If you are like me you probably prefer to take your dog on a hike through the woods rather than going to the gym. This use of forests is incredibly important to not only keeping protected forests around but also maintaining them for years to come. The issue some people face with taking their dogs for a walk through the woods is the want for your dog to be free to roam. Often we think that it’s no big deal to let our dogs off leash when they are in the woods, after all, what damage can one dog really do? The issue does not come from one dog but rather from the multiple people who also think that their one dog can’t do that much damage to nature. In this blog post, I will describe three main reasons to keep your dog on a leash when they are in a forest.
- For your dog’s safety
This reason is rather self-explanatory, as an owner you will always want to do what is best and safest for your dog, in the woods, there are too many uncontrollable variables to let them run around without guidance, even if they have good recall. One of the biggest issues we in Ohio face with dog safety is our population of white-tailed deer. These deer are incredibly overpopulated in the state which is why they can be legally hunted, being overpopulated also means that almost any hike you take will result in you seeing at least a few. These deer can carry ticks that spread Lyme disease and can get aggressive with dogs if they feel threatened. They can also be incredibly hard to see so your dog could startle them and get hurt even if you have your eye on it. Besides deer, there are many other safety reasons to keep your dog on a leash, since it can remove hundreds of variables from your walk.
2. For the happiness and safety of the animals that live in the wild.
In a study that was done by the National Parks Service in 2008 researchers found that animals that lived on or near hiking trails where dogs were allowed animals would not be within 100m of the trail areas even though in areas where no dogs were allowed they would come within 50m. We must remember that in nature we are guests and cutting off around 50m of space for an animal to roam is not fair to it at all. Another reason wild animals are bothered by dogs is that they mark everywhere. When a dog marks he or she is claiming an area as his, if a wild animal such as a fox, bobcat, or wolf smells it they will be less likely to go within that area and that causes territory issues within the species. Dogs are also predators meaning when they chase those squirrels they are not chasing for fun they are chasing to kill, this leads to the deaths of animals who otherwise would have been fine in that area. Similarly, this leads to wildlife using all their energy running away from dogs that could be used to run away from actual predators.
3. To protect the forest itself.
Forests are living things just as much as you or me. The trees and plants depend on a variety of factors to grow and survive, off-leash dogs can hinder these things. When a dog is left off leash they are very often going to run off trail and trample saplings. These saplings are important to the growth of the forest. If these trees never have a chance to grow the forest will slowly die off since the current large trees will die and there will be no other trees to replace them. Another issue that concerns forest health is water purification. When a dog is off leash and far away it is hard to pick up its droppings. Even though many animals do use the restroom in the woods when large amounts of dogs do it can cause water purity issues which lead to poor forest and wildlife health.
I am just as guilty as any other party when it comes to letting my dog off leash in the woods as you can see in the picture, but having learned the harmful impacts that letting a dog off leash can do to the environment I now plan to keep her on a leash always. The most important thing for forest and wildlife health is to keep educating. If hundreds of people keep up the mentality of “it’s only my dog” than we will never see a change in the world or in peoples minds.