed against the door with the leash running across her face. So I’ve hated them ever since. When it comes to being on public trails where there are bikes plus other people and dogs, these long leashes can be dangerous if you are not constantly aware of who is approaching from ahead or behind.
I’ve been working with Tilly on listening to commands while being off leash. I enjoy walking with her so much more when she can move about without being tethered, and of course she does too. Still, I know that where I live it just isn’t going to happen as often as I’d like. So for now, I walk her on a regular leash, Michael uses the extendable leash, Tilly gets walked twice a day, and we both pick up poo in biodegradable bags (we’ll use a trowel to bury it when necessary).