Encountering off-leash dogs

Photo by Anne Cutler.

I recently took a walk with a friend on a big section of a popular trail in town that runs along a river. The trail system spreads for miles around the city and it’s a very popular route for dog people, for obvious reasons. In just an hour of walking, we saw tons of people with their dogs: A pregnant woman with her older shih tzu and pomeranian puppy; a little boy with his all-white American bulldog; an elderly man and his elderly mixed breeds; a parade of labs; a woman and her chubby Australian shepherd; a woman and her very vocal dachshund; a young guy and his Great Pyrenees…

The one thing that did surprise me, however, was how many of these dogs were off-leash, despite the fact that there were many signs posted along the trail stating that all dogs have to be leashed. None of these off-leash dogs seemed particularly “dangerous”–the two old dogs were so slow that they were barely walking, and the young lab who was off-leash was so fixated on the stick in his owner’s hand that he wasn’t looking at anyone else. We also saw a young male spitz/collie mix who seemed to either be a stray or to have been left behind by his humans, because he wasn’t with anyone. (He ran off in the woods before we could get that close to him to look for identification tags.)

Confession: I can be as guilty as the next person about sporadically breaking leash laws. Dublin and Dally are never leashed when we’re at the park in my hometown, mostly because the park is sparsely populated. If we do ever see a dog, we leash them, but they’re usually romping free, and Dublin, for one, is extremely responsive to verbal commands. I’ve hiked a trail with Bo off-leash, too, but it wasn’t an official trail, so there were no leash laws governing it. In general, though, I always leash and try to use common sense about it. It’s safer for everyone. So, I know this. I just wanted to admit my hypocrisy up front.

But. On this particular trail, seeing these many off-leash dogs did make me a little nervous about using this trail in the future. It’s not like it’s a sparsely used park or an unofficial path in the forest; this is a heavily trafficked trail system, used by all sorts of people: Dog people, young families, teenagers, bikers, runners, and even the city’s homeless.

What if we have a dog who isn’t great with other dogs rushing up to him or her? Our dog would always be leashed, but you can’t control an unleashed dog from rushing forward. (*Side story: Zoe and I narrowly escaped a potentially frightening situation like this. I was walking her in her neighborhood, and a young German shepherd was loose in his front yard. There were college students standing out in the yard, too, but none of them were looking at the dog, who started to charge toward us, growling. I stopped behind a hedge and shouted over it, “PLEASE leash your dog!” Thankfully, they heard me and grabbed the dog and we could continue without fear for our lives…)

How do you prevent this situation from escalating–an unleashed dog rushing up to your leashed one? Have you ever encountered this before?

A long walk with Bo

Bo
Bo.

Yesterday afternoon, I took Bo for a peaceful hour-and-a-half walk. We strolled around our future street/neighborhood, which was absolutely beautiful; everything is in bloom right now. All the trees are pink and white and green; everyone seems to have tulips or wild violets or little pansies springing up in their yards. (I didn’t get any pictures, unfortunately, because it looked like it was about to pour the whole time and I didn’t want to jeopardize my camera…)

The walk made me even more excited to move to our future house and to get to live in this part of town. It’s such a pretty and pleasant network of streets and houses. We walked down to a tiny park (under 5 acres), about two blocks from our future house, and I envisioned taking our dog down there for our morning walks. The park isn’t exactly spectacular (just a basketball court, a playground, and a smattering of picnic tables), but it is a bit of grassy space to provide at least a small reprieve from the sidewalks.

Bo is delightful company. After about half an hour, he stops tugging and heels quite nicely. He’s a very attentive boy and likes to pause every so often to look up at your face, as if he was checking in on you, just to see how you were feeling; it always warms my heart. Bo also thinks all people are out just to strike up a friendship with him. Par example: A runner passed us on the road and glanced our way. When Bo caught his eye, he broke into what can only be called a smile and sprung up happily, almost skipping with joy after the runner. He’s adorable.

I am really looking forward to getting to do this kind of thing with our future dog, of course, but for now, Bo is the perfect substitute.

Cute but stupid

This photo is actually from Christmas, but it's the same park and the same dogs, so I'm using it here.

I went to visit my family this weekend, for an early birthday celebration for my dad and to surprise my siblings. It was a beautiful few days and on Saturday, we went back to the big, open park nearby and took Dublin and Dally with us. (Photo above gives an approximation of what the day was like, even though the photo is from Christmas. Same dogs, same park, mostly the same people.)

The dogs were off-leash most of the time and stuck with us through all the trails. Dublin is very responsive, especially to my father and to her human, Dave; Dally, not so much. We shared the trail with sporadic mountain bikers and when we’d call Dublin to get off the trail, she’d do so immediately; when we’d call at Dally or gesture at her, she just stood there dumbly, staring at us. Dally is only 8 or 9 months old and she hasn’t been trained by her family at all, so I suppose this isn’t really surprising.

When Dublin spotted the creek, she went scrambling down a large embankment and splashed around the water. Dally tried to follow her, but since she’s overweight and clumsy, it didn’t go so smoothly. She ended up getting trapped in a huge vat of quicksand-like mud and Dave had to help drag her out of it. As my dad likes to say of dogs like her: “Cute but stupid!” After she emerged, she looked like a sad, shamed princess; she couldn’t even wag her tail, as it was so weighed down with mud. Poor baby. We hosed her down when we got home and she was no worse for the wear.

Side note: Is it ever appropriate to tell someone that their dog is overweight? Especially if they seem unaware of it? Dally is young, as I mentioned, but the poor girl already has a weight problem. I think she needs to lose 15 pounds or more; it’s noticeable, and even more so since I last saw her in December. Is that ever appropriate, do you think? If so, is there a gentle way to say it?

One step closer: A house for May!

Backyard garden plots with the new house (fenced-in yard on the right).

I’ve been SO excited and relieved this week, because we have made our first big step toward adopting a dog: Moving!

We found a new place to rent and our lease will begin May 15. I cannot WAIT to move in!

Here are all of the reasons why this place is totally awesome for us and for our future dog:

  1. Our landlord is a really cool young woman with three dogs herself (including her fiance’s blue heeler), so she’s totally dog friendly and fine with us having a dog! She is also a volunteer at the same SPCA that I volunteer at, which has been a neat connection. We definitely bonded over that when we met.
  2. You can’t see it in the picture above, but the house comes with a sizable fenced-in yard, which I am thrilled about, because it is REALLY hard to find in this area.
  3. Plus, the extensive garden plots are outside the fence, which means Guion can carry on gardening projects without being disturbed by the dog or worrying that the dog will tear them up.
  4. It’s in the exact neighborhood we wanted: Calm, quiet, and easily walkable to downtown.
  5. The house is a 6-minute drive from my current office. THEN, when my office moves to its new location in early 2013, I’ll be only a 15-minute WALK to the office. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
  6. The location of the house will also make it possible for me to leave work at lunch (my dog-loving boss has already given me approval for this) to come home and take the dog for a mid-day walk. I’m also hoping this will be a sell for the rescue agencies.
  7. The house is also just a short walk away from our city’s greatest park: It’s 280 acres of wooded natural glory and it’s just a skip away from our location. The park and the surrounding trails, woven through by a beautiful river, are really dog friendly and I can’t wait to explore them with our future dog!
  8. We can afford it! That’s the big one.

There are other reasons, I’m sure, but these are the significant ones that come to mind right now. I feel like I can breathe, having this big decision already made. The countdown to May 15 begins! 3 months, 1 week, and 5 days…