A lot of places in the country have "leash laws" that require your dog be on a 6 foot leash at all times. Leash laws exist for many reasons.
Some dog owners think they have the right to break the law. If they are caught, fines can range from $75 to $400. Part of the reason people do it anyway is because they think they won't get caught. In some areas that, unfortunately, is likely the case. However, if shirking the law is your thing, here are 9 other reasons to follow leash laws.
1. Hiking with your dog on public lands is a privilege, not a right. Most hiking trails are located on lands that are preserved, or protected, for one reason or another. The entities that manage those lands must balance the needs of the ecosystem with the desire of humans to use the space. There are many reservations about allowing dogs on those lands. Land managers try to mitigate those concerns by requiring that dogs be on leash in the area.
2. Leave no trace means your dog too. One of the 7 principles is to stick to the trail to avoid trampling vegetation and disturbing wildlife. Just because a dog is an animal doesn't mean they don't do damage when allowed to wander off trail. Off-leash dogs disturb nesting areas and damage sensitive wildlife habitat. Some trails can see up to 100 dogs a day and impacts have a cumulative effect — they occur from your dog, plus all other off-leash dogs.
3. Your dog might poop in the woods where you can't see it and pick it up. Almost all lands where dogs are allowed have a "scoop-the-poop" law. Pet waste is not natural so it's not OK to leave it on the ground. It contains bacteria and pathogens that can contaminate the water of the nearest lake or stream. Decaying dog waste also deposits excessive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer to the soil, increasing the spread of nitrogen-loving weeds at the expense of native plants.
4. Some people are terrified of dogs. Dog lovers sometimes forget that some people have had bad experiences with dogs in the past or they are afraid of them like some people are afraid of spiders. For people who are afraid or uncomfortable around dogs, an encounter with an off-leash dog can be really scary.
5. Your dog might be friendly but you don't know that the other dog is. While aggressive dogs should not be allowed on the trail, there are many normally friendly dogs who can act aggressive when they feel threatened. Imagine a dog is walking along the trail, a confined space, on a leash and minding their own business. An off-leash dog comes out of nowhere and startles them, run towards them, and violates their space. The other dog may become defensive — barking, lunging, or biting at the other dog in an attempt to get them to go away.
6. Even dog lovers don't like strange dogs rushing at them, jumping on them or otherwise interacting with them without their permission. Imagine how you feel when a stranger inserts themselves in your personal space by standing too close to you or pushing you. Most people feel uncomfortable and they think it's rude. It's no different with a dog. A dog invading someone's personal space can also make them feel uncomfortable.
7. You could ruin the enjoyment for other people. The fact is, some people don't think dogs belong on wilderness trails. While people who hike with their dogs obviously disagree, it is their duty to make sure that their dog interferes with others enjoyment as little as possible. It can also irritate dog owners on the trail when an off-leash dog runs up to their dog and makes them afraid or anxious. Encountering several off-leash dogs on one trail can make the whole hike an unpleasant experience.
8. It gives law-abiding dog owners a bad name. First, it says that dog owners think they don't have to follow the rules. Placing one dog owner's desire to not be burdened by a leash over another dog owner's right to be able to walk their dog(s) in peace can feel insulting. One or two encounters with an irresponsible dog owner can make people see all dog owners in a negative light. Allowing your dog off-leash can also give other dog owners the impression that it is okay, thus perpetuating the problem.
9. To keep your dog safe. Off-leash dogs can get into confrontations with wildlife that might harm them or they may eat something poisonous. They can also fall into ravines or off of cliffs. Last October, a dog chased a squirrel over the edge of a cliff and fell around 150 feet into a river. The dog survived but some have not been so lucky.
There are people that are set in their ways and stubborn about hiking with their dog off leash. I doubt these 9 reasons are going to change their mind. However, the polite thing when flouting the rules is to leash your dog when someone is coming, or at least hold onto their collar until they pass. It shows that, although you are not obeying the law, you are respectful of the safety and enjoyment of others on the trail.
I am curious to hear your thoughts on this. Do you follow leash laws? Why or why not? How do you feel about encountering off-leash dogs on trails?
Leash or No Leash? 9 Reasons to Consider Leash Laws
By Jessica Rhae Williams
December 31, 2014
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