Carolyn Hax: Newcomers kill the neighborhood’s off-leash vibe

Carolyn Hax: Newcomers kill the neighborhood’s off-leash vibe

Dear Carolyn: I live in a neighborhood with a lot of dogs. It’s suburban and tree-lined with quiet streets where it is conducive to walking dogs on a leash. We also have a large open field with some wooded paths where people historically meet in the early mornings and on weekends, and dogs are off-leash and playing. I have been part of the off-leash party for about 15 years, and it has been problem-free.

Lately, there have been some newcomers who are walking in the fields with their dogs on a leash. It’s natural that the other dogs run up to them to see whether they want to play. Some of the leashed dog owners don’t mind, but others become annoyed, because their dogs are not friendly with other dogs.

How should we approach this? I usually apologize and call my dog back, but it’s becoming more frequent, and I’m getting frustrated. My feeling is that if you want to walk your dog on a leash, you should stick to the road, where all dogs are leashed. If you want to walk your dog on a leash in an area where dogs run and play freely, then you shouldn’t get annoyed when they want to play with your dog, especially if you know your dog is not friendly. Your thoughts?

Dog Lover: My thoughts are that you had a nice 15-year run, so be glad for it. Or train your dog better. Or implore new neighbors kindly.

You simply don’t have standing to keep people from walking leashed dogs in the fields. Plus, few ways of greeting new neighbors are less welcoming than letting them know they’re at fault for violating some cherished unwritten rule forged in the Golden Age they ended by showing up.

On-leashers are as entitled to the landscape as you are. As are people who fear or dislike dogs but enjoy a walk in the fields, whom you haven’t mentioned and for whom unleashed dogs that aren’t brought immediately to heel are a nuisance at best.

Maybe you find the other people’s annoyance annoying, but put yourself in their position.

Also: If you can’t or won’t call off your dogs before they reach newcomers, you’re creating significant stress for any walker of a leashed reactive dog. I say this as a fellow dog person who has been on both sides here: calling back my too-friendly off-leash dog and holding the leash of a fearful one. In your “natural” dogs-run-up-to-play scenario, the leash-walkers are the ones acting responsibly, not you.

I’ve assumed there aren’t laws in your favor. If it is legally an off-leash area, then signage is your friend. Lobby for some. (And train your dog better, too.) With leash laws in force, though, there’s nothing about your cause that I can back in print.

Except the concept of free play for dogs, of course. In lieu of harrumphing newcomers, take the neighborhood transformation as a cue to petition for fenced, off-leash spaces. To be fair, that process alone could fuel an advice industry — but it is the right, pro-neighbor, pro-dog thing to do regardless.

You have my complete sympathy for your sense of loss with the neighborhood change. A morning dog run in the fields sounds lovely.

But fighting a change just because you don’t like it personally, without regard for what your resistance means for others, is a quick way to become an unsympathetic character in your own story. Gracious acceptance isn’t just a valid path; sometimes it’s the only decent one. In this case, I urge you to take it.

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