Are you and your dog the outcasts of the neighborhood?
Awhile back while walking dogs in the city I spotted an owner with an off-leash dog in the distance. Even though my dogs would easily qualify as dog social, I moved across the street to the other side to give her full access to the sidewalk. Unfortunately her off-leash dog charged across the street towards us at full speed. I yelled at the dog (vocabulary not to be repeated here), and luckily it stopped. Had I been with one of my other dogs that was not dog-social things could have gotten pretty ugly. Needless to say, I in my belligerent state, let the owner know that her dog should be on leash, and she defensively yelled back that she wasn’t doing anything wrong. “This is California; there ARE no leash laws.” (*sigh*) Well, my fellow dog owners, we owe it to each other to know about leash laws AND talk dog walking etiquette. Just like defensive driving, defensive dog walking is the best way to coexist safely.
“Wait, why do we even need leash laws? My dog is friendly!”
Leash laws exist for public safety. They give an owner a way to limit the dog’s access to people, property, and other animals and ultimately to prevent fights and dog bites. Now, the reality is that there are dogs that want to play and party with every pooch they meet as well as those who are selective about their friends. Every dog deserves to be walked from the most hyperactive athlete to the calm smiling senior dog being pushed in a dog stroller (Yes, that’s right. Dog stroller-ing is a thing). It allows them to get much needed exercise, be outside in the fresh air and sunlight, and bond with their families. Regardless of their social abilities it is the responsibility of us, the owners, to keep human and animal residents safe...and separate.
What does the law actually say?
San Francisco: SF Sec. 41.12 of the city’s health code requires that whenever off your own personal property, a dog must be on a leash no longer than 8 feet in length.
San Mateo County: All dogs are required to be on leash at all times and the leash must be continuously held by a competent person capable of controlling the dog whenever the dog is not in a fully enclosed area, including all public and private property, including the dogs own front yard if it is not fully enclosed to prevent the dogs escape. In addition all dogs must be currently licensed before they are allowed to be on leash at all. In other words, if you and your dog are out and the dog is properly leashed as described above, it is still a violation of the leash law if your dog is not currently licensed. Having a current dog license is an integral part of the leash law.
Oakland: Dogs are not permitted to run at large. They must be kept confined to an owner’s home/yard or under control of a leash (not over six feet in length) at all times.
Berkeley: No owner/guardian or keeper of a dog shall allow or permit a dog to be or run at large in or upon any public place or premises unless such dog is securely restrained by a substantial leash not to exceed six feet in length. An obedience-trained dog under effective charge and control within six feet of his master shall be deemed to be on leash. (BMC 10.04.090)
San Jose: The owner or person with the right to control any dog shall keep such dog under direct physical restraint by means of a leash not to exceed six feet in length when the dog is on any public street or other public place, or upon any private place or property or common area of any planned development cluster, townhouse or condominium project without the consent of the owner or person in control thereof.
Start with the right tools
Make sure your leashes and collars are made of dependable material that is substantial enough for the dog’s size, and comfortable for both you and the dog. Nylon webbing and leather are popular options. Put your hand through the loop at the end and hold on to the straight part of the leash to anchor it. Holding just the loop can result in dropping the leash if your dog suddenly lunges or bolts. Or try a euro leash that goes over your shoulder to be hands free (my favorite).
Flexi-leads are not recommended. They are easy to drop, make it very difficult to control your dog, and the thin cord can actually cause severe burns and cuts to people and dogs when it retracts or wraps around limbs. (Just say no to flexi’s) Flexi’s often extend 15-20 feet, that’s beyond many leash law limits, and your dog would legally be considered off-leash anyway.
An ounce of prevention...
Pay attention to your surroundings so you can identify potentially risky situations before they happen such as...
- Lack of control: Any dog that is lunging or spinning at the end of their leash, over-excited, or ignoring their owner’s instructions may pose a risk to your dog.
- Distracted handler: on their cell phone, not watching because they are picking up after their dog, getting something out of a bag, or just generally out to lunch...
- Off-leash dogs: some owners feel comfortable letting their dog off-leash near the home, in parks, or even for their entire walk. Will their dog respond to voice commands 100% of the time? Do you really want to find out the hard way?
- Known triggers: There are specific things that bring out the naughty side of dogs? Small animals? Skateboards? Bikes? People in uniform? You are responsible for knowing your dogs triggers if any and have a plan for how you’ll address the situation successfully.
[Stuck on the solutions part? Come to our next pack walk and training session.]
Let’s talk common courtesy. How does one become a safe dog owning member of their community?
Hope for the best and plan for the worst. It is your decision whether your dog can venture out to the end of the leash to investigate and sniff once you know it’s ok. It’s also your job to keep them at your side when it’s not. When you pass other people start by keeping your dog next to you with no extra slack in the leash. This gives you control from the get-go.
Distance is your friend. If dogs are showing signs of being anti-social give them space from the cause of the comotion. Put yourself between your dog and passersby. Cross the street, change direction, or step off the path or sidewalk until the other party has passed. Keep a reactive dog moving away to reduce the likelihood that they’ll reach their target.
[Want to get better at reading dog body language? Sign up for our body language training session]
Communicate clearly. If you own a dog that isn’t good with other dogs let other people know right away so they can accommodate your needs.
- “Sorry, he’s not good with other dogs.”
- “Can you pull your dog back? We’re still working on introductions.”
- “No, she can’t meet you today. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to your dog.”
- Leashes that say Caution and In Training are also helpful.
Want to meet a dog? ASK FIRST!
Famous last words: “She just wants to say hi.” & “It’s ok, my dog is friendly”. Ok, but mine isn’t. Don’t assume all dogs have the same social abilities as yours.
Dogs can be a great reason to get to know your neighbors. They are a visible way you know you already have something in common - you're both dog lovers. Committing to being a well informed owner is the first step to ensuring a peaceful existence with others.