A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my car at the barn talking on the phone. While I was watching, a man walked down the street with a dog off leash. The dog — a Weimaraner — took off and ran through both paddocks, a streak of silver gray as she did several laps around the horses and then took off down the trail system.
Fast forward a week later and the same thing happened. This time I was in the barn so I walked out to talk to the dog’s owner. I asked him if he could please keep his dog out of the pastures with the horses. I explained that his dog could get hurt, or even killed, if one of the horses kicked it. In fact, years ago (before I moved there) a horse did kill a dog at this barn.
I also worried that one of the horses could be hurt if the dog chased them. I was particularly concerned because the paddocks were muddy and I could easily imagine a suspensory injury caused by one of the horses taking off suddenly in the mud.
I was shocked by his answer. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I just can’t control her when she is off the leash.” Then he told me “you worry too much, nothing will happen.” I said that was fine but I would send him the bill if it did. Obviously this guy has never been on the receiving end of a vet bill for an injured horse. And somehow I doubt he would be so sanguine if his dog were to be injured by one of the horses.
I was floored by his lack of respect and his lack of concern. In the eight years that I’ve been at this barn I’ve come across other people who let their dogs run through the paddocks. Most of them simply didn’t understand the risks (either to their dogs or to our horses) and were apologetic. I’ve never run into anyone before who didn’t offer to keep their dogs on leash until they were beyond the paddock areas.
Unfortunately I live in a town with no leash law. So there is no way to make a dog owner responsible for the actions of its out-of-control canine. I learned when I was out riding a few years ago on the trails and encountered a dog walker who had about 10 dogs with them, the majority of them off leash. Several of these dogs charged me, barking aggressively at my horse. Luckily, the horse I was riding wasn’t afraid of dogs. I turned to face them and chased the dogs back to the walker (see What to do when you are chased by a dog). When I returned home I called the police department and they told me that with no leash law, there was nothing they could do since a dog hadn’t actually bit my horse. I wondered about other outcomes: what happened if a dog had caused my horse to bolt and I’d fallen off and been hurt, or if they had chased my horse out onto the road and it had been hit by a car.
I’m not anti-dog. In fact, I own two. My dogs are trained. I do let them off leash on the trails and I appreciate that we have the freedom to let them run and be dogs. But my dogs come when they are called and when they start to deviate from training standards they have a refresher course. Most of the dogs I encounter are well behaved and have responsible owners. I hate it when the few who are not ruin it for the rest of us.