Discussion: Should Leash Laws Be Better Enforced?

Most cities have laws regarding dogs being on leash. So do most national parks, beaches, etc. But we all know that many dog owners do not follow these laws. Go almost anywhere, you will find a dog off leash. While they are technically breaking the law, you never hear of anyone being cited for the infraction, unless something happens – like a car accident, dog bite, fight, etc. But should they be?

Image Source: Steve Bayer via Flickr
Image Source: Steve Bayer via Flickr

Why The Leash Laws Exist

Dog leash laws were created for everyone’s safety, especially in cities and public places where the dog and/or people could be injured. Just a short list of things that can happen with a loose dog include:

  • Car accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • People getting injured by dogs knocking them over (especially children and senior citizens)
  • Dog bites
  • Dog fights
  • Dog being killed by a car, another dog, or other hazard
  • Dog getting lost
  • Dog getting injured in aforementioned accidents
  • Unintentional breedings

The list goes on and on. These laws weren’t created just be a nuisance for pet owners, but to ensure safety for everyone.

Off-leash dog areas were created to allow dogs the freedom to run around in a safe and controlled area. Ideally, this includes only being around other off-leash dogs that are friendly as well (though we all know this doesn’t always happen).

Not All Dogs Are Friendly

We know not all dogs are friendly. Those who keep their dogs on leash because they know their dog does not like to interact with other dogs and/or people find it very frustrating to not even be able to walk in their own neighborhood because of loose dogs. And whose fault is it if the leashed dog attacks the loose dog? (Well, maybe that question is best left for another article!)

A Dog’s Right

But owners of well-mannered, well-trained dogs say their dog should be able to run free. That’s certainly Carmel, California’s take on the leash law. Known as being one of THE most dog friendly cities in the United States, Carmel leash law for residential areas says that as long as a dog’s owner is present and the dog is “under ‘voice command’” the dog may be off-leash. Voice command is defined as the following by the city:

  1. The person having charge over the dog has a leash in their possession so he or she can quickly put the dog on a leash.
  2. The dog is not more than 25 feet from the person at any time.
  3. The dog will return to within three feet of the person upon command.
  4. The dog will remain within three feet of the person when other people or animals are present.

On public beaches and park lands, the law states the owner just needs to be present and “in control of the dog.”


Many people feel this is the way it should be. If your dog is well-mannered, it should be allowed off-leash and those with dogs that are not able to handle it have no place “out in public.” Basically, if your loose dog behaves himself, then you shouldn’t be cited – he didn’t do anything wrong.

And, as mentioned earlier, even designated off-leash areas can have dogs there that shouldn’t be because their owners either haven’t noticed their dog is inappropriate or they don’t care. This renders part of the safety argument moot, especially in parks and beaches where the risk of car accidents are drastically minimized.

Other Leash Laws

But even Carmel’s laws for residential areas have a pretty high standard when it comes to how well-behaved your dog has to be in order to be allowed off-leash. How many can honestly say they have that much control over their dog, especially in a public space? And, if your dog is behaving, but won’t stay within three feet of you when others are around, should you still be cited? You’re breaking the law, but your dog hasn’t caused harm.

The following comical sign is from the city of New Orleans, which enforces it’s leash law, but as you can see the fine is minimal.

Image Source: Dan via Flickr
Image Source: Dan via Flickr

Then there are other cities, parks, beaches, etc., where the leash law is explicit – dogs must be on a leash that is no more than 6 feet in length. This, of course, brings up the big retractable-lead debate. Many people feel dogs on retractable leashes pose the same problems listed above as off-leash dogs. In addition, they are a danger to people, bikes, skateboards, etc., who can get tangled in the extended line.

Image Source: Missie via Flickr
Image Source: Missie via Flickr

Should people using retractable-leads be cited as well?

Again, owners using them say their dog is under control and doing no harm. But technically they are breaking the law as well.


There is nothing more frustrating than owning a reactive dog and trying to take it for a walk – even a short one to do his business – when you know the neighbor’s dog is always loose. And if you are trying to work on training him, where do you go to do that safely without putting others, who are breaking the law, at risk?

Is the Law Even The Issue Here?

As usual, the other problem here is that some dogs that are off-leash or on retractable-leads should not be. These dogs often cause problems and are not always cited. We’ve all had the barking dog come rushing up to us while we frantically try to shield our dog and/or ourselves if there is no escape route available. Should you be able to call these occurrences in to the police and do they really have the resources to follow up every time this happens? Probably not.

If this is the case, then why even have a leash law? If aggressive, pushy, or otherwise ill-behaved dogs can be found off- or on-leash already, then maybe the laws is not really the issue here. Maybe, it’s more to do with people taking better responsibility over their dogs. Being more aware of their dog’s personality and whether he should be on or off leash, or even out in public. Maybe it means more training classes to make sure our dogs are well-behaved.

Opinion Time!

We want to know what you think! Take our poll and add your point of view to the comments!

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