Is it natural for dogs to roam free in Truckee? |

Is it natural for dogs to roam free in Truckee?

Jeanie Collins-Duffield, Guest Columnist

Many arguments for allowing dogs to roam free include, “My dog is a part of nature, I want a ‘natural dog’.”

“This is the mountains; dogs should have the freedom just as we do.” “Everyone around here lets their dog(s) run free.”

A truly ‘natural dog’ would need to run in a pack as it takes several canids for survival. It takes more than one to be effective in their hunting ability and to defend their territory from intruders. A pack of dogs has a leader who is not generally challenged by members of its own pack, but may come across trouble from an intruding member of another pack. And a pack of dogs are capable of getting into much more ‘trouble’ than a singular dog.

To take the truly ‘natural dog’ a step further, this dog would not eat kibble; it would forage and scavenge for food as well as hunt. In a humans’ neighborhood, this would mean going through trash cans and compost piles (they love rotten food), chasing small animals (squirrels, cats, small dogs),and foraging through gardens (dogs are omnivorous, meaning they eat plant matter as well as meat).

It would also mark its territory through urination, defecation, and scratching of the earth (they don’t care if this takes place on a lawn or in flower beds either). It also would find places to sleep outdoors, and would not have a relationship with humans. So, in essence, a truly natural dog would be feral (wild), which can be a nuisance as well as a serious threat to a human community.

Freedom is what this country was built on. I am incredibly grateful every day that I live in a country where I am able to experience as much freedom as I do. Unfortunately, the laws needed to enforce rules take more and more of our freedoms away. It concerns me that we as a community need more control or more strict laws to govern ourselves, specifically in this case, our dogs.

Many people do not seem to realize that by not following guidelines set up to keep things more in order or control (instead of having packs of dogs running wild) are going to create more legislation for responsible people who have trained their dogs and keep them under control.

Keeping dogs under control means the dog does not leave our yard without us and when it does, it is either on a leash or, in a safe place (i.e. the woods, meadows, etc. – not the street) and is under voice control. Dogs do not obey the surveyor’s markers of your yard as their territory. In fact, the more freedom a dog has, the larger its territory becomes, especially if this is an intact male dog.

An intruder of territory will be challenged and, depending on how many dogs are present to defend this territory, this intruder may be run off, attacked, or possibly killed. This is the nature of the beast. Also, for those of you who care, the more freedom your dog has (without your constant supervision), the less control you will have over him or her.

Think of it this way – dogs love being with their buddies, scavenging, foraging, playing, chasing, hunting, etc. What could possibly be more rewarding to them than this? So if you expect your dog to come to you when you call him, why should he?

Personally, I care about dogs too much to even consider ever leaving them unattended and unconfined outdoors. First of all, dogs are not unlike a 2 year old human child; they will NEVER develop mentally more than that. As we are well aware, two year old children must NEVER be left unattended – for their SAFETY. Left to their own devices, most dogs will get into things I would rather they wouldn’t, such as the neighbors’ gardens, trash and compost piles, altercations with other dogs and other animals, chasing bikes, skateboards, cars, and/or people (including kids).

I consider myself to be a caretaker for my dogs which includes keeping them safe, keeping them healthy, providing them with a proper, nutritious diet, and providing physical as well as mental stimulation. I enjoy teaching them a variety of behaviors so they understand what I am communicating to them. I also know that the better trained my dog is, the more freedom he has because I know I can control him off leash (in safe areas).

Barriers create frustration for dogs, whether the barrier is invisible (as in the radio type fencing) or visible, such as a chain link or wooden fence. I understand that some neighborhoods in this area do not allow visible fencing. This does not include invisible type fencing and in some cases, fenced off decks or enclosed kennel runs. The unfortunate thing about radio fencing is that the dog is still vulnerable to other dogs, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, etc. (oh my!!) Chain link fencing is effective in containing the dog, but does nothing to curb its visual stimulation, which can cause excessive barking, fence running and fighting, and increase its desire to escape its yard. Although not always esthetically beautiful, a tall wooden fence has been my recommended choice for keeping dogs safely enclosed as well as generally more quiet.

Another way some people contain their dog is by tying them up either on an overhead run or to a stationary object. As my clients and students all know, this can be horrible for a dog. Not only is he vulnerable to other predators, but his frustration level can escalate to aggression as he is stimulated by activities going on around him without the ability to complete his interaction.

I think a great number of people do not take the time to teach their dog how to be okay by itself and/or house manners and are therefore unwilling to allow an unruly dog to be left alone in the house. If a dog was taught to be quiet and well behaved indoors, and was taken out on a regular basis for controlled exercise, he would be a much more socially acceptable dog. Instead, many people get a dog without enough knowledge of how to appropriately train and care for it or lack the willingness to seek professional assistance, and end up with a dog that would destroy the house when left alone. My guess is these are the dogs we encounter on our daily walks in our neighborhoods.

Do we have a problem here? I would say yes, we do. When so many of my clients ask me how to defend themselves and/or their pet from being harassed by loose dogs while out walking, or when they say their children cannot walk the family pet down their street, or ride their bike or rollerblade for fear of the loose dogs coming at them, I definitely think we have a problem. As a relatively new caretaker of a small dog, I can also appreciate the fear and vulnerability people have in attempting to walk their little dogs in their neighborhood.

In an ideal world, people would care enough about their canine companions to take the responsibility of sharing their lives with them seriously. They would provide a safe place for the dog to live indoors and a space outdoors free from intruders where they could get fresh air and eliminate. Their dog would be fed a healthy, nutritious diet, and would be exercised regularly. They would be taught to be okay by themselves so they could be left at home without being stressed out. They would also be taught, using gentle, humane techniques, a few of our words and gestures in order to increase our ability to communicate with our canine companion.

Also, in this ideal world, dogs would not get hit by cars as often, being maimed, injured, and/or killed by other predators, and they would not threaten us or our children as we attempted to drive, ride, walk, skate, etc. down our streets. AND a well-behaved, well-managed dog would be welcomed in a whole lot more environments than they are today.

So please, those of you who live with dogs, THINK about the consequences of allowing your dog to run amuck. You are not only wreaking havoc for your neighborhood, but you really are jeopardizing more of your freedom than you realize. AND, your dog’s well-being is constantly on the line as he is dodging cars (did you know if your dog causes an accident YOU are responsible??! !), and/or defending himself from other predators (humans included! !). His health could also be compromised, depending on what garbage he’s discovered, or what animal he may be threatening (porcupine, skunk, raccoon, etc.) By being (or becoming) a responsible caretaker for your dog, your relationship with your dog as well as your neighborhood will be greatly enhanced.

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