Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Don't skip the leash unless a dog will respond to commands
Last weekend, we visited family in New York City. My nephew, a dedicated marathon runner, had just come back from a "short" 10-mile run to the George Washington Bridge and back. Sometimes he runs in Central Park early in the morning. He was telling me that in the early morning, dogs are allowed to be exercised off-leash and are not confined in fenced dog areas as long as they're under control - the important word being "control."
New Hampshire has a sensible statewide "control law" rather than a leash law. Under this statute, a dog must be under the "control" of the owner or custodian. What does "control" mean in this context? To me, as a dog trainer, it means that the dog is responsive to audible and/or visual cues or commands, the most important ones being that the dog comes when called and stays when told. It also means that the dog doesn't impinge upon the rights and free movement of others, such as other dog owners, runners, walkers and bike riders.
Years ago, I was walking our then four dogs on a dog-friendly beach in Maine. Shura, a 160-pound English mastiff, wasn't friendly with other dogs, with the obvious exception of her "siblings." As we walked up the beach, the dogs were running in and out of the surf having a wonderful time. Off in the distance, I noticed two golden retrievers that were racing toward us. "Please call your dogs!" I hollered to the woman walking far behind them. "It's OK. ... They're friendly!" she yelled back. "Mine's not!" I warned, as I called Shura to my side to put her on leash and protected her from having to deal with the fast-approaching golden onslaught. Fortunately, the goldens rushed up to my other dogs, who interacted with them until the owner got close enough to get her dogs away from mine.
This scenario is representative of the problem responsible dog owners, runners, bike riders and the like often have with owners who don't have their dogs under control. The owners of the offending dog (or dogs) always seem to believe that because their dog is wonderful (of course, isn't everyone's?), the rest of the world will both agree and tolerate - even welcome - their dog's intrusion. Not so!
My nephew said he has tried different strategies - ignoring the dogs and running on or slowing to a walk. In both cases, he's had his legs nipped at and his running pants torn. He has also tried stopping altogether, which is the best approach.
The best strategy if you're running and a dog starts to chase you is to stop and stand still, sideways to the dog, looking at the ground near the dog rather than directly at the dog's face. This posture communicates that you are calm and non-threatening, and most dogs recognize it as such. Unfortunately, even standing still, my nephew has been jumped on by dogs - something he shouldn't have to put up with.
A runner should be able to enjoy a good run without having to put up with out-of-control dogs bothering him. Responsibility for controlling the dog lies with the owner or custodian. This means that before letting a dog off-leash, the dog's owner should be confident that if they see a runner, biker or any other person, dog or animal, the owner knows he or she can successfully call the dog away from the attraction, and the dog will respond. Short of that level of training, keep a dog on-leash.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.