What Are the Rules in Off-Leash Dog Areas in New Hampshire?
During a trail walk last year with my two mini-bernedoodles, I got into an altercation with a woman and her self-proclaimed "not-friendly dog."
SOS friends, I need your opinion here.
I have two puppies: Miko (about two) and Larry (one). Both are super sweet dogs and they are very well-trained; however, they ALWAYS need more training.
All dogs need constant reminders of training techniques in various environments to be prepared for anything that comes in the future.
Frequently, we go to a hidden off-leash dog area in Portsmouth. They usually run ahead of me, exploring the many acres of land, and come back when they hear a whistle or the words "touch"/"heel."
Although they are nearly perfect at commands at home, we go to this area to train and practice because there are more distractions: water, animals, and freedom.
While we were in the woods of an area that was highlighted as "off-leash," Miko and Larry saw another dog off-leash, probably 30 feet away.
As dogs do, they were quick to run over for a smell and a "howdy" to the other dog. I did the typical "mine are friendly if yours are," which I thought was the courteous thing to do.
After all, we were in an off-leash dog zone. Aren't all dogs friendly here? Guess not.
As my dogs and I were approaching, the other woman leashed her very large dog, grabbed the dog by the collar, and began screaming "mine is not friendly." And then louder, "NOT FRIENDLY."
She kicked to create space, and said "Get your #%#$^*& dogs away." This all happened in about five seconds.
I yelled "touch," and Miko, the older one, came right to my side immediately.
My nine-month-old dog, Larry, hung around the "not friendly dog" and owner for another 5-10 seconds. I yelled "touch" twice; however, I am fairly certain Larry could not hear me over the rude expletives the woman was yelling.
I whistled over the yells and he came back to me.
The ordeal was 10 seconds.
I started to do the "hey sorry, have a great day" thing, but the owner seemed to want to teach me a lesson. She yelled at me as if I had let Miko and Larry have the lay of the land, or as if they had tormented her dog first.
"You cannot bring your dogs here if they are not 100% recall trained," she said. "My dog could have killed your dogs" was an actual sentence out of her mouth.
First of all, they did recall, and they did it well for their age, considering they were being yelled/kicked at and had another dog held up in front of them like a piece of steak!
Second, every person who has trained a puppy knows the pup may be perfect with come, sit, stay in your room; however, when they go into the living room, it is a bit harder (more distractions). When they go into the yard, it's even harder (MORE distractions).
Same thing with recall training. Eventually, you need to go into the woods to do longer-distance recall training for them to master it.
I'll reiterate. Miko came back immediately with one word - "touch." The younger one took 10 seconds. I was actually proud he ignored the dog and came to me within the 10 seconds!
And again, this was in an off-leash area.
The woman was unsatisfied by my answer and felt the need to remind me that her dog could have killed mine (the other dog probably could have based on size).
That's when I firmly picked my side.
"If your dog is not friendly, he or she should not be in an off-leash area," I said. "If your dog attacked mine that would be on you and your dog. Not me and mine."
We went back and forth until I waved the white flag and we went our separate ways.
I was walking back with frustration. Was I right? Should her dog have even been there?
Was I wrong? Should Miko and Larry have responded faster? I think the answer is definitely. They could have come back immediately, but that is why we were there...to train for that exact scenario.
We were there for that exact reason: distanced recall training in an off-leash area outside. So if that was not the time or place, where the HECK do I do that kind of training?
I need opinions. Tell me I am wrong. Tell me I am right. Just help me make sense of this situation.
Disclosure: After the incident, I did some research. If I was wrong and my dogs were too young or something, I would want to find the woman and apologize. What I found were varying answers.
Some dog parks in NH require dogs to be at least four months old. For other parks, the age is six months old. Some off-leash dog parks require the dog to be spayed or neutered. Some don't mention that requirement at all, although usually good practice.
Some off-leash dog parks, including the one we were at, in fact, identifies that dogs must be under voice control and observation at all times. An ambiguous statement, right? I would say my dogs were under my voice control, as they heeled to me within 10 seconds while distracted by another dog. She would probably argue the opposite.
If you're curious about the rules and regulations of a specific off-leash dog park in New Hampshire, you can check them out here!