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Let's talk leashes

You may think you don't need to leash your perfectly behaved dog – but what if you're wrong? Is your pet's life worth the risk?

Jen Weigel

January 6, 2011

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My dog, Max, and I crossed paths with a large dog the other day. There was no leash in sight, and this dog wanted a friend. Max is a rescue and one of his quirks is that he doesn't play well with others. The presence of a dog twice his size, with no social graces, can be a recipe for disaster.

As the unleashed dog's owner lunged for his pet's collar, I tried to control Max, but the two dogs were nipping and barking.

I see this all the time in my neighborhood: people who let their pets roam free despite the fact that we have a leash law in my town. So why is it that some dog owners think they are above the law?

"Many people forget that their dog is a dog," says syndicated columnist and pet behavior consultant Steve Dale. "Even if you have a dog that you believe is absolutely perfect off leash, there are leash laws for a reason. You have no control of a dog off leash. What if they knock down a kid or a woman with a cane, or there's a squirrel and that squirrel runs across the street? It's that 1 percent chance that could get you in trouble, or even cause your dog to get hit by a car."

Let's not forget those who are afraid of dogs. Dale says the non-leash users may have little patience for someone with fido-phobia. "But it's unfair and wrong for someone to assume that person wants a dog in their face at that moment, even if your pet is the friendliest dog in the world," he adds.

And not all leashes are alike.

"You know the retractable leashes, I think they actually should be not sold," says Dale. "That's the next worst thing to being off leash. I've seen dogs tangle themselves up around trees or around other dogs. I've seen people fall on their face. I've seen dogs tipped over."

Dale adds that the small string that is used with those leashes can break easily.

"I've seen a dog wind around a tree, the leash broke and the dog ran into the street. It was inches away from being hit by a car," says Dale. "The people who have those leashes say, 'They give my dog more room to sniff and run,' but really it makes your dog vulnerable to being attacked by another dog."

If you're an owner who likes to let their pet run free, Dale says, try taking your dog to dog-friendly areas instead of leaving the leash at home.

"Dogs need an opportunity to run," says Dale. "Especially bigger dogs. They need that exercise. Some dog owners … try to get their dog that exercise by letting them run off leash as they go around the block."

And don't let your ego come before the safety of others.

"If your dog is wandering off and has bitten someone, you could be in a lawsuit. It's just plain rude to have your dog off the leash. Not only am I concerned about the dog's safety, but it's about being a good neighbor."

Do you leash your dog? Tell us what you think!

jweigel@tribune.com