Deadly Trust

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.

Uhura Lure course 9 crop

Uhura at a lure coursing fun day – off leash in a safe place.


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.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Virginia and the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project – started in 2000.


About westwinddt

I am a dog trainer in Northern, Virginia (USA). I have been involved with training since 1982.
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34 Responses to Deadly Trust

  1. doug cardy says:

    Nothing but the truth,dogs are dogs,and you never know,leash your dogs!


  2. Lily says:

    We have been training our dogs for over 20 years… We never had any problems; our dogs stayed in our yard BUT on July 1st/14 one of my rescued dog… my heart and soul… did the exact same thing. She too was hit by a car and didn’t survive… Now.. no amount of trust will replace our 20 feet leash.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would like to add that our dogs trust us to keep them safe in ways that we already know how to do: safe inside the car. That means putting our dogs into safe and sturdy airline approved heavy duty fiberglass crates. This doesn’t mean wire, collapsible crates.

    Dogs should never be allowed to run loose in the vehicle and that includes sitting on the driver’s lap. People use seat belts yet they allow their dogs to ride loose, allowing the dog to jump or fall out of windows.

    This also includes riding in crates in the back of a truck with a camper shell. In an accident, a loose dog in the back of a truck with a shell will just bounce around and risk death or serious injury.


  4. lynette m says:

    I would love information regarding training as my standard is becoming increasingly more difficult to handle in one area.


  5. Tina Scioletti says:

    So I own a 10lb Havanese 5 year old spayed female. She has some little dog defensive behaviors that I work on constantly. She is walked both on and off leash, solo and in groups. Recently while on our front lawn, leashed with the leash held by my husband, a neighbor’s loose dog approached. My dog did her usual vocalizations, barking growling “halt, who goes there? Stand back!” & was viciously & relentlessly attacked. It took three adults to barely save her. I’m now facing medical bills, rehabilitation, lawyers, police, Animal Control.


  6. Jen says:

    One of my peeves…people walking their dogs near busy streets on a fully extended extendable leash. It’s like they don’t realize the dog can turn 90 degrees right into traffic. I have heard of a few people losing dogs this way


  7. Theresa says:

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you very much for this publication. I hope many many people read it, and learn something!


  8. Edita says:

    Thank you for this article!


  9. Judy Avramis says:

    I like this article a lot. I wish people would read more things like this before getting a dog. Too many people act like their dog should know and understand everything they say, and get mad when the dog doesn’t listen. Especially when they ask the dog questions like, “why did you do that?”


  10. Thank You
    fantastic Blog
    Good Louck


  11. this is an excellent article; unfortunately, most of us who read it already understand and agree with everything you say- the one’s that do not read it are the ones whose dogs will suffer the consequences. A horrific incident happened just this week in my city (Toronto). A man tied his GSD up to a chair – a plastic lawn chair placed outside for smokers – of a convenience shop. A car went by with a dog barking out the window. The tied up dog went after the car – dragging the chair – the chair got caught under the wheels and the dog was decapitated… the owner’s response – I didn’t want the dog anyway. My heart hurts. My dogs have always had excellent recall – but I make a point of NEVER putting them in a situation where one momentary lapse will cause a tragedy.


  12. Deborah Besch says:

    I think articles that use “I” should have the name of the person who wrote it. Great article, but who wrote it?


  13. Venita Henson says:

    I would love to have your permission to copy this article and include it in my puppy packets
    Thank You


  14. Excellent. I have a friend who was given a fully trained guide dog. She was warned that there is always a chance, you should never assume, they are dogs. You can do something (walk your dog off leash) 100 times safely, but all it takes is that ONE TIME . . .


  15. al smith says:

    this is why I dislike Ban the deed not the breed ,, the dog has no idea bout the “deed” they are just doing dog things.. dogs have no “morals” or know what “deeds’ are. This has caused a great many dogs to lose their lives.. thank you for this article

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Erin says:

    I walk my dogs regularly and unless they are in our fenced backyard, they are always on a leash. However, I have had dogs come running up and jump on top of my big girl. This has happened enough that I have become very cautious of walking in our neighborhood and my dogs react badly (barking, pulling, hackles up) when they see another dog. I am just about to the point of carrying a walk stick in order to protect us when we are out because I don’t know what else to do.


  17. kaye miller says:

    i think this is a fantastic article. people don’t understand that animals are animals, no matter how much we love them. i would walk thur fire for mine. we have them to take care of, feed, and keep them safe. they are like young children, they don’t have objective reasoning instinct to make decisions, except to satisify their at hand challenge or urge


  18. As a long time dog trainer, this is an article filled with wisdom. Thank you.


  19. Dena says:

    May I use this in a rescue newsletter?


  20. Kim Hawks says:

    Thank you for this much-needed article!


  21. Judy Perrin says:

    I, too , would love to have permission for my club to publish your article – with acknowledgement of course, in our club newsletter. It’s info we all know but put together as you have, a great tool for our members and their neighbours who read our newsletter! Everyone needs it to keep our dogs, safe from the blame they will be loaded with when an ‘accident’ occurs. Thank you Karen.


  22. Miriam says:

    My dog is always leashed, as he can be dog-reactive at times. We have had the encounter with the “little dog off leash, charging and nipping” several times now, but – luckily – he doesn’t feel challenged by small dogs and doesn’t react.
    While a charging dog – no matter the size – is never acceptable off leash, don’t people ever wonder why MY dog is not running free? Because he is NOT good with all dogs. Being considerate goes a long way. Always ask, if your dog can “say hi”.
    Thank you, for a great article.


  23. Jody Smith says:

    Excellent article! I wish you could post this on the front pages of all newspapers, large or small. Many people think their dog “is different” and we will never have any of these problems. There are no guarantees with ANY animal.


  24. Pingback: Trauma, trust, and your dog. | A Positive Connection

  25. I have trained dogs over 40 years – all of the above is true. One of the hardest things to teach a human: never give a command that you are not in a position to enforce. That, people, means a leash. The leash is your HANDLE on a situation. — Helene Benson, Mossyrock WA


  26. Pingback: Trauma, trust, and your dog. – A Positive Connection

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