We all love our dogs – they are family to us – and therefore we all want to give them the best life possible. At some point, we all got to answer the question “should I keep my dog on the leash or let it run free?”
While the decision is entirely our own, it often comes down to whether we believe our dog will come back to us again. If the answer to that questions is “yes“, many people will pop off the leash and “let their dog experience the freedom”.
My dog is not a prisoner
The reason why many people like to take off the leash is because they want what is best for their dog. They don’t want their dog to feel imprisoned and they want it to be able to go explore parts of the environment that we as humans overlook or show no interest in.
I often hear people say that it is “cruel” to keep a dog on a leash. Many people also come to me because they want to teach their dog to not run away once the leash is off and to have perfect recall. I’m always happy to help teach these concepts, but as much as they are very important concepts that all owners should train with their dogs, they are also often misused or involved in tragic accidents.
I always keep my own dog on a leash, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get to explore the environment or to “be a dog”. No one says that the leash has to be short. When we go exploring the nature, we pop on a 10-20 m long leash that I keep running along on the ground or keep in my hand. That way, I can very quickly step on the leash or stop my dog running away or after something. That being said, I would never recommend using retractable flex leashes.
Even though my dog wears a leash, he gets to feel just as free as any dog without one. I just ensure his safety while giving him his freedom.
Leashes keep your dogs safe
So many things can go wrong at any time, in any environment. There could suddenly be a loud noise, wildlife running by, or a sudden movement which might startle your dog or trigger an innate response. Some places can even have big holes in the ground that are barely visible. If a dog falls down one of those holes or down mountain or hill-sides, they can break their legs, or even worse, their back.
When a dog gets scared, or a hunting instinct is suddenly switched on, innate responses will switch on and drive the dog’s behaviour. When this happens, epinephrine (adrenaline) levels will rise and energy will be focused on only the most basic behaviours needed for the specific task; fleeing or catching prey.
If too much energy is spent on anything else, the dog wouldn’t be very good at the needed behaviour. That is why, a dog that is startled and scared, or excited and hunting, won’t actually hear your recall cue.
Many dogs end up getting lost or injured when they run away. Many hillwalkers have lost dogs who have been with them off leash for years because they suddenly got scared by something they had never reacted towards before. Fireworks in rural ad well as urban areas can also scare dogs and cause them to run off and become lost or be hit by traffic.
We are now getting closer and closer to New Year’s Eve, and some people might already be using fireworks. You never know if your dog would get startled or not. They might have heard fireworks hundreds of times before with no reaction, but if I ran up behind you and said “BOO”, I’m certain that you would get startled too even if you have tried it many times before.
If your dog is on a leash, it might still get startled, but at least it cannot run out in front of traffic or get lost.
Sometimes, you’ve got to ask yourself what is more important. Your idea of what a dog might consider “freedom”, or your dog’s continued health and safety?
Have fun with your dog on the leash
Why should the dog be experiencing a worse quality of life simply because it is on a leash? Well, it shouldn’t! You can easily give your dog lots of freedom on a leash!
By using a long leash, your dog still has a big range of motion. You can still allow your dog to go swimming. They can still sniff those bushes further up on that hill that you don’t want to climb. They can also still get to run and stretch their legs.
And if you truly want to give your dog an amazing experience – with or without a leash – find a way to include yourself in that experience! Go on adventures together. Climb the hills together, walk the forest together, go for a run with each other, do dog parkour where ever you end up with your dog. Have fun as a team. As a family. Do things that your dog will love you to be part of.
Going on adventures together greatly strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Doing more things together that your dog loves will make your dog choose you over other things as well.
Show your dog, that freedom is being with you and having fun. That with you, you get to explore the world in an amazing way.
My dog is leashed. But my dog is free.