Dear PoPville – Training Unleashed Dogs on Downtown Streets: Is It Ever OK?

Photo by PoPville flickr user C. Michael Poole

“Dear PoPville,

Several years ago my wife and I rescued two mutts picked up off the streets of Southern Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. They’re both very good with people, affectionate as all get-out, but they’re aggressive with other dogs. For this reason, we don’t take them to dog parks and are always careful to keep our distance from other dogs when walking ours on city streets.

Last night I took the dogs out for their nightly walk in our U Street neighborhood. As soon as I closed the front gate I saw a gentleman with his dog (which appeared to be some sort of pit bull mix) standing at the corner of 14th and T. I thought the gentleman was simply waiting for the light to change and would keep moving, so I stopped in my tracks and waited. Then I noticed that the gentleman had placed his dog’s leash on the ground and (from what I could gather from a few buildings away) was instructing his dog to sit, stay, and not approach my dogs. At this point I yelled to the gentleman “which direction are you heading?” so I could get out of his way — and right after that his dog darted away from him and ran towards my pair, oblivious to the fact that my dogs were prepared to greet him with open teeth and not open arms. The gentleman ran after his dog while yelling “don’t worry, he’s not aggressive!” to which I responded “no, but mine are!” I followed that up with a shrill — and, frankly, panicked — “your dog belongs on a leash whenever it’s on a city street!” His response: “I’m just trying to train him.”

I managed to keep my dogs at bay just long enough for the gentleman to collect his dog, but barely. Unfortunately, under the circumstances I wasn’t in a position to stick around, apologize for being shrill, and explain why I think his training approach is not only wrong and illegal — it’s dangerous and puts his own dog at risk. I’m assuming the gentleman and I are neighbors, so I’m hoping he sees this, gets my message, accepts my apology, and appreciates the spirit with which I am offering this advice.”

81 Comment

  • if your dog is off leash on the sidewalk you are in the wrong. always. plain. simple.

    • Nothing more needs to be said. End of discussion.

    • There’s some lady in Mount Pleasant (I think she lives on Brown Street) who needs to read this. She’s always walking around with her little beast unleashed.

    • +1000

      I’m sick of the attitude I get when I mention the leash law. I have an incredibly friendly and relatively well-trained dog, but when an unleashed dog charges her, all bets are off. And as a smaller woman who can control my dog in most circumstances, it terrifies me to have an unleashed dog charge us both.

      Keep your dog on a leash. Not only is it the law, it’s safer for all of us.

  • I think both owners need to do some training.

    It is maddening to see dogs off leash in the city. You’re right, it is never appropriate.

    It is also possible to train dogs out of their aggression towards other dogs. It’s not easy, but it is possible, and as a responsible dog owner, you should consider it.

    • Good luck training your dog not to react when an off leash dog runs up and attacks it.

    • I’m sure that the person posting isn’t just complacent about his dog’s being aggressive but he is being realistic. As another owner of an abused rescue dog I find myself in a similar situation. I find it atrocious that people think it’s fine to let their dogs off leash. Even worse are the owners who are oblivious of their surroundings and let their dogs walk them. My dog can be easily scared by other dogs and can react aggressively. I have been working on it in controlled settings over the course of 4 years and have seen great improvement, in fact we were able to get a second dog for him to adjust to which is working out really well. But that being said, he can be very unpredictable on the streets when dogs run up to him wildly even as I try to protect him. 

      Anyways- I would love to see the people of my neighborhood, put down the phone, put down the cup of coffee, (there is a woman who walks two dogs every morning with an open mug of coffee – watching her try to pick up after her dogs is a comedy of errors) and start being vigilant as they walk their dogs.

      While we’re at it. Chicken bones are like cigarette butts, they belong in a trash can.

      • +1000. Pay attention when you walk your dogs or take them to the park.

      • I’m so glad to hear that there are other people out there with sweet dogs who are terrified of other dogs… Our rescue pup gets along great with our other rescue, with kids, and everyone but unfamiliar dogs. We have been trying to expose him to different situations and thus far have been unsuccessful at changing his behavior.

        When we take him down to Rock Creek Park, it’s almost impossible to get through the trails without having another unleashed dog bound up to us to try and play.

        Unless your dog will immediately heel when called, it doesn’t need to be off leash–not even in the park.

  • This does seem irresponsible. Even a very well trained dog could suddenly spot a squirrel, cat or other dog and shoot out into traffic, completely forgetting he was told to ‘stay’.

    Do that training in a fenced-in area (ideally) or other safe area, not on a busy street corner.

    • Agree that going off leash is irresponsible. A neighbor of mine is being sued because her Great Dane (an otherwise well-behaved, friendly dog) bit a small child who randomly ran up (arms waving and yelling) to the leashed Dane. Even the best dogs can be unpredictable at times- you never know. Definitely recommend leashing dogs, and being careful EVEN when they’re leashed. You don’t want to face a situation where you may be forced to put your dog down because he attacks someone or another animal.

      • That is crap. The kid ran up to an animal and frightened th animal and the animal is at fault.

        Other than that: the choir is already in full voice.

        • No, it’s not crap. The owner of the dog ought to have been paying attention and in control of her dog–and I saw that as an owner of a dog who does not like small children (our own small child aside). We are super watchful for any unsupervised small kids when we’re walking the dog for precisely this reason. We love her and absolutely do not want to have to put her down if she bites someone–if she bites once, she will not get a second chance. We have done a lot of training with her and she’s markedly better than when we first adopted her, but I am not taking any chances.

          And, since we’re on the topic, to the dude who frequents the 11th and Park dog park with your Ridgeback mix, it’s NEVER ok for your dog to put his teeth on someone. Never. Nor is it ok for you to sit there and watch when he’s repeatedly mouthing my well-supervised and well-behaved-with-dogs kid.

          Also, I can’t stand the response of, “Oh, my dog isn’t aggressive/dangerous/whatever!” Well, mine can be aggressive and she’s unpredictable about it. And that’s why I’m waiting for you to pass while I stand in the street or walking in the other direction or otherwise trying to evade you. My dog doesn’t want to be friends with yours, nor do I want to chat with you when you’re too thick to read the really obvious signs my dog is putting out.

          • Every time you go into the street to avoid other dogs you are simply reinforcing to your dog that other dogs are bad. You are part of the problem and not part of the solution. When I see people do this, I very intentionally take my time passing. Dof owners like you are the reason this thread exists in the first place. Leashes are a bi product of irresponsible dog owners.

          • You dont really know much about dogs, do you?

          • There are so many things wrong with what you said that I’m going to just assume that you’re a troll and not feed you.

          • you let your kid in the dog park? i absolutely despise people like you who let their children run around with the dogs in the dog park. just because your kid is okay with the family golden retriever doesn’t mean that he is okay with strangers dogs. dogs are wild animals, and sometimes play with other dogs can be physical. when your little rugrat is running around slapping dogs, how do you expect an animal in an already excited state to make the distinction between person and other dog? I rant not because I care if your kid gets his face bitten off, but because I’m not going to take on that liability and I can’t use the dog park when you engage in this risky and asinine behavior.

          • ….kids, no matter how well behaved, do not belong in a dog park just as dogs, no matter how well behaved, do not belong in playgrounds.

          • i don’t go to this dog park at all, so it’s not me, and i’m not excusing the behavior of the dog or the owner. but why don’t you just talk to the ridgeback owner the next time it happens instead of hoping he reads the blog you post comments to?

          • actually on second thought +1000 to those who say dog parks are for dogs, not kids. especially not toddlers or infants strapped to their parents with legs dangling.

          • Eh, whatever on the no kids in dog parks. Kids are allowed, under the dog park rules, if they’re accompanied by an adult. If you don’t like the rule, get it changed. Until then, we’ll bring our kid occasionally and will always, always take him out if someone lets us know that their dog is not ok with kids. Seriously, we’ll leave–gladly and without complaint (well, I don’t promise that the kid won’t cry) if you say something without being a dick about it. As I said, we know what that’s like and we’re the ones to take our dog out of the park if someone else’s kid comes in.

            And I did say something to the Ridgeback owner–twice. Then we left, because I wasn’t going to have his uncontrolled dog mauling my kid who was minding his own business, not slapping dogs as one of you idiots put it, and who was barely out of my arm’s reach at any given time.

          • RE: the ridgeback owner issue:

            I witnessed this situation. Your child behaves better than most around dogs (kudos, quite sincerely). But you bring him into a situation where there are 10+ dogs wrestling/chasing/being dogs in a dog park. It’s unsafe. I feel particularly uncomfortable while your son is there because my dog is extremely nervous around small children and would react unpredictably if your son ran up to her. The fallout (for all of us) if there was an incident would be unimaginably horrible.

            Moral of the story: dog parks are for dogs, playgrounds are for kids. The two shouldn’t mix for EXTREMELY obvious reasons.

          • EB: thank you for the compliment. And I mean it quite sincerely when I say that if your dog is nervous around kids, please tell me so and we will be the ones to leave. I don’t want him hurt any more than you do. We don’t go to the 11th St park very often because it’s such a crappy place–we haven’t been back since the Ridgeback incident, which was about a month ago, if not longer, so I hope that you are actually talking about my kid and not someone else’s. But if you do happen to see us there again, really, please just give me a heads up and we’ll go or not come in at all. It’s truly not a big deal to me.

            But we’ll continue to have a difference in opinion about whether my son should be in there in the first place. Sometimes, when my husband is traveling, I don’t have a choice about whether or not to take the little guy with me and the dog.

          • Ok, bring your toddlers to dog parks but you do so at your own risk (which is also a rule – everyone enters at their own risk). While there’s nothing I hate more at dog parks than people who completely ignore their dogs (which is why we no longer frequent dog parks), you can’t REALLY be upset when the rules that you point out also say that you enter at your own risk.

            That said, there is a total lack of way to enforce people being “banned” from dog parks. Everyone knows the offenders and most responsible owners have gotten in to confrontations with those other people. But there’s no way to stop them from coming in because the “governing” organizations – even a decent one like Shaw Dogs – can’t do anythign. It’s just the type of situation where you don’t enter the park when those people and their dogs are there.

          • I don’t care if you are willing to remove the child if someone asks, it’s not acceptable behavior to release a kid into a dog park. if a dog actually attacked your kid (i have a feeling your definition of “mauled” doesn’t approach the actual definition, which you can see on shark week tonight), while you would be 100% at fault for putting your child in an unnecessarily dangerous situation, any responsible dog owner is not going to take the risk. you are inconveniencing everyone and endangering the safety of your own child.

          • Just now seeing this thread–and may I just add that I’d much rather ban the idiot dog owners who don’t get the two gate concept–it is so the dogs don’t get loose. How hard is that? I had words with some lady b/c she almost let another persons dog escape b/c she couldn’t be bothered to wait for the first gate to close. I chalk this incident up (and my incident) to people who are just generally oblivious to the needs of others.

          • I’m not a troll,it’s just clear from your comments you know very little about dogs. You may think you do, but you don’t.

          • HOW DARE YOU! That dog is not aggressive. A) Your child should not be in the dog park to begin with.B) You should know not all dogs are used to small children.
            Your child is always near the concrete grate of the metro, and I’ve seen you there with your child. You lack the common sense that your child could be knocked over by a dog of any size.
            Don’t blame the Ridgeback, for anything. He’s actually one of the sweetest dogs I’ve met at that park.

            YOU should take responsibility and not be a moron for putting your child at risk TO ANY DOG.

            Best idea, go somewhere else.

      • the kid shouldn’t have been off leash!

        • Unfortunately, this kid’s apathetic parents just sat there watching as their five year-old ran across a busy street to greet the dog. The dog owner had spoken with the child’s parents on numerous occasions about not letting the kid run up to her dog. This was a preventable accident. That said, the dog needs to be under control. If I sensed that my dog was vulnerable to biting under fear, I would do everything I could to prevent her from coming into situations like the one with the child- if only to protect my dog! I can’t control irresponsible parents.

          • Don’t you just LOVE our litigious society? I hope the parents lose and the dog counter sues their pants off for pain and suffering, or somesuch BS.

          • dc is a contributory negligence jurisdiction (ie, if the kid/parents were even 1% at fault, they lose) so hopefully this case will end soon.

          • Here’s hoping the parents of the child lose the case and nothing bad happens to the dog.

          • Definitely bad parents – but you can’t control bad parents – only your own interaction with their children.

            People need to accept that “unleashed” little kids are always unpredictable. If you see ANY little kid anywhere you should EXPECT her to 1. run into the street 2. run up to your dog 3. veer into the path of your bicycle 4. smash into your shopping cart etc.

            I used to have a kid un-friendly dog but trained her to heel and stay, while I stepped in front of her and if needed, ward-off or grab the charging kid.

  • I can see what the guy was trying to do. But- Off leash training should be done in a controlled environment. Or at very least a low traffic neighborhood. Too many risks otherwise.

    • Yeah, I’m somewhat sympathetic to the training effort, but any mishaps are on that guy’s head. If he wants to train his dog that way, I applaud him, but doing it at a busy city intersection is not the place for it.

  • Entirely inappropriate. One of my dogs, although a sweetheart off leash, is a bit aggressive on-leash (we’re working on it!). I get so damn annoyed when people act like I’m insulting them when I try and avoid confrontation or ask them which way they are going.

    People like the guy “training” his dog off leash doesn’t understand that even though his dog may be “nice,” others may not be…not to mention what a terrible intersection to try and “train” one’s dog. Not like there is heavy traffic there or anything.

  • Yeah, bad call. The guy definitely should have had a leash.

    I am glad to see that the writer of the OP seems to be very responsible regarding his dogs’ aggression with other dogs. He has no responsibility to socialize his dogs with other dogs that don’t belong to him, but I am at least happy that he steers clear of dog parks and streets with other dogs around.

    I see a lot of people simply strolling with unleashed dogs that don’t appear to be being trained. This is irritating and dangerous.

  • It’s illegal to walk a dog that is not on a leash. However, it is a good idea to train your dog as this person may have been doing because if your dog ever does get out on its own, you want to know that it will not enter the street without permission from you. This keeps your dog from being hit by a car if it gets out of the house unexpectedly. My brother trained his do this way, and when he escaped one day, he ended up following a stranger home and never went into traffic. Probably saved his life.

    • I saw an owner a few weeks ago who was likely walking his dog off leash and the dog took off with the guy about 1-2 blocks behind him.

    • You can (and should!) train your dog to stop at curbs and wait for a command to step into the street – but this can be done on the leash. And it still doesn’t mean s/he will not run into the street if s/he escapes. For a frightened, excited jailbreak dog – there are no rules.

      Other useful remote off leash commands – stop, sit, lie down, come, leave it – should be taught in a protected off-leash park environment, not city streets.

  • It’s not only aggression – dogs have a chase instinct which can lead them to run into traffic. Can you imagine a dog darting into traffic on 16t St during rush hour? It could cause a huge wreck and would be terrible for everyone involved.

    Anyway, the attitude seems to be screw you I can do what I want with my dog.

    I don’t know why people refuse to consider the worst-case scenarios when making these kinds of decisions!


  • I just don’t understand why anyone would risk their dog’s safety and allow them to be off-leash in the city. While I would love it if I could let my dog run around and play freely, it terrifies me to think of something happening to her. But then again, I had a dog growing up who we let hang out in the yard off-leash–until she ran across the street to play with another dog and got hit by a car–so maybe I’m hyper aware of the potential consequences.

    A 20 or 30 foot training leash would allow you to train those behaviors while still having control of your dog and its safety.

  • It was definately not a smart thing to do considering the dog could’ve run into the street and been hit by a car or an aggressive, red-light running cyclist 😉 My dogs are very friendly to people, and almost always with other dogs, but occasionally one of my dogs gets weird with other dogs. She’s never bit one, but if I’m with her alone and she sees another dog that for whatever reason she views as threatening, she growls, snaps, barks aggressively, lunges, etc. etc. So I don’t appreciate when people let their dogs run up to me in case my dog decides to get aggressive.

  • Most dogs can be trained to be friendly, but it can take a heck of a lot of time, professional help, and money. Some people just don’t have the personality to be able to train a dog like that properly. This shouldn’t be a problem in the city, because here we have a leash law. If a leashed dog attacks an unleashed dog the unleashed dog’s handler is at fault. Period. Not to mention, many dogs can be either somewhat leash-aggressive, or act funny when one dog is leashed and the other isn’t. When dogs are kept leashed there are no problems. The guy “training” his dog sounds like an idiot! You don’t actually drop the leash until you are 100% sure your dog won’t run off- this can be done with a long rope (so the pup thinks it’s free, but you retain control). The OP owes the guy no appology, the guy deserves a tongue-lashing!

  • All dogs must be on a leash not more than 4ft long and in control of a responsible person when in public space. No exceptions, even for the self-entitled.

    • figby

      I really hate those retractable leashes, they should be outlawed. Love the people on the phone basically letting their dogs run off, technically on a leash but still charging other dogs. Dopes.

    • Go to Marion Park sometime and then walk across the street to the Police Station and ask them if they give a flip if the dogs across the street are off leash. You might also yourself the last time you drove a couple miles over the speed limit, walked across the street outside of a crosswalk, threw a battery in the garbage or gone to Virginia or Maryland and engaged in oral sex….since all of these acts are also illegal and all of them carry fines heftier than walking a dog off leash.

  • Can we stop these whiny “Let me bitch about something by asking the echo chamber if it’s ok” threads please?

  • I followed that up with a shrill — and, frankly, panicked — “your dog belongs on a leash whenever it’s on a city street!”

    And your aggressive dogs should be muzzled at all times when on a city street. You’re walking two lawsuits waiting to happen.

    • Dog aggression and people aggression are two different things. If a dog is dog-aggressive but all dogs are leashed there is no danger. I agree, people aggressive dogs need to be muzzled, but that wasn’t the case here.

      • Anony took the words right out of my mouth.

        As I said in my post, our dogs are unpredictable only when it comes to other dogs. In the several years that we’ve had them they’ve never exhibited even the slightest bit of aggressive behavior to people, including the smallest and most unruly of children. To the contrary, they’re so ridiculously nice and friendly with people of all sizes that it’s comical to watch.

        Under these circumstances, the only lawsuit that will ever happen will be one where our dogs injure another dog — which won’t happen if the other dog owner controls his or her dog (as we always do) or complies with the leash law. In either case, that owner would lose the lawsuit.

        In any event, I’m truly not here to rally the “echo chamber” or seek affirmation. I was sincere in saying in my post that I’m here in an effort to reach out to a presumed neighbor, explain my behavior, and offer some advice. I have no doubt the guy thought I was crazy, and I don’t want neighbors thinking I’m crazy.

        • Oh, and let me add that of course we’ve tried training them — many times. Just haven’t been successful. Obviously they went through some serious trauma in the streets of Southern Miss.

          • Don’t feel bad – sounds like you are doing well with diligent training, but sometimes you just have to accept the way a dog is and adapt (which is harder with other clueless dog owners causing trouble) I had my last dog for 15 years – trained her well to handle all her issues, but knew I could never trust her in certain circumstances.

        • Untrue. My leashed dog was attacked by a leashed dog earlier this week. The owner wasn’t paying attention, we were minding our own business (several feet away) and her dog lunched at mine, getting a good bite in before she was able to pull him away. I agree, if your dog is that unpredictable and aggressive it’s your responsibility to control it.

  • I admonished a woman the other day after her unleashed dog ran up to my (friendly but skittish) leashed dogs. Her response was at first “He’s not dangerous” but when I replied that it didn’t matter, not having the dog on a leash as against the law, dangerous to my dogs, and dangerous to her dogs, she got hostile. She said that if her dog ran in front of a car that it would “learn its lesson”, as though that is a legitimate teaching tool. When I objected to that, she threatened to kick my a**. Sadly I didn’t have my phone and there were no police officers nearby because I would have been happy to report her. I guess my point is, leashing your dog will avoid ugliness like this.

    • Cops would have ignored your call like 90% of the calls that don’t involve an immenent danger. That’s why you can really do whatever you want in DC and get away with it.

  • Training of any kind should always be conducted in a controlled environment!

    DC streets are far from that!

  • anonymouse_dianne

    To the OP and others.
    Check out these links including dog/dog agression

  • Anyone who would walk their dog off the leash on a busy public street downtown is a threat to the animal’s safety and should have the animal taken away.

  • OMG – it drives me crazy! My dog is aggressive with other dogs too (not people) which is why he is always leashed. I use to panic when I came upon another dog unleashed with his/her owner. They always say the same thing “don’t worry, he’s not aggressive”. Now I just let the unleashed dog come into our space and let the chips fall where they may. The unleashed dog owner is shocked by how aggressive my dog is and scrambles to leash his dog without getting bit himself leaving the owner with an unforgettable experience and more likely to leash his dog in the future.

  • If an off-leash dog ran at my totally non-aggressive and speedy pup, she’d immediately take of, and probably into traffic.
    Train your dog in a fenced in area, jerkface.

  • I agree with everyone who’s said the dog should be leashed and the OP is totally correct. I don’t see this being a difficult question. Furthermore, I do not see any reason why someone would try to train their dog to walk off-leash in the city.

    People seem to forget that dogs are animals and most dogs have some dog aggression to one degree or another. I’ve had the exact exchange as the OP with people who let their dogs approach mine off-lead. “It’s friendly,” they say. Well mine isn’t, at least not predictably so. I think the dog park / doggy day care trend has lulled people into the mindset that if you put a bunch of unsupervised dogs in a confined space they should get along, and any dog that doesn’t is a problem. Not true. People need to control their dogs at all times and not assume that other dogs are friendly.

    I will note that I haven’t seen many people walking dogs offleash in the city. But many, many people use retractable leashes, which are little better than no leash at all.

  • Just out of curiosity what is the fine for walking dogs off leash?

  • I think it’s funny he called the guy a “gentleman” : )

  • And the law applies to dogs being walked on the trails in Rock Creek park too.

  • The arguments for leashes in the city make a lot of sense. I understand why it is illegal and why people worry about their own leashed aggressive dogs almost more than the off-leash dog many times. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t disappoint me though because for those that have well trained dogs, it is nice for the dogs to enjoy some off-lease time out of the house. Dog parks are few and far between up in my hood, so I guess I have to move back to country to enjoy these simple pleasures (me and my dog both enjoy being off-leash! LOL).

    • What are you talking about? Off-leash “freedom” in the city just means they’re sniffing the median strip a few yards ahead of you – not gamboling through the countryside.

      There are a dozen suitable – ok not technically legal – but suitable places – to let your dogs run off-leash. You just have to make the effort to take them there.

      Or at least turn off your phone and pay attention to your dog while you walk around the block! Don’t drag them along – let them sniff! I see this 10 times a day and it sucks.

      • That’s one of the factors one has to account for when having dogs in the city. There are a ton of places to run your dog off-leash around DC and the surrounding area, I think one of the reason I can tolerate DC over other cities is the amount of greenspace and wooded areas nearby (and I’m not talking Rock Creek Park only). I have a young hound and a lab/boxer mix who both need a daily run outside (they don’t do doggie day care, and neither do I) or else my furniture suffers. It’s a time suck sometimes, but it’s worth it!

  • I am in agreement about the chicken bones. They should all be put in the trash.

  • I find fault of the person with two dogs. If you can’t train one dog to be peaceful on or off leash with other dogs, on a city street or in a “safe” place, you shouldn’t own one dog let alone have 2 dogs.

    • You’re an idiot if you really think that anybody whose dog can’t be “trained to be peaceful” shouldn’t own a dog. What are you suggesting be done with all those dogs — kill them?

      No one is under any obligation, legal or otherwise, to “train” their dogs; all they’re obliged to do is control their dogs. That’s what the two dog owner did here, and what the so-called “gentleman” did not.

  • I megaloathe people with off-leashed dogs. Frankly, sometimes it’s not just dogs that have issues with dogs; I love them but my best friend is deathly afraid of strange dogs(she was badly bit as a child). Doesn’t matter if the dog is small, friendly, and cute, for her, unleashed dogs are a source of extreme anxiety.

    Plus, I’ve had nice picnics in Meridian Hill Park ruined by them trying to get into my food and run all over my blanket. Destroy my picnic and you are on my shitlist forever.

  • While playing Scrabble on a blanket in Montrose park – I made “tarragon” – all my 7 letters, plus some double letters and triple word spaces – the play of all time – a kazillion points. Then a loose dog ran through and scattered the whole board!

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