Lead or No Lead?
It seems in HK that certain dog owners (especially owners of small breed dogs) seem to think they have a right to always have their dogs running around off leash, which often causes a nuisance for other dog owners, whose dogs are leashed.
I was recently walking 5 rescue dogs on leads on the road where I live. All of the dogs are very friendly and well socialised; 1 is a 4 month old puppy, 1 is blind, 1 is old (and a big girl’s blouse) but 2 of my boys are rather territorial on a certain section of the road close to my home and the woods, where they were born. This territorial behaviour and a hard wired prey instinct, are their issues and something I manage by always keeping them on leads in this area (trying to keep them calm and far enough away from unfamiliar dogs, dogs they don’t like, joggers and cyclists).
As we were all walking along calmly, the dogs suddenly turned and their heckles started to rise, A small breed, terrier cross dog was running fast towards us (from behind) with his teeth bared, his heckles up and he was growling at my dogs. I called to the dog’s owner (who was some way behind) to please call his dog back and put him on a lead. The owner ignored me and allowed his dog to keep coming at my dogs. I was holding my dogs back on shortened leashes at the side of the road when the owner and his dog came up close to us and the owner shouted at me to control my dogs. I tried my best to stay calm and told the man that if my dogs were not under control, his dog would probably not be with us. He shouted at me that my dogs were aggressive and obviously not well socialised (most of my friends laugh when I tell them this, as my dogs are extremely well socialised). I didn’t want to get into an argument with him, so I let him march off with his dog muttering away.
As the man was approaching a dead end, he turned the corner and then came back towards us a few minutes later with his dog on a lead (at least something had sunk in). I tried to smooth things over with him and apologised to him that my dogs had been barking and tried to explain to him that it was natural, territorial behaviour and that it was not safe to let his small dog off lead close to unfamiliar dogs and in Sai Kung villages, especially close to my village (as there are a number of local village dogs off leash that occasionally attack other dogs, cyclists, joggers, hikers etc. who encroach on - what they see as - “their turf”). The owner was indignant and refused to stop and talk to me; he marched off, shouting to me that his dog was small breed and allowed to be off lead. Sadly this kind of irresponsible and self righteous attitude is commonplace in HK and can easily result in people getting nipped or bitten and can result in serious injuries or death for some dogs.
HK Law states that no dog owner is allowed to let their dog (of any size) off leash anywhere unless it is under control and not causing a nuisance to anyone. Dogs over 20 kg without AFCD exemption certificates, can only be let off leash (under the same terms above) in country park areas. Dogs with exemption certificates can be let off lead anywhere, so long as they are under control and not causing a nuisance. Exemption certificate exams take place twice per year and involve a number of obedience and temperament tests; dog owners must book their dogs in advance and can re-sit the exam at a later date (if the dog fails). For more details please check out: http://www.pets.gov.hk/en_dog_1_5_2.php#btop.
At the end of the day, dogs are not humans and will instinctively and quickly react in a natural, hard wired way when faced with a potential threat in their territory. This particular small dog had ran at my dogs in a challenging, hostile way, off lead on their turf. This is bad doggy etiquette in the dog world and dogs will correct it in an instant (given half a chance). The fact that the other dog was small breed and running fast, would probably have sparked my dogs’ hard wired prey instincts too. My dogs were just doing their job by barking to protect their pack. I was doing my job by holding them back, calming them down and keeping them and the other dog safe.
The same etiquette applies to joggers and cyclists that run or ride close to dogs. Dogs do not understand the concept of just going for a run or a bike ride, so when they see someone or something coming at them fast they will react in a protective way, which will normally result in the jogger or cyclist getting chased or lunged at and given a warning nip (often painful with broken skin and bruising, but not to be confused with a dog bite, which will always involve stitches). If you are out for a run or bike ride and you see a dog or pack of dogs (with or without their owner), then please stop, project a calm (but assertive) energy, avoid direct eye contact, give them a wide berth and walk calmly past them or in the opposite direction.
People should never run or ride at/ or close to dogs. People should never approach unfamiliar dogs or try and touch a dog that is sleeping or avoiding eye contact with them. People should know that Lassie does not exist. Although mankind has domesticated dogs to live alongside us, at the end of the day, dogs are predatory animals and, like people, have individual personalities and most have issues of one sort of another. These issues come from their natural instincts competing with trying to fit into a “human world” and (if not health related) can be managed by a good pack leader. Understanding and respect for human and canine etiquette alike, can result in us all living in harmony with our 4 legged friends.
Hazel Black a qualified dog behaviourist who teaches dog owners how to become effective pack leaders in a non-confrontational, reward based way using methods that work with the basic nature of the dog. She has successfully rescued/ rehabilitated/ homed well over 200 dogs in HK in the past 7 years and is the founder and Chairman of HK Rescue Puppies (www.hkrescuepuppies.com). Facebook – HK Rescue Puppies.