Article by Trainer Samantha Lee (CPDT, CCFT) of Valor K9 Academy – Boise

One of my biggest pet peeves as a dog trainer is that dog owners make excuses for why their dog is not under control on and/or off leash in public places. You know what I’m talking about… the reactive dog on an extendable leash in Home Depot blowing up at your dog walking by or the random dogs who are charging your dog off leash with their owner failing to recall their dog.

If you own a dog, no matter the breed, age or size… there is no exception when it comes  to being a responsible dog owner. It does not matter whether or not your dog is friendly, it is non-negotiable that you take necessary steps to ensure that you, your dog and the people and dogs you encounter in public are ALL SAFE.

Years ago, my grandma was taking her daily on-leash walk with her Lhasa Apso mix when she saw a young woman walking towards her with two large shepherds pulling her down the sidewalk. The woman shouted “it’s okay, they’re friendly!” so my grandma proceeded to walk towards them and pass them. What neither that woman nor my grandma realized was that those shepherds were quickly getting over-stimulated by pulling and whining as their proximity to my grandma’s dog got smaller… that by the time they went to pass one another, the shepherds attacked and ultimately killed my grandma’s small dog because their owner could not control them.

Unfortunately, this is just one of countless horrific stories that I have heard throughout my career. What these irresponsible dog owners don’t realize is the ripple effect that their reckless choice to allow their dog to be out of control in public. SO MANY of the dog owners we work with on a daily basis are victims of these selfish people.

For example, last week I met a private lesson client who has a cattle dog mix  who had signed up for training because she lacks confidence and is extremely fearful. She had made so much progress in our private lessons that we were ready to start exposing her to balanced and neutral dogs to help build her confidence and diminish her anxiety in the presence of dogs. So, we met at a low key park and her dog was doing awesome in our lesson until a stranger with his two large doodles came charging us off-leash. I quickly advocated for my client and shouted “Please recall your dogs” but it became quickly apparent that he had NO control over his two dogs and proceeded to verbally accost my client and I for being in a public place with dogs who weren’t “friendly”. This is a scenario that so many dog owners find themselves in… getting publicly shamed for not having a dog who tolerates out of control and rude dogs. When the reality is that my client has every RIGHT to be in that public park. She did have complete control over her dog. It doesn’t matter that her dog didn’t want to interact, it only matters that as a responsible dog owner, she took the necessary precautions to be in public with her fearful dog by having training tools in place. This stranger is in the WRONG, because he took advantage of a dog friendly location by having his dogs off leash and zero control over either of them.

When you see public stores, parks or trails that are dog friendly or have designated off-leash areas, it is not a free pass to allow your dog to behave however they want nor does it mean every dog there has to tolerate being charged at, greeted, barked or lunged at by another dog. Being a responsible dog owner should always be about setting your dog up for success; don’t utilize these types of locations if you know your dog is not under control for the safety of your dog and others.

To this point, I truly feel that dog parks and dog daycares have made dog owners lazy; I believe the idea behind creating dog parks and daycares was to benefit the dogs, but unfortunately it has done the opposite. These places have become a mecca for creating dogs who are fearful, anxious, reactive or rude. A place where dogs learn how to completely ignore their owners. And it is these same owners who think that they can take their dog anywhere and it doesn’t matter if they have an obedient dog or not because as long as they believe their dog is “social” then it’s justified.

One of my favorite training quotes is “We often expect too much of our dogs and too little of ourselves”. I find it ironic that it is socially acceptable for humans to dislike certain individuals but those same humans expect, wish or strive to make their dogs “like” / tolerate EVERY dog and/or person. Ultimately, the idea of what society believes is a “social” dog is extremely skewed. The goal of socialization for ANY dog shouldn’t be to make them a social butterfly… It should ideally be to teach a dog how to be neutral and polite in any environment. In fact, if neutrality was the rule instead of the exception, dog owners would discover that it is much easier and attainable to teach neutrality with the awesome side effect of having a dog who is more confident in public and trusting of their owner – than it is to have a “unicorn” of a dog who has no issues with dogs or people.

I think what frustrates me even more than getting charged by out of control off-leash dogs is the fact that those uncontrolled dogs are unknowingly a big danger to themselves. We have all heard countless stories of dogs getting hit by a car, running away on a hike, getting bit by a rattlesnake or kicked by a horse on a trail; getting attacked by another off-leash dog, etc. All events that could be avoidable with training and prevention.

I think the bigger picture is that all dog owners want or wish that they could take their dog everywhere and not have to worry about what they may encounter when they’re out and about. If we, dog owners, focus more on training our dogs so that they are well behaved; then ALL owners and their dogs would benefit regardless of whether they are social, reactive or fearful.

We all love our dogs and want them to be safe and happy; so let’s tip our hats to the owners  utilizing muzzles, training tools, leashes and long lines. Let’s respect each other by ensuring that we have control over our own dogs. This would make the world a truly dog friendly place!