I have a friend who is always hassling me for keeping Lucky on a lead. I do this scrupulously (even when we walk in the woods-I have a long training lead that he enjoys) because Lucky will come when I call reliably...about 7 times out of ten. It only takes one time to lose a dog and where we live in the woods, there are fearsome alternatives on ground and in the air (coyotes, fisher cats, hawks, eagles...) Anyways, this friend walks his pooch with a group of dogs-all off leash. He urges me to let him take Lucky with the group because an" off leash dog in a group will never run off"-he says. Sooo sadly, he applied his theory to his son's little dog which he was taking care of and he had it off leash (no collar) with his group of dogs and the little one got spooked and ran off never to be found. So very sad for everyone (my friend was of course devastated) but as we walked the trails where that little dog was lost (the whole community was searching), I noticed that everyone keeps their dog off leash. At one point, two very large dogs came barreling down the path towards Lucky whom I quickly picked up and their owner sauntered along after, "Oh" she said seeing Luck in my arms, "would you like me to put my dogs on leads?" How would we or Lucky have known that these were (and they were) sweet dogs...how would the little 4 year old girl walking behind us with her grandmother have known these big dogs untied and loping towards her were friendly? Yesterday a friend who has two lively beautiful big dogs came by with her pups (one is an adorable 6 month old Tibetan Terrier) and as I opened the door and the dogs streamed into the house she apologized that they'd been inside so long. It was so sad to see Lucky (who loves visits from his dog friends) chased all over HIS house by these wild dogs whom he'd never met. After she left I thought, "Wow, if she'd had them on leashes, it might have been a nice visit." I think even as we KNOW crates are useful and leashes and leads save lives, we feel somewhere that our animals want and need always to run free. Such a shame on so many levels from inconvenience to loss. I read somewhere that the largest threat to dogs' well being was their owner's trust-that "knowing" he or she would never run into the street etc. Okay, just letting off steam. I do feel alone in thinking that "off leash" is not a particular developmental goal for Lucky. Or maybe I'm too protective.
OK, I DO have some thoughts on this. First, there are many MANY (way TOO many!!!) irresponsible dog owners. They take chances with their own dogs other dogs and other people. They either are clueless, or don't care how their dogs' behavior impacts others.
Second IMO a dog who comes when called 70% of the time does NOT have a "reliable recall". I wouldn't let a dog with that level of recall loose in an uncontrolled area either. My criteria for a reliable recall is upward of 90%… for me, more like 98-99%. (I'd never say 100%, because it's hard to get 100% reliability on ANY behavior, whether it's a dog or a human!
) So, if Lucky is only at 70% reliability on his recall, I sure would have him on leash too under the circumstances you are telling us about.
The person who let his son's dog loose was just plain STUPID. EVEN a dog with a 99% recall with his owner is very unlikely to come back to someone he doesn't know as well if he gets really scared.
That all said, I DO walk Kodi off-leash, on a regular basis, in areas that are far away from any street or traffic. I often walk with a friend, who handles her dog the same way I do. But let me tell you how that looks, because it is VERY different from what you describe. First, even if there is no specific reason, I call Kodi back to me over and over on every walk, and reward his speedy return. If he gets far enough ahead of me that I worry that he could get out of sight, he has a reliable "wait" command ("that's far enough!") and will wait until we close the distance, and I release him. ("OK!")
I let him range further (although always within sight) if we are in an areas without other people or animals. If I see a human, horse or other dogs (especially loose ones) in the distance, I call him back to me. Depending on the distance and the situation, I might just have him sit by my side until the other person (with or without dogs) passes. If they are a long way ahead, so it's going to be a while, (we have a rail trail that is very straight, so often you cans see people coming 1/2 mile ahead) I will put him back on lead until we pass the other party.
I ALWAYS call him back to me and put him back on lead WELL before any time where we cross a place that there could possibly be cars. There are a couple of exceptions to this, though. One of the places we walk infrequently is on federal land. There are a FEW homes grandfathered into this area, so there is VERY occasional car traffic. But because of the poor road (VERY rutted, rocky, dirt road) the cars HAVE to go very slowly. It is also a road system frequented by horses and riders… another reason the people who drive there know to go slowly. It's easy to hear them from a long way off, way before you can see them. In this area, I do still let Kodi loose, but again, I KNOW he will come back to me when called and sit quietly by my side while the car passes. Now, I am at least 90% sure that he would sit quietly by my side, even without me touching him. But cars (and horses!) are life and death, so I don't take a chance. I just slip a finger through his collar as added assurance until the car or horse is well past.
I NEVER let Kodi approach anyone, adult or child with or without a dog, when he is loose. It's just not polite. There are people who don't like even friendly dogs, and many dogs who are reactive. Why should they not have the pleasure of walking unmolested? And even friendly dogs, as you know, don't like being rushed up to or jumped on. Kodi has NEVER been allowed to engage in that behavior, for the sake of the other people and for his own safety. On the flip side, my radar is ALWAYS up for other loose dogs. The minute I see one, I call Kodi back to me put him on lash, and am close enough to pick him up and get him out of harms way as needed. Because these have ALWAYS been the rules, he comes happily back to me, and is able to avoid the distraction of wanting to play with the other dog.
So, I guess my answer is, I agree with you COMPLETELY that dogs that can't be managed safely (their own safety and that of others) shouldn't be off leash. I also KNOW that it is possible to train many dogs to behave politely and safely off leash. And in this case, why shouldn't they be able to enjoy the experiences of running full tilt on a woodsy trail, or sniffing everything they want?
I also know that not all dogs can learn this… there are some dogs (and some breeds are much worse than others in this regard… sight hounds are notoriously unreliable off leash… in fact, that can be said of hounds in general) who, despite their owners best efforts, just CAN'T resist the distractions off leash, and CAN'T be relied upon to come immediately, and with speed, when called. The owners of these dogs, and those that have not reached a reliable level of training, really SHOULD be kept on leash (or on a long line, as you do) for their own safety and the safety and comfort of everyone around them.
I was partially lucky that I got a dog whose natural inclination was to stay close and "check in" often. I have also worked VERY hard to make sure that he has had the training (and maintenance training!) to be safe off leash. Part of my urge to do this is that we live on a large, unfenced property. The paddocks are fenced to keep him OUT
, but the perimeter of the property is not fenced. I wanted to be able to enjoy him on my own property and know that I wouldn't lose him. So this training was a priority, from the time he was about 12 weeks old.
Incidentally, the ONLY times we have had run-in's with other dogs, Kodi has been on-leash at the time, because it was either required by the regulations of the park we were in, or because I felt that it was unsafe for him to be off leash.