On New Years Day my husband, Dave, and I have a tradition of going for a hike. 

Our favorite destination is the Gwynedd Preserve, a natural lands trust laced with broad paths weaving through vast fields, into deep woods and across dense meadows.  We take our two dogs with us. Our first dog Hudson is tethered to my husband on a hands free leash and our younger dog Nito is tethered to me.  

The Preserve is heaven to us.  It’s a best kept secret in our community.  We often see other people with their dogs.  Though the signs clearly say, “All dogs on leash”, they can’t help but release them.  I get it. 

There’s nothing like seeing your four-legged friend filled with joy as they bound freely through the field or trot proudly down the path. 

The pure bliss on their faces is enough to put any pet owner in their own state of bliss by proxy.  However, this habit has been a pet peeve of mine for a while.  On New Year’s Day my pet peeve erupted into a call to action.  

We were at the farthest point of the preserve.  There was no one else around.  Then, Dave calmly said  to me, “Kristen there are dogs behind us.”  I looked back to see two large dogs (75 to 100 lbs each) and one small dog, all together on the path watching us from behind.  They weren’t on leash.  No human was in sight with them. 

There was reason to be aware, but no reason to be fully alarmed… until they started pursuing us. 

In a full run the largest dog approached Dave and Hudson first.  It mounted Hudson which triggered a fight.  Nito howled and I stood back, completely disarmed.  There was nothing I could do without escalating the situation further.  Then the second largest dog came toward me and Nito.  I yelled at the dog, “Go!”.  He got the message and turned in the opposite direction, but the largest dog was still scuffling with Hudson.

Then, I could see the owner yards away.  He had no clue what was transpiring.  I screamed for him to collect his dogs.  He had his dogs back in his possession after a very long moment or two. He headed in the opposite direction.  Somehow everyone walked away unscathed.  I was livid.  He put all of us in such a dangerous position.  It was nothing short of a miracle that no dogs or humans were hurt in the altercation.  

People, please keep your dogs on a leash in public when the rules say so.  I know this is an extreme set of circumstance.  I can hear you saying, “I would never be so far away.  My dog is so nice.  Everyone love my dog!”  I’m sure, but still.  Please keep your dog on a leash and hear me out.  There are two main reasons to do what the public signs are telling you.  

Reason number one:  Your dog’s friendly greeting can be a trigger for many humans.

In my previous life as a social worker, I assisted individuals with achieving their daily goals within their community.  Sometimes this meant things like exercising via walks in the park.  Many of the people I supported struggled on a daily basis with catastrophic anxieties, fears and myriad of traumas.  One such man walked multiple times a week in the local park and had a fear of dogs.  Despite signs clearly stating “all dogs on leash”, well meaning park patrons would let their sweet pups run free and when they inevitably approached us with wagging tales, the pet owner would call out “He’s friendly.”  Well, that’s great, but my friend here is terrified. 

As pet owners we believe our pets are the best pets on the face of the earth with the power to melt away anyone’s fears and trauma. 

Stop it.  That’s our personal, individual truth about the love we have for our pets.  That’s not everyone else’s truth.  So, while it may not be relatable to envision someone who doesn’t absolutely love dogs, or more specifically your dogs, respect this possibility and keep your dog on a leash.  

Reason number two:  Your dog’s friendly greeting can be a trigger for many dogs. 

In my previous life as a snarky pet owner, I thought “How sad.” when I encountered a dog with behavioral issues of any kind.  In my own mind, I had a solution for all of them that was ridiculously over simplified and lacked perspective.  Then I adopted my problem puppy and with him came a dose of reality.  Queue a montage of two years of behavioral therapy, intense training, medication and monitoring.  What has resulted from our perseverance is a well adjusted and happy dog that requires extreme structure and two very humbled pet owners.  Like any living thing with anxieties, traumas and fears; the end game wasn’t for him to be “cured”.  Instead we grew to understand his struggles, mitigate and help him cope and sometimes overcome.  We’ve worked endlessly to build security and trust.  This is only one example of billion variations of needs a pet may have. 

So, while it’s awesome that your dog is friendly and free roaming, not every dog can safely take part in your dog’s friendliness. 

Unsolicited greetings from unleashed dogs to leashed dogs can easily trigger fights when one doesn’t understand the history of the dog their greeting. The unleashed dog may not have technically started an altercation (made the first growl or lunge) the pet owner of the dog that’s off leash can still be at fault.  For your dog’s well being and the well being of all dogs, it’s important to keep your dogs leashed.  Some dog owners are working hard to create a safe environment for their anxious dogs to enjoy the world around them fearlessly.    

Listen, if you’re on private property, or public property that indicates that your dog can be off leash, have at it.  If you want to liberate your pups please do so in a safe place like a large, fenced-in back yard or (theoretically safe) dog park.  Otherwise, if the signs say “dogs on leash”, please help us all stay safe and keep your beautiful, friendly dog on a leash.