One of my early clients tragically lost her dog. He was a sweet boy. Very responsive, a dream to work with and the owner did her work. We had discussed safety, using leashes on walks, etc. over our sessions. She liked to have her dogs off leash when she hiked. Well I used to hike with my dogs, off leash, specific areas where it was allowed at the time, and my dogs had a lot of training, proofing and testing. Even at that, often my dogs were on leash. That was also over twenty years ago and I have changed my views a lot since then about general safety. You see, I knew my dogs’ limits but I cannot control other elements such as oh… Other loose animals. So now, I keep my dogs on leash unless it is a competition requiring off leash work.
One weekend this owner took her dog hiking and decided to let him off leash. Rufus was a young guy – not even a year old. He had just begun training. He was far from ready for any off leash work. As luck would have it, Rufus saw something. He took off in the direction of a parking lot and access road. No amount of calling got him to return. At that moment, another vehicle pulled into the lot. Rufus was killed.
I was called, and I have mentioned this case in other writings, to evaluate some larger dogs that killed a smaller dog. Well the smaller dog was off leash and ran underneath the leashed larger dogs. The smaller dog nipped and challenged the larger dogs. The larger dogs responded. Sadly the lawyer for the owner of the smaller dog kept interfering with my ability to get into see the dogs (I had to do the evaluation on a weekend due to the distance away and the lawyer refused to work on a weekend.) Had the smaller dog been leashed, he never would have gone after the larger dogs.
I see many off leash dogs in my area. Some are walking with owners while some are allowed to roam front lawns and the bordering properties. I have watched a couple wander into the street while owners are watching. All it takes is one incident that could have been prevented with a leash for your dog to be gone. Another loose dog, a leashed dog your dog goes after, a child races up to pat the dog and is bitten, a squirrel… Is it worth the risk to assume you can 100% trust your pet off the leash?
There are too many cases where a dog is fully entrusted with a child and tragedy happens. No matter what you are told, there is no real “Nanny dog” nor any breed developed to instinctively protect children. In my research of hundreds of breeds, not one breed was developed for the sole purpose of caring for your child. Even breeds developed for protecting hearth and home, livestock and residents needs their inherent behaviors honed. This still does not mean the dog will be 100% tolerant of anything your child will do. With memes and posts on social media, it is easy to see how people may be lead to think that XYZ will be the “perfect” caretaker for your child. Then you see the stories: bites, mauling and fatalities by a family dog. I see many dangerous things children are allowed to do that dogs are expected to tolerate. It is frightening. I have seen dogs expected to allow children to climb all over them, poke, hit, annoy the dogs while eating, etc. Just because you think a dog should allow a child to do anything because of what you were told about the type, dogs in general, or your own assumptions, is not reality.
Eventually even the most tolerant dog can feel he has no other recourse than to stop the problem – his way. Now owners are shocked when a bite happens. We should not be shocked. These are dogs: not babysitters or toys. They are living, thinking, responding animals. Chances are the dog gave warning long before the bite. Is it worth the risk to assume 100% of the time your dog will never respond?
Here is where I trust my dogs 100%
I trust my dogs 100% to be dogs. I trust they will do dog things. They will do things others find gross. They may steal food if left unattended where they can get it. They will chase squirrels. They will growl when something is wrong or when playing. If pushed too far, they may nip. They are dogs. My job is to have them build trust in me so they feel comfortable letting me know what is going on. My job is not to trust but to work to increase safety for my dogs and the community. This means leashes, observation, recognizing situations that could set them up to fail and not demanding them to tolerate unfair treatment. My duty to my dogs is to remember they are a different species with different communication and behaviors trying to exist in my life. I can only trust that I will do all I can to make this a good relationship.
Trust is NOT a bad thing. It is how we apply our trust and our expectations that determine how situation may play out.