The other morning I was out jogging with Noodle, my 2 year old Galgo who was adopted in March. It’s something which I have just recently decided to do as we began to notice that three months of quarantine had had an impact on mine and Noodle’s fitness levels. In Spain the rule during the main phases of quarantine was that you could only take your dog out as far as the end of your street – which for us was about 20 metres. So, with our province now entering the ‘new normality’ it was time to get jogging again.
After a couple of laps of the nearest patch of land we stopped for a much needed breather and I noticed a woman approaching with two black dogs off-leash.
Now, I already have a severe aversion to people with dogs off leash. Noodle was adopted in March from a local galgo rescue foundation (Fundación Benjamin Mehnert). He arrived underweight, very nervous and covered in scars. He has become accustomed to walking with us on a leash and loves going out for his walks, but one thing he does not like is surprises. By surprises I mean any dog coming up to him from behind, any dog rushing up to him quickly, any dog that barks or is excited near him.
Noodle’s First Incident
The first time we took Noodle out for a walk to the local park a little chihuahua (off leash) rushed up to him. Noodle jumped to get away and the chihuahua wouldn’t relent. In the end Noodle had to resort to growling, baring his teeth and almost biting in order to get the dog to back off. Ever since this first incident I have been very conscious of dogs off leash in our vicinity. I always try to avoid potentially harmful provocative situations. Normally, I will cross the street or change direction or just put myself and some space in between Noodle and the other dog.
On the morning we were out jogging, there was no one around until the woman with the two black dogs suddenly appeared. The patch of land where we run is vast so I was expecting her to naturally move away from us to another area. Instead she walked right past us, chatting on her phone, hardly noticing her dogs running around behind her. I stopped with Noodle to allow them to pass. One of the dogs ran straight up and jumped at his face and neck, growling and clawing and attempting to bite. Noodle jumped back yelping with the lead at full stretch. I stepped in, shouting ‘no!’ and the offending dog ran off back to its owner.
The owner did not come to check whether my dog had been hurt. She did not apologise. Her excuse, shouted from afar, was that her dog was a puppy – as if that that gave her dog free reign to attack any other dog in the street. I told her very clearly that’s exactly why her dogs should be on a leash. She then asked if my dog was adopted and suggested that it was a nervous dog – as if to imply that maybe my dog was overreacting?!
Unfortunately, as I was out jogging, I had nothing with me, such as a phone to make a record of the incident. I felt like the owner just shouldn’t get away with walking off without taking responsibility. Her total lack of accountability really frustrated me.
What are the issues?
- I am trying hard to educate my dog and make him feel more comfortable in the world. Incidents like this can have long-term repercussions and often make a dog more fearful. Noodle has not wanted to return to this patch of land since the incident happened. He will literally stop, plant his feet into the ground and refuse to go any further when we get near. He has also begun to whine when he sees a dog off-leash in the distance.
- I am being a responsible owner and making sure my dog is always under control. I would not allow him to jump up at other dogs or at people, babies or children. Why is it okay then for others to do so? This is about being courteous and respectful to other pet owners. Even if their dog is perfectly behaved they cannot predict how another dog is going to react.
- The lady’s excuse was that her dogs were puppies. It is therefore the perfect time when she should be educating them on how to behave in the street and in relation to other dogs. Likewise it is her responsability to teach them how not to behave. It was the perfect learning opportunity. Unfortunately, my dog just learnt how to be more fearful.
- In my town I often notice that it is smaller dogs such as chihuahuas, yorkies, dachshunds etc. which are off-leash and yapping at every dog that passes. I suspect the owners think it’s okay because they can’t run off very quickly and that they can’t do much damage. But it is precisely these types of dogs that unsettle dogs like greyhounds.
- There are rules that should be followed – and I’m a stickler for rules. When we enter our local park there is a big sign at the entrance clearly stating that dogs must be kept on a lead. Yet, when we enter I can guarantee that there will be some dogs trotting around off leash.
- When a nervous dog is approached in such away his “fight or flight” instinct tends to kick in. As he is on a lead he cannot run away so his only option is to “fight” as the other dog is perceived as a threat. I wonder how the owner would react if their dog was bitten in self defense?
So what’s the law regarding dogs off leash? Is it illegal to have a dog off-leash?
Well, it depends where you live…..
- All dogs in Spain are required to be on a lead in public places. The dog should be under the control of their owner.
- Some places, such as Madrid, Huesca, Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Victoria-Gasteiz specify areas where dogs can be let off-leash between certain times in the evening, subject to specific guidelines. Check the city council’s own web page for details.
- Be aware of potentially dangerous dogs (according to Spanish law): Dobermans (Andalucia only), Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, the Dogo Argentino, the Fila Brasileiro, the Tosa Inu and the Akita Inu. These dog owners should have their animals registered with the municipality and have liability insurance. They must also have a licence for their dog, which they must have with them at all times. The dog must be muzzled and on a lead of no more than two metres long (one metre in Andalucia).
In the United Kingdom
- There is no law saying that all dogs must be kept on the lead in public spaces. However, there are orders which determine that you have to have your dog on a lead in certain places in your local area, for example children’s play areas, sports pitches, roads, parks, and beaches.
- Each local authority has their own rules. Look out for signs in public spaces and check your local council’s website.
- Your local authority may ask you to keep your dog on a lead when walking along ‘designated’ roads. The section of road to which the law applies should be marked with signs.
- Any breed of dog is not allowed to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place.
- Dogs are not allowed to ‘worry’ livestock and it is therefore advised to keep them on a lead near farmland with sheep, cattle, goats etc.
- More information can be found on the government webpage. This also includes a list of banned dogs and guidelines.
United States of America
- Each state has its own laws and requirements regarding dogs on leash. They are called “Running at Large Statutes” and local governments will also impose their own laws. Check out this handy map and click on the state to discover it’s respective laws.
- All dogs in Australia are required to be on a lead in public places EXCEPT when they are in a designated “off-leash” area.
- Check with the local council as there may be specific regulations.
- In Australia there are different types of dogs to which specific laws apply to: Dangerous Dogs, Menacing Dogs and Restricted Breed Dogs. Owners have to comply with the Dangerous Dogs Act of their state. More information can be found at this useful page.
- There are specific laws which apply to greyhounds in Australia called Breed Specific Legislation. This means that in some states they need to be muzzled and on a leash in public places. More details can be found on the page of the Greyhound Equality Society.
What should I do if a dog approaches my dog?
- Put yourself between them and your dog.
- Put out your hand and say a firm ‘no’ or make a sudden loud noise, like ”Ah!”
- Firmly ask the owner to leash their dog straightaway
- Distract the other dog by throwing a treat in another direction as you walk away calmly.
- If you have a water bottle squirt water in the dogs face to surprise and distract it until it’s owner can collect it.
What should you do if a dog attacks your dog while out walking?
Try not to feel guilty. I admittedly had feelings of guilt after Noodle was attacked and felt like I didn’t protect him properly. But, I have to tell myself that we had done nothing wrong. The responsibility lay fully with the other owner. Here’s what you can do:
- Report the dog’s owner to the local council.
- If your dog has injuries, take photos and keep a record.
- If you can, get a photo of the owner and their dog. Take details of any witnesses.
- Try and stay calm!
Finally, I have read many comments from greyhound owners on social media about this issue. Have you had any bad experiences with off-leash dogs? What happened? What did you do? I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.