To leash or not to leash

I've often had people state that they would like to be able to have their dog totally off-leash when hiking. From my own past experiences, a dangerous situation can occur before it can even be prevented.

While hiking in the northern Chequamegon Forest, we were blessed by the presence of a timber wolf, within 200'. He/she did not look up, but was very aware of our presence, as we were of his/hers. Had my dog been off-leash, he could have easily become victim, while the wolf is highly unlikely to approach a human. In another circumstance, we were verbally warned by a bear to keep out of his/her bubble. While we didn't actually see the bear, the verbal warning, tracks, and scat were convincing enough.

My dog's greatest nemesis is deer. When he sees one while we are hiking, he starts the drama, which sounds much like a coyote. This past spring his drama vocals actually drew a coyote quite close. The coyote continued to follow us, attempting to call Wicklow in. Had he been off-leash, he might have been drawn into the pack's plot.

I know how rewarding it can be to see your dog running free, sniffing, and enjoying nature.

You see, I do believe that there are places where dogs can be totally off-leash, and those places should be highly predictable. When you are extremely familiar with an area, the terrain, your surroundings, any potential wildlife, distractions, and possibly other humans, you can know what to expect and can leash up if necessary. A leash is not always restrictive, as I often see it as a form of protection for my dog, as well as providing assistance for myself (especially on steep inclines and declines).

I do not expect my dog to be 100% reliable when off-leash in an environment that I am not completely familiar with. There are so many elements in nature that are out of my control, whether it be wildlife that could hurt him, or wildlife that he could hurt (rabbits should learn not to run). There are places where there are old rusty hidden barbwire fences, which can be detrimental to both people and dogs. If you've ever had to remove a trap from your dog's foot, you would wish you had been more aware of the surroundings.

I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. A happy dog is a healthy dog.

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