Rules Of Engagement for Running Off Leash

The Rules of Engagement When You’re Exercising Your Dog Off-Leash


You found a little spot where it seems sensible to let your dog off of his tether but you’re not the only one there. Someone’s walking their dog on a leash. Someone is playing fetch with their dog several yards away and a couple of dogs are frolicking in your path. What do you do? Is it okay to let your dog approach the dog on-leash? Can he go say hi to the dog playing fetch off-leash? What about the other two engaged in play off-leash? Is it okay to approach them? I’m going to take you through my rules of engagement when you’re trying to keep a low profile while allowing your dog to get in some off-leash time. But first, we need to go through the fine print.


Most everywhere in the good ole’ US of A there are leash laws outside of regulated dog parks. If you have access to the internet you’ve no doubt come across plenty opinions stressing that you should never have your dog off of its leash outside of your property for any reason because of this or that. I’d like to take you through some scenarios where I beg to differ. 



First it should be stated that I don’t live or play in an area where dangerous breeds are popular. Yes, I do believe some breeds are more dangerous than others  as they are designed to be so but I don’t fault the breed or the dog. Living amongst a population that prefers gentler breeds merely lowers the risk of an altercation. Additionally, the folks I live amongst tend to see the importance in training and take action to make it so. This is another factor that lowers the risk of an altercation occurring. Finally, socialization is of significance to this demographic as well.  They understand the importance of socialization being equal to the importance of training in enjoying a life that includes dogs. 



I'd like to share that I pick advantageous times of the day and days of the week to get out there. For example, I like to visit the parks during work hours Monday through Friday or when it might be perceived as too dark or too cold. These are times when you'll find the parks empty. When choosing a place to remove the leash I look for a large swath of land with protection from the street and parking lots; places where children do not congregate and in general, the numbers of people and dogs are relatively low. It’s also important to “read the room”. If there is a culture of running dogs without a tether and there seems to be some type of understanding, that helps too. All of that said, let’s start ticking off the guidelines I follow to make sure no one becomes offended and everyone has a good time. 

Two dogs meeting at the park.

1. You must have the solidest of solid recalls. If your recall training isn’t tight, keep a long line on your dog (but not in a group of dogs-too dangerous). If you’re still training the recall you don’t get time off. You can get out there but you need to be working while you’re having fun. This brings me to a very important point. I don’t call my dog when he’s made an error in his decision-making. I only recall my dog when he’s engaged in appropriate and sanctioned behavior. With that said, let’s move on to my second guideline which I feel is slightly more important than a solid recall.



2.  The dog should stop in its tracks for the word “no”. When you get caught slippin’ (and you will get caught slippin’) and there’s no time to call the dog because you have one second before something erroneous is set in motion, you need to be able to say the word “no” to keep your dog from taking another step in the wrong direction. Dogs make mistakes once in a while. Even those trained at the highest level. If your dog is about to break the rules he’s most likely not in a head space to obey a command. I teach all of my dogs that if they hear the word “no”, they’re already in trouble. That leads us into the following rules. What’s a “no-no”?


3. DO NOT approach dogs on leash. In an effort to keep away from dogs on leash I try to keep the dogs away from sidewalks. If my dog should  become interested in moving toward a dog on a leash, I will correct that unfortunate decision. A dog on a tether is on a tether for a reason. If the owner wants to interact with you and their dog they will approach, otherwise it is not fair for their moment to be interrupted by a dog ambushing them regardless of its intention. If you’re strangers, assume their dog is ferocious. You don’t know where they might be in their socialization efforts and your dog could set them back greatly. 

4. DO NOT approach humans that are trying to mind their own business. I know your dog is the cutest thing that ever existed and “just wants to say ‘hi’” but you should assume that every stranger minding their own business does not want to interact with your dog. They might be terrified of dogs. They might be unhinged. Just don’t. It’s rude. It’s bad manners. It has the potential be dangerous.


5. Now let’s talk about some nuance issues. What if you see a doodle playing fetch in a somewhat secluded section of the park without a leash? Is it ok for your dog to approach. No. No it is not okay. If they wanted to be a part of socializing they’d be out in the middle with everyone else looking approachable, not playing ball in a corner. Leave them alone. 


6. What if a leashed dog is coming toward your dog to say “hello”? Can your dog engage? Yes! This strange dog, permission requested or not, is not giving your dog a choice so let your dog act naturally by moving forward to greet the approaching dog. 


7. A few dogs are playing with one another at a distance. Can you approach? Most likely, it will be just fine. Assuming you see more than one set of owners, indicating that it’s not a pack of dogs that live together. That can be risky. Other than that, ask yourself; Do you like the look of the dogs? Go with your instincts. Do you like the way they are playing? Then go have fun.

Understanding the vibe of the park and its inhabitants is no different than reading people at the coffee shop. You don’t bother the person sitting in the corner with AirPods in their head looking intently at their screen. You can’t just assume that if people are  out in public they want to socialize. You can, however, greet the person leaning on the counter in the middle of the cafe smiling at you. Use your social skills and remember not everyone thinks your dog is awesome. Although I would if I ran into you at the park.


Mind your business, entertain your dog with fetch or a led walk through the trees and the creek until someone fun and friendly comes by with which your dog can socialize. Keep the dogs away from parents and their children, dogs on leashed walks and people trying to mind their own business. Keep them away from sidewalks, streets and playgrounds. Make sure your recall is 100% and that your “no” serves as a back up. If you want to have fun and reduce your risk of being accosted by a Karen or a Kevin, mind your manners and teach your dog to mind his and you can probably fly under the radar sans leash without any trouble. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published