When we see a person and their dog at a neighborhood park or at the beach, where their dog is off leash, yet walking in stride with their owner, their life together looks good! In fact, their time together looks perfect. Many owners contact me wanting to replicate this exact scenario as their training goal. This is a terrific objective, but it’s not always realistic with every dog or with every person.

It’s important to examine why we believe having our dogs off leash is the perfect life. But is it for us or for the dog? Is it to show that our dog is dedicated to us so much they would never leave us? Is it to show how well-trained our dogs are, or how much control we have over them? Or is it due to a societal image that all dogs need to run free? There are many reasons why we strive to have our dogs run free, but I believe it is not always necessary.

Safely walking your dog in an urban area, even on a leash, is becoming more and more challenging.

This is mostly because of the ENVIRONMENT and not always because of the dog. There are many neighborhoods where people walk their dog and carry a stick, citronella spray or pepper spray to deter other loose dogs, some of which are not friendly. Additionally, other animals are becoming more prevalent in residential neighborhoods. I was recently working with a client’s dog and had a chance sighting of a coyote running right past us at 9:30 in the morning. It was a good thing the dog was leashed!

Just last week, I was at a park throwing a ball for my own dog while she had her leash still attached to her harness. I was asked why the leash was still on, as she appeared very well-behaved. We were at a new, unfamiliar location and having her drag her leash gave me the piece of mind I needed to easily redirect her in case a bunny or squirrel crossed our path. It didn’t bother her, and it certainly didn’t bother me.

Here in San Diego, we are blessed with many open areas and unfenced dog parks where people congregate to have their dogs run and play off leash. But even in these spaces, some of the dogs would be better served intermittently being on a leash or a long line to ensure added voice control.

The key here is that we don’t always need to HOLD the leash, which often causes added restrictions and stress on our dog’s natural movements.

Often, when I’m out n’ about with clients in a park and we encounter another friendly dog, I suggest dropping the leash to let the dogs have a quick frolic. This is an important “middle step” to off leash play that is frequently forgotten and unused. It’s insurance for easily getting a dog back under control if things get too chaotic. It’s easier to step on the end of a leash, than yell and chase down a dog. It’s even better to use a 20 foot long line, so dogs experience controlled freedom and fun. It takes practice, on OUR part, to navigate a long line so others don’t get tangled in the process. But if we never practice this middle step, even in our own yard and house, unfortunately, the outcome can quickly lead to unwanted results.

Even if we think we are in a large, safe area with no distractions around, we can quickly be caught off guard, so why chance it every time we head outdoors.

If we strive to experience that picture perfect moment of dog and owner seamlessly walking freely together, it IS attainable! The time frame in which it happens, depends on our own efforts and our dog’s individual temperament.