A community newspaper serving western Albemarle County

To the Editor: Dog Walking Etiquette

Dog Walking Etiquette

Twice this week I have been to Mint Springs Valley Park to walk the trails with my two dogs, and twice I have encountered dogs off-leash. Not only is this a threat to personal and public safety, and an encroachment on my right to enjoy the park, but it’s also a Class IV misdemeanor.

Since I’ve lived in Greenwood for the past couple of years, my family has gotten a lot of enjoyment out of the trails at Mint Springs. I am happy we have such a wonderful resource in this area of the county to share with each other. What I don’t like, however, is the anxiety I get when I encounter off-leash dogs (sometimes with no owner in sight) on the trails. As my two dogs have gotten older, they’ve become weary of off-leash dogs approaching them directly and getting in their faces. Depending on the personality of the dogs we encounter, sometimes growling will ensue. Luckily for us, nothing worse than that has happened— yet.

Dog trainers agree that on-leash greetings are a no-no. Leashed greetings prevent the natural greeting habits of dogs, reinforce the negative behavior of pulling on the leash, and can cause dogs to feel trapped in a situation they may not want to be in.

Occasionally when I run into this situation on the trails, my fellow dog walker will offer up an excuse. Twice, recently, it’s been from different women who complained that it’s just too difficult to control their dog(s) on the leash. Well, they make all different types of harnesses and leads, like the figure eight for example, that make it easy for small women to walk big dogs. I know, because I’m a small woman with two big dogs.

To anyone who might say, “well, you should have socialized your dog more to begin with and you wouldn’t be having this problem,” let me say I used to be you! Yes, before I had the experience I have and the education it led me to receive. Part of that education is the Yellow Dog Project. It’s a movement that I first discovered where I take my dog to day camp each week, at Pampered Pets in Charlottesville (yes, both of my dogs are well-socialized). The goal of the project is to create a movement where the public understands dogs wearing yellow ribbons on their leash or collar need extra space, or should not be approached. As I have come to learn, this isn’t just for aggressive dogs, but for sick dogs, blind dogs, dogs that are afraid of children, or for any other number of reasons. While I don’t think my dogs need yellow ribbons, I really value the idea of giving all dogs space because they’re strangers; you don’t know them! People need to keep this in mind. It’s not enough for a person who has off-leash dogs to say, “Oh, they’re friendly!” Yes, but what if the dogs your dogs are about to encounter aren’t?

All dogs deserve walks, regardless of whether or not they like to be approached by strangers and strange dogs. When you bring your dogs to Mint Springs and break the law by allowing them to run the trails off-leash, you are infringing on my right as a law-abiding, tax-paying resident to enjoy a safe, pleasant walk with my dogs. I hope, as the dog-lovers we are, that the people who have been choosing to do this re-think their decisions, and allow the rest of us some peace.

Leigh Kirchner

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  1. Leigh,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful letter. I too often encounter off-leash dogs at Mint Springs. The vast majority of which are playful and non-threatening. Once I did encounter two large, aggressive dogs that clearly were not well socialized.

    I’d like to add that Crozet Park has an off-leash dog park for owners who need place for their pups to run free.

    Thank You, Matt

  2. Leigh,

    Thank you for your letter. I appreciate you, as a dog owner, writing it and showing you notice this subject. I do not have any dogs but often hike with my three young sons (two of them hike, one is carried). My hiking sons are terrified of dogs because they have been charged by off-leash dogs in parks so many times. Often they are charged when the owner is not in sight, around a bend or chatting with a friend. It’s frustrating as a parent because I want my children to love animals, but when a strange dog approaches my kids with an oblivious owner — well, it’s scary! Put yourself in the place of a three-year-old, would you want a beast with a head as big as you in your face?

    Thank you,

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