When I moved to Vancouver in my early 20s I lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so when an acquaintance invited me to go for a walk with him and his dog, I happily accepted.
His dog was a Doberman, my favourite breed at the time. We went to Jericho Beach and when we arrived he promptly let “Faust” off leash.
“Dogs are supposed to be on leash, “I reminded my new friend.
He just laughed then joined a group ahead of us. I soon found myself lagging behind, watching Faust as he chased geese, humped a husky and barked at joggers.
Faust then barged up to a family having a picnic on the grass. I then heard, “He ruined our picnic!” while I witnessed Faust voraciously eat their sandwiches and potato salad.
I looked ahead as Faust’s’ owner glanced back at the mayhem, but then he continued walking.
I was mortified…“I’m sorry!” I said. “He’s not my dog.”
It was all I could say because it was the truth.
I turned and ran away from the scene and vowed that when I got a dog of my own, I would be the most responsible dog owner I could possibly be.
Thirty-five years later, here I am: a dog trainer writing about the importance of being a responsible dog owner. And yet, I still feel like that 20 year old watching an irresponsible owner let their dog ruin another person’s experience.
I’m not sure how dog owners started assuming that off-leash meant a dog was entitled to do whatever it wanted. Being off leash is a privilege not an entitlement, yet a number of dog owners seem to think otherwise.
I question if the off-leash obsession is due to the assumption that dogs need to be off leash to be adequately exercised or because a leash is viewed as some sort of restriction to a dog’s freedom, or maybe the owners are just jerks.
Since I am well aware that a dog can easily get adequate exercise from a one-hour walk while on leash and that a dog is happier with boundaries rather than freedom, the challenge must be the training and that the dog is not able to walk politely on leash. Teaching a dog to walk politely on leash is an important part of leadership training and it should not be dismissed.
Walking politely on leash teaches a dog boundaries, impulse control and respecting personal space. A dog that behaves impeccably on leash will be far more reliable off leash and under control.
According to District of North Vancouver bylaw 7534, “under control” means, in respect of any dog, leashed or unleashed, that the dog: a) immediately returns when called by the person who owns or has care and control of the dog; and b) is not annoying, harassing or attacking any person, wildlife or other animal.
The former (a) is fairly straightforward, a dog returns immediately when called. The latter (b) however is a bit more open to interpretation.
Being annoying is very subjective. As an example, I am annoyed by smokers around me, but smokers are not annoyed by other smokers. Conversely, annoying dogs are not annoying to those who have annoying dogs. That sounds like a fortune cookie proverb, doesn’t it?
In light of the semantics at play in our bylaws and those who choose to interpret them as they see fit, I thought I’d create an acronym to help dog owners be more responsible.
B.A.R.K. is an easy to remember acronym outlining the basics of responsible dog ownership.
B is for boundaries. Dogs need boundaries and are happier when they live within consistent guidelines of appropriate behaviour. Set respectable boundaries for your dog on and off leash.
A is for awareness. Owners need to be aware of what their dog is doing at all times and ensure that it is not harassing or encroaching on another person or dogs personal space or treading through sensitive habitat.
R is for responsibility and respect. Taking responsibility means to be respectful of other people and trail users. If you don’t respect others how can you expect others to respect you? You get what you give, that’s called karma.
K is for knowledge. This applies not only to being knowledgeable about the dog walking restrictions within a given area but also of dog behaviour, understanding when your dog is causing a problem and then doing something about it!
Next time you decide to let your dog off leash, remember to B.A.R.K. first and set a good example of responsible dog ownership.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 20 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at email@example.com.