Rana and I just returned home from the park down the street.  Not the dog park, mind you, but a regular park; just a large expanse of grass, a kid’s playground, and a couple benches.  I was planning on a short training session (yes, Rana’s almost seven, but even old dogs need training) and figured the evening activity at the park would provide good distractions for our session.  Rana was on a 30-foot check cord, which is essentially a long leash, for this walk.

On the way to the park, we were “greeted” by a cocker spaniel that lives around the corner.  The dog came running from out of nowhere, a child on a bike following some time after.  The kid was shouting at the dog, who had stopped to sniff and meet Rana at the end of the leash.   I had stopped, figuring it would make it easy for the kid to collect his dog with no collar, no tags, and no leash (this technique works great on strays, too—Rana has helped us corral a bunch of dogs roaming the neighborhood in the past).  The dog’s child apparently had different plans; he ran up, shouting, and the dog (predictably) ran away from him.  The child eventually ran behind the dog, and he headed home.  I sighed and went on my way.

At the park, we were rapidly approached by two small dogs and a 40-ish pound shepherd mix, all off-leash.  All were friendly, and, while a bit annoying to a guy trying to get a little training done, of no real concern.  They sniffed, I got Rana on track, and their owners eventually managed to corral them again.  Within a few minutes, another dog belonging to the social group on the hill approached and this sequence of events was repeated.  By now, I was getting frustrated.

I wasn’t angry that other dogs wanted to meet us.  I wasn’t angry that they were off leash.  But I was absolutely disgusted with their owner’s lack of responsibility and regard for the safety of their own pets.  They didn’t know me—or Rana—from Adam.  And in nine years of practice, I’ve seen enough “big-dog-little-dog” encounters to know that the little dog never comes out on top.  And I’ve also seen otherwise nice big dogs bite and nearly kill little dogs that came running up to them when the big dogs were walking safely on a leash.  So when a Boston terrier pup approached to sniff and then simply wouldn’t leave, I felt compelled to speak up.

I was polite, and explained what I do for a living to the pup’s owner.  I warned him that some dogs bite and that a single bite from a large dog could kill this puppy he obviously had great affection for.  And he made excuses.  “He’s such a friendly dog.”  “He just wants to meet everybody.”  “He’s such a bold puppy.”  That’s great.  He’d also be dead if Rana had grabbed him by his head and given him a playful shake.

Even friendly dogs can be aggressive towards other dogs and people while leashed.  Allowing your dog to run up to an absolute stranger and an unknown dog is no smarter than letting a toddler do so.  It shifts responsibility for your own pet’s safety to that stranger—a stranger who may or may not have taken the time to socialize and train his own pet.  Please, love your dog enough to teach him or her to come reliably when called.  Keep them on a leash in public places for their own safety.  And don’t assume that because my dog can walk calmly at heel with a loose leash (Rana’s a Canine Good Citizen, after all) he won’t bite that unknown little puppy charging up to him.