Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Fences and leashes save lives

By From page A8 | August 16, 2013

For many of the same reasons you wouldn’t let your 3-year-old toddle off to daycare alone, it’s also not a good idea to let your pooch roam the streets off-leash. Cars, dognappers, Animal Control … Unless you live on a large plat in Montana, your pup will undoubtedly benefit from a leash or a fence when cavorting in the great outdoors.

“Off-leash” has become a common and questionable addition to the dog-owner’s vernacular. Off-leash parks, off-leash trails, off-leash beaches, off-leash walks… Why do I find “off-leash” so off-putting?

In short, it’s dangerous.

I once had a client express concern about a woman who frequently walked her dog in his neighborhood. This woman would drape the leash around her neck, and her dog would walk — off-leash — beside her.

The dog was a large mixed breed, and my client had a dachshund with a bad habit of barking at the big guys. The problem was that my client wasn’t convinced this woman had any control over her very powerful dog. According to him, she would frantically try to hook the leash to its collar when she saw other dogs or people approaching. Even after she got her dog “on-leash,” the big guy would pull and lurch, all but dragging her along in his dust — a canine disaster waiting to happen.

Question: Where do these potential disasters play out most often?

Answer: Wherever dogs gather … off-leash.

The best thing you can do for your pooch is be in control of his immediate environment. This means a leash or a fence when he isn’t inside.

Frankly, I don’t get the hype about off-leash. I don’t know about your dog, but mine exhibit nothing short of joy when I bring out the leash. No fear, no hostility, no evidence of any long-harbored resentment at being consistently harnessed and shackled to me during most of our outdoor excursions. “Most” because there are exceptions.

Again, those fences.

A fenced backyard is a great place for an off-leash romp. An unfenced or improperly fenced backyard, though?

Here’s a story that’ll break your heart.

“Our dog was hit by a car on Saturday, and I am overwhelmed with grief from the loss of her. I loved that dog so much.

“We recently bought a dog home and moved into it in early June. There is a hill in our backyard, and we were concerned that Lucy could jump the fence. We planned to have a new fence built, but after “testing” Lucy, we didn’t think she would jump it.

“On the 4th of July, we left the house, not even thinking about the fireworks. On the way home, we saw the fireworks and I panicked, wondering whether Lucy was scared. She was gone when we got home, but thank God someone had found her and picked her up and called us. She said she almost hit her.

“My husband stayed home from work the next day to be with her, and he boarded up the part of the fence that was the lowest. We went to the movies that night, and she was still there when we got home. We went to the beach during the day on Saturday, and she was still there when we got home. So we left again Saturday to go out.

“All night I had my cellphone out, waiting for a call that someone had picked her up. I made note of when it got dark at 8 p.m. and everything seemed fine. Then, I got a call at 10:30. Our beloved little Lucy had been hit by a car.

“Now, all I can do is cry all day and all night. It should be a joyous time because we bought our new house, but I hate that house now. All I can see is Lucy. When I look in the backyard, I bawl. She really loved her new backyard. I am so overwhelmed with guilt. I keep saying, why did we leave? Why didn’t we leave her in the house or even in her crate? I am so miserable. I feel so lost, so empty and so guilty. She was just the best dog.”

Such a sad story. Such an unnecessary loss.

I wish there were something I could say to make this woman feel better. The only thing she can do now to feel better and honor the loss of her loved one is acknowledge her mistake and share her story. That’s why I included it. She shared it with me, and I’m sharing it with you. Please take it to heart. Build the new fence or fix the old one. And keep your dog on-leash when out and about.


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate Inc. 

Matthew Margolis

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