When I moved from an urban lifestyle to a rural lifestyle, a comment I frequently heard from my North Shore peeps was, “Your dogs must love it, being able to have all that freedom!”
There seems to be a prevailing attitude that living in the country automatically gives dogs a free pass to roam freely without restriction. This attitude seems to stem from a belief that unrestricted freedom is the ultimate goal in order for a dog to live a joyful life. But it’s not. Our human perception of what freedom means to us may have tainted our view of what’s best for our dogs.
Dogs don’t thrive in complete freedom. They are no longer wild wolves. They are domesticated animals bred to live and work alongside humans. They thrive in an environment that provides them with stability and guidance and freedom within boundaries. Growing up on a farm, I was exposed very early to what happens to dogs that are owned by people who believe in total freedom. Those dogs often ended up disturbing livestock, cattle, horses, chicken and people with dire consequences. Even though times may have changed and dogs are rarely shot on sight for causing problems with livestock or people, the consequences can be severe fines, so us country bumpkins take our dog management very seriously.
We ensure that our dogs are respectful of neighbours space and livestock, and the only time we do experience trouble is when someone from the city moves into the hood and opens their front door to let Fido roam freely as they seem to think all dogs should.
As I mentioned, it is for the safety of our dogs as well as other animals and people that we keep our rural dogs secure and under control at all time, in other words, providing leadership by setting boundaries and limitations of behaviour.
The dangers within urban environments may not be the same as within rural environments, but they are still there. Busy streets, filled with rushing traffic, are not the place to be practising off-leash skills along the sidewalk. Taking the risk of walking a dog off-leash along a street is not allowing freedom, it is carelessly playing with a dog’s life and showing a lack of leadership and understanding of dog behaviour.
The trend towards high-density living is leaving dog owners with few places to walk their dogs to provide adequate exercise and release mental and physical tension.
As a result many dog owners are allowing their dogs off-leash freedom in areas where they shouldn’t be. This often leads to conflicts between families living in close quarters.
Allowing your dog to run out of the yard or garage to greet a dog or a person in the street is not allowing freedom, it is an unmanaged dog receiving no leadership and guidance. The dangers are not only towards the dog at large but also the person and/or dog the loose dog is rushing towards.
A dog is considered at large when it is not under effective control be it off-leash in an on-leash area or a dog that is located elsewhere other than on the premises of the person owning or having custody of the dog.
A dog is also at large when it is on the property of the person owning the dog but is not confined either by being tethered (leashed) or behind a secure fence. A dog at large is subject to a fine from local by-law officers. But by-laws are only as effective as their enforcement and since most by-laws are not enforced, over time people tend to develop a sense of entitlement as well as immunity instead of adhering to a social responsibility to be good, respectful neighbours. Your actions, be it a conscious or unconscious decision, to ignore your social responsibility will always affect another person negatively.
Freedom to humans seems to be to live a life with the total unrestricted ability to do as we please, but to dogs it is to live an uncomplicated, stress-free life knowing that they are cared for and safe.
Providing your dog with leadership through consistent guidance and reasonable boundaries is freedom to a dog.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her through her website k9kinship.com.