Dogs love to run and explore and be silly. And as their companions, it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re able to express that part of themselves. But as their companions, it’s also our responsibility to ensure their safety – as well as the safety of the wildlife in our communities.
Here are a few tips that can help keep our canine companions as well as wildlife safe during the dog days of summer:
- Know your local by-laws. Many municipalities have specific areas where dogs are allowed off leash, be it in a fenced park or a natural space that’s set aside for such purposes. But they also often have by-laws indicating when dogs should be leashed. This is for everyone’s safety, particularly in multi-use areas or sensitive natural spaces. Municipalities may also restrict access to natural areas due to wildlife activity in specific seasons: these by-laws should always be heeded.
- Know your ecosystem. Identifying what species are in the area can inform your decision-making regarding when and where to allow your dog running space. For example, a media analysis study highlighted that when coyotes and dogs were in conflict, dogs were off-leash 92.3% of the time (Alexander & Quinn 2011). Dogs following a scent or chasing wildlife can cause the chased or surprised animals to react defensively – after all, dogs are viewed as predators by most wildlife. These are situations that warrant keeping a dog leashed unless in a specified leash-free zone.
- Know your limits. Some dogs don’t have a strong recall (returning to their companion when called) and that’s okay. But that does mean more work should be done on that skill through force-free training techniques before they’re allowed to run in natural spaces with wildlife (and other dogs, children, etc.). An alternative can be a nice long line (but not an extendable lead) that gives them more freedom to explore while remaining partially under your control.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of giving your dog the freedom to be who they are, check out our Defender Radio podcast interview with Dr. Marc Bekoff on the book he co-authored with Dr. Jessica Pierce called Unleashing Your Dog. Click here to listen.
It can be hard to balance the freedoms of our pets with the freedoms of wildlife, but with some insight and patience, there are always compassionate solutions to be found.