One of my pet hates is people who walk their dog off lead on the street. Yes, a few dogs may be extraordinarily obedient, with no interest in chasing small furries or mobbing every person they see, but they are the exception. I have witnessed more than one hound suddenly dart across a busy road, its owner screaming, unable to intervene. I have also seen a dog killed after running out of the local park, straight under the wheels of a bus. All avoidable had the owners used a lead.

The law is ambiguous and confusing. There is no law that states that dogs have to be on a lead on public footpaths, however it is a criminal offence for a dog to be on a designated road off lead. It is also a criminal offence for a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. A dog that darts across the road off lead and causes a crash, may put its owner in prison.

A top reason for ‘lead avoidance’ is owner laziness, pure and simple. People moan- “but he pulls too much”, or “he doesn’t like the lead, he’s much better off”. Some prefer to go ‘hands free’ so they can walk and talk on their mobile phones. Others just think having a dog off lead looks cool.

Let’s be clear, no dog is born with ‘lead instinct’ but they are born with a strong instinct to chase things that move. Unless taught how to walk on a lead properly, most dogs will try to get from A-Z as fast as they can and if that means dragging you with them, they will. But, just about any dog, with consistent training and the right equipment, can be taught to walk nicely on the lead and they should be taught, as early as possible.

This does not mean using an extending lead; I’ve seen dogs injured on those too, suddenly whizzing across the road into moving traffic, after their owner had forgotten to secure the stopper. This is all about teaching the dog to walk beside its owner, on a short, loose lead, without pulling.

Many dogs get nervous on the lead as they realise they don’t have the ability to avoid stuff that scares them; others get frustrated at being unable to get to the stuff that interests them, like other dogs or people. Either can cause unruly behaviour, like lunging and barking, and make owners think leads are a bad idea. Make no mistake, if a dog is nervous around other dogs having all dogs on the lead means every owner can use distance and avoidance to keep control. The last thing the owner of a hyper or nervous dog needs is to suddenly be confronted with an off lead dog in the street. The same goes for people, and a growing number of children, who are terrified of dogs. A dog on a lead not only looks safer; it is safer.

The same applies to the park. If you see a dog that is on the lead there is a reason why. It may be old, it may be nervous, it may be in season, it may be injured. Give that dog a wide berth, do not allow yours to run up to it off lead – it does not matter how friendly your dog is or means to be, if the other dog is on a lead don’t go there.

The message is simple, unless your dog is 100% obedient, under any level of distraction, at any distance, then please, use a lead!

Leonie St Clair

This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of SE22 magazine.