Besides in bark parks, our dogs in the US must be leashed at all times and kept out of most public places. When I moved back to the US about 10 years ago, after spending most of my life in Europe, the laws regulating dogs struck me as very restrictive. Most people I’ve talk to about this subject have voiced concerns that, in the absence of such regulation, dogs will create problems to the general public, get into fights with one another and quickly become a nuisance.
On the other side of the Atlantic however, in many European countries such as France, dogs walk off leash in parks, are free to play with one another and can be brought into stores and restaurants. There is a general more casual attitude about dogs in public places. In fact, there are no bark parks as there is no perceived need for separate, fenced in play areas for the dogs.
There are few areas in the country, or even in the world, with more tourists than the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysees in Paris. Yet, on this spring afternoon, many owners were walking their dogs off leash, allowing them to play, run and sniff around, even in the presence of a group of armed policemen. Laws in France require dogs to be under close surveillance of their owner and less than 100m away (328 ft), but allow them to be off leash.
These European dogs must be better socialized and trained than American dogs, you might think. Not so! In fact, as I was walking the streets of Paris, a few days from my conference (http://www.congresmfec.com), I couldn’t help but notice the dogs as they were running freely, yet ignoring most of their owner’s calls. Statistics on abandonments and euthanasia are very similar on both continents revealing that there too, many owners struggle with understanding and coping with the responsibilities of owning a dog or with their behavior issues. Many don’t consult with trainers and just teach basic manners to their dogs the best they can. But for those who choose to let their dog off leash, being able to get them back one way or the other is still necessary or they’ll end up at the pound.
So why don’t European dogs create more problems? For the most part, it just comes down to common sense. No owner likes drawing attention with a dog that may cause problems. When the dogs aren’t social enough to be trusted around others, or may have barking or aggression issues, their owners simply don’t let them off leash. How embarrassing would it be for anyone to be sitting at a restaurant, with a dog that could lunge and bark at any given time? So naturally, the reactive dogs are kept on leash and in less popular areas of the cities. If the dog creates problems or accidents, the owner will be held responsible, be fined and required to pay for the damages.
Different countries have chose different ways to handle the dog population in the cities, but it sure is nice to watch young children and their dogs play freely in the park under the casual watch of their parents…
Jennifer Cattet, Ph.D.