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Off-Leash Envy

If you get to the end of this post and come to the conclusion that I'm just jealous, you're absolutely right. I'm jealous of you and your carefree dog. We all have fantasies of what dog ownership will be. These usually include walks on the beach or through vast meadows. One thing is for sure, there is never a leash in sight.

Those are my fantasies too. I want a dog that bounds happy and free through the forest, a dog that is the delight of all the neighborhood children. You know what though? That isn't the dog I have. I love her anyway. I don't love her in spite of her various issues, in many ways I love her because of them. If it wasn't for her I would never have become a dog trainer. I was given a dog and she completely changed the trajectory of my life.

However, that's not what I'm here to talk about today. I'm here to talk about how every time I see you with your dog off-leash at our nearby park, I am immediately filled with panic. Everything bad that could happen flashes before my eyes. Once it's all over and we've gone our separate ways, I kind of wish I could be you, just for a moment.

I'm sure you're asking, why in the world do I take my reactive dog where she can come in contact with other dogs that are off-leash? Here's the thing, I don't. At least not willingly. Those of us with reactive dogs generally do a good job of accepting our fate. We don't go to dog parks, we don't go to dog-friendly beaches and we definitely don't go to our neighborhood's annual Pup Party. Even though we desperately want to do those things, "Dogs must be kept on leash" is the phrase that we put our faith in.

I'm guilty of entertaining thoughts, of "maybe this time it will be alright" and "we'll just go for a few minutes and see how it goes." It's up to me to dispel those thoughts quickly. Because it just isn't okay to put other people's dogs in danger.

This is why I only visit places where dogs are required to be on leash. I even go so far as to visit during less busy times of day or places that others do not often frequent. I do this because I want to enjoy my time with my dog. I want her to enjoy it too. We don't go to the woods for the cortisol.

Unfortunately, our serene walk in the park is often anything but. Portia's ears and eyes lock onto something, her hackles go up. I see nothing, thinking perhaps it's a deer. Then moments later, there he is bounding up the trail - a beautiful, carefree dog. The happy dog appears to be taking a stroll of his own accord, without an owner in sight.

If we wait a few moments, you will come. By this time I have frozen. My momentary panic is often followed by retreat, going off the trail, giving Portia treats in hopes that she learns that other dogs are good news. Most of the time it doesn't occur to you to leash up your dog immediately.

The truth is, these interactions scare me every single time. We have been lucky so far, but I don't expect our luck to last forever. Whenever I see your loose dog, I also see a dog fight, wounds, veterinary bills, litigation, possible quarantine or even euthanasia. This is the bile in my throat and tightness in my chest each time I see your beautiful dog. I hope that the law will be on our side, my dog is on leash after all.

Let me live vicariously through you. Take your dog to dog parks and off-leash beaches. Take her to the places I can only dream of going. When you go to the places that I am able to visit, please use a leash.

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