In this 4th installment for Dog Bite Prevention Week, we address the issue of leash laws. In a recent article from the LA Weekly, State Farm Insurance has ranked California as the leading state for dog bite claims. State Farm cites it dealt with 449 claims in 2013 from California, which accounted for $14.7 million in canine-attack payouts by State Farm. Los Angeles accounted for 61 attacks on Postal employees. Although, the statistics do not seem to take into account pet population or housing density, these statistics do raise the issue of why the dogs are not behind secure fences, indoors or on leash.
There seems to be a growing trend for people to disregard leash laws and allow their dogs to walk off leash or roam their neighborhoods unattended. Several incidents have happened in recent months which motivated me to write a blog about leash laws. I have had several clients involved in incidents with off-leash dogs during neighborhood walks. In some cases, the off-leash dog and their dog got into an altercation. I have also worked with clients who have come to me after their dog had been attacked by an off-leash dog. In such cases, the dog is often traumatized and shows aggression to other dogs after the attack.
While it may be a sign of pride that your dog can walk off-leash or it may be based on the notion, that the dog is happier off-leash, leash laws serve several very important functions which help protect both the public and the animals living within city limits.
First, leashes help keep the dog within the owner's control. The leash will prevent your dog from getting into an altercation with another dog. Even though you think your dog is friendly, the other dog may not be friendly or may be very fearful. In addition, your dog may not like every dog he/she encounters. Leashes help prevent serious injuries from such encounters.
Second, not every human likes dogs. There are some people who are very frightened of dogs and being confronted by an off-leash dog (even if friendly), can be traumatic. In addition, children can be knocked over by a large, enthusiastic dog. Keeping your dog on leash respects other people's space and possible discomfort towards your pet.
Third, many people are working with reactive and/or leash aggressive dogs. Running into an off-leash dog can not only trigger an aggressive encounter, but can also set that person's training backwards. Many of these dogs are fearful and having a predictable environment helps the dog overcome that fear. Running into off-leash dogs when outside the safety of that dog's home can reinforce aggressive and fearful behavior. Many of my clients who are working with their reactive dogs have had runs with off-leash dogs and it is unfortunate that these run-ins can have such a negative impact on someone's training program.
Fourth, your dog may not respond to your verbal cues 100% of the time and there is always a possibility that your dog will chase somebody's cat and do harm to that animal. In a similar vein, your dog may chase another animal into oncoming traffic and run the risk of being hit by a car.
For people who allow their dogs to roam the neighborhood unattended (and yes, I see these dogs all the time), the same arguments apply. Your dog may be hit by a car or may wander into someone else's property where there is a territorial resident dog. Not only are there penalties for free-roaming dogs but there are issues of liability if that dog harms another person or animal or damages someone else's property.
So while many people have idealized notions of walking their dog off-leash, this is not practical or safe for a busy and crowded city streets like Los Angeles. There are designated beaches, hiking areas and parks where dogs can safely be off-leash. Leashes are not only for your protection but for the protection of other people and their dogs as well.