First of all, it’s illegal.
Alabama has a statewide law forbidding dogs to be off leash outside of their own property. There are few exceptions to this, such as allowances for service dogs for people with disabilities and for search and rescue dogs, but for the vast majority of our pet dogs, the leash law will pretty much always apply.
But, some may argue, what if he’s under my control, through lots of training or with a remote collar? Doesn’t matter; the law requires the dog be physically contained at all times.
Anyone who’s walked with a toddler in public knows how important it is to teach kids to hold our hands when we cross the street or walk across the parking lot, to stay on the sidewalk, to not run ahead in the grocery store. Even then, how often do kids forget the rules and have to be reminded?
When your child starts to wander into the street, what can you do? Run to them, and grab their hand, or their shirt, to stop them. What do you do if your full-grown german shepherd decides to bolt? Even dogs that are out of shape can almost always run much faster, and way farther than humans can. If your dog decides to run away, there’s virtually nothing you can do to physically catch him.
Whether you see yourself as a dog owner, guardian, or parent, your first and most important responsibility to your dog is to keep him safe. An animal, with the reasoning capabilities of a child, is sooner or later going to make a mistake, and in our hectic human communities, those mistakes could be catastrophic.
Humans, as smart as we are, are also going to make mistakes. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve inadvertently asked a dog to do a behavior or task that’s outside of his capabilities. Truly, in many ways, testing the capabilities of a dog is a critical part of training. But when the dog is off leash, even a momentary lapse of judgement or concentration on the part of the handler can cause immense problems.
All that said, I do encourage you to explore opportunities for training and working with your dog off-leash. Many dog sports, such as dog agility, obedience, and flyball, require the dog to be off leash, and these are fantastically fun - and practiced with the dog’s safety in mind first and foremost. If you live in an apartment or have only a small yard, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member to borrow their backyard to let your dog have a good off-leash romp.
In many places you can also use long (20’-50’) drag lines - leashes that the dog can drag as he runs around, while you hold the end and keep him from going into danger - or retractable leashes to give your dog the feel of being off-leash in a safe and legal way. And, for those inevitable times when your dog may escape the yard or slip off of his leash, mimicking the feel of being off-leash will help you get him back in the scary event that ever happens.
Want more information about leash walking, dog sports, or any other topics in this blog? Contact Elizabeth by clicking here!
Elizabeth Morgan, trainer and owner of Alabama Dog Academy, and proud trainer of Harper, the Canine Advocate at the Limestone Child Advocacy Center.