A well-trained dog is a beautiful sight in the great outdoors. Watching a canine fetch, return and obediently walk leash-free alongside their owners is a vision of loyalty and dedication. Sadly, most of us have dogs who cannot be trusted to do the same. When on-leash dogs in RV parks meet off-leash ones in the confines of campgrounds, trouble inevitably follows. If you’re one of the lucky ones with an obedient off-leash dog, we hope you’ll consider these three reasons to leash up the next time you go RVing.
Off-leash Dogs in RV Parks are a Liability
The dictionary defines a leash law as “an ordinance requiring dogs to be restrained when not confined to their owner’s property.” The only exceptions to leash laws are certified service, working and hunting dogs.
Step out of your RV with an off-leash canine and you’ll walk right into a lawsuit if your dog bites a human or pet. Leash laws vary from place to place but according to the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law, even in municipalities without strict leash laws a pet parent “may be found negligent in a civil suit where the dog being off-leash caused harm to another.”
Could your pretty pooch cause one of the 4.5 million dog bites in America each year? Why risk finding out?
Off-leash Dogs Make Others Feel Threatened
Off-leash dogs in RV parks pose a serious threat to people and other dogs in public spaces, especially in campgrounds. Without the well-defined confines of a fenced yard, it’s easy for all dogs to get confused about boundary lines their instincts want them to protect. Some dogs may feel that the entire campground needs monitoring. In the eyes of a leashed canine, off-leash dogs appear to be moving threats that must be controlled. But since leashed dogs cannot control the situation, the result is “Fear Aggression” and results in barking, lunging and inevitable clashes.
“Fearful dogs may try to avoid the stimulus but become aggressive if they cannot escape (eg, leashed, confined, cornered, or physically grasped), are motivated to maintain their place (eg, on property, between the owner and stimulus, near food or toy), or if they learn that aggression is successful at removing the threat.” (Merck Veterinary Manual)
Off-leash Dogs are Not Fail-Safe
You’ve spent countless hours training your dog to obediently follow off-leash everywhere you go. Bravo! It’s too bad more pet parents aren’t like you.
As much as you want to believe your dog is always under voice control, the reality is that trained or not, all dogs have the heart and soul of an animal. Off-leash dogs in RV parks are set up for failure because they’re placed in front of fun temptations like squirrels, wild rabbits and little two-legged creatures. Whether Weimeriner or wiener dog, canines are opportunist, prey-driven creatures with selective hearing who will attack wildlife if circumstances are just right. Aside from stepping into the legal liability of a dog bite incident, off-leash dogs in RV parks are also at risk of contracting a wildlife disease like rabies or parasites.
You’ve gone through all the trouble of loading up your RV for a great vacation. Once you get there, allowing your dog to be off-leash even within the confines of your campsite leaves the door wide open for conflict with humans, dogs or an accident with a moving vehicle.
Sure, you have plenty of reason to be proud of your well-behaved dog, but for the sake of everyone’s safety and enjoyment, please leash up (preferably with a non-retractable lead) whenever you go RVing.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Lisa Pietsch says
Thank you so much for bringing attention to this issue. Our dog is an amputee and seems to constantly get bullied by off-leash dogs at parks. The worst offenders seem to be those staying at National Parks.
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
Thanks Lisa, I’m glad you liked it. I’ve had too many icky incidents with off-leash dogs in parks and campgrounds, I really wanted to write this one for a long time. But check this out, your comment is the craziest coincidence, because I have an amputee dog too! My other had is co-founder of Tripawds.com, a support community for animal amputees and their humans. Hop on over and say hi when you get a chance, we’d love to hear your pup’s story.
Lisa Pietsch says
What serendipity. Will do!
Wayne quick says
The cheaper the venue, the rougher the crowd it attracts.
Sorry about your dog.
I just wanted to say “thank you” too! I have 2 pekingese (on leashes) that have been attacked numerous times by 2 different neighbors’ “friendly” unleashed dogs. A few times it was downright scary! Now, unfortunately, they both get scared when any unleashed dogs come running up. One,the girl, tries to run, the other,boy, tries to growl. Which is so unlike him because he’s a sweetheart. But if the other dog’s on a leash, no problems at all, they’ll all play.
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
You’re so welcome Pam. You’re right, if all dogs are on leash, everyone is happy. Dogs love order.
Harrison Clark says
Our recent experience with an off-leash dog ….. he came running into our camp and right up to the door of our RV which had two cans on the other side of the screen surveying the new campsite. The cat’s freaked and among other things sent a $500 laptop across the floor destroying it.
Also, our cat’s love to go for walks on a leash, but we rarely can do that for fear of an off-leash dog attacking them. One of them does not need a leash and will walk with me for miles in the forest but I do this only when I’m sure no dogs are around (or coyotes) and keep him close.
Harrison Clark says
“cans” => “cats”
Dave Planitzer says
Trouble with unleashed dogs is that the owner may not see where they leave their mess.
Jon Sayre says
I have never been to an RV park that allowes for a dog to be off leash other than in an enclosed off-leash pet area with only one owner’s pets allowed at a time. I have never seen a dog loose when outside of their RV. Guess I am a lucky RVer with a dog.
Most dogs are more aggressive when on a leash! I think the biggest problem are the dog owners who do not understand doggie behaviour.
Tao Jones says
I’m a full-timer (13 years +) with three rescue Cocker Spaniels, mostly travelling throughout the West. In my experience, off-leash problems are increasing. There are more people living in (usually older) RVs that are doing so for economic reasons, not because they enjoy the mobile lifestyle. These people invariably have the biggest, most aggressive dogs and are the least responsible about keeping them on leashes or cleaning up after them when they ARE on leashes.
When I travelled extensively throughout the Northeast years ago, I was amazed how much more diligent the RV parks there were about prohibiting certain breeds (pit bulls, German shepherds, dobermans, mastiffs and others). There were even many parks that required a health certificate proving current rabies compliance before allowing any dog owner to stay there. This was only rarely the case down South and I’ve never experienced it in the West. Even those parks in the West that do restrict certain breeds in their written rules never seem to enforce those rules.
Again, this is probably an economic decision . . . empty spaces generate no income.
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
Tao, there are some pretty huge generalizations going on in your comment. For starters, not all people who drive older RVs do it because they’re down-and-out. And perhaps you’re seeing a lack of breed bans in the West because the facts are well understood by residents: breed bans not only discriminate but they do little if anything to prevent or stop dog bites and attacks. In my experience, not all dogs who fall into the “aggressive” breeds that you list are killer attack dogs. In fact, the only dog breed I’ve ever been bitten by was a Chihuahua — on two different occasions. The most aggressive dogs in RV parks are typically small dogs under 20 pounds. The difference is that their owners think their lunging, barking and snarling is “cute” and the dog gets away with the aggression. My German Shepherd would get us kicked out of parks if he ever behaved the way I’ve seen some Poms, Chihuahas and Terriers act. I encourage you to think twice before making such sweeping judgments about RVers and larger dogs.
Sir or Madam:
There is so much to unpack in your misunderstanding of my comment. What I stated comes directly from my experience – none of it is a generalization. I reported exactly what I’ve observed over the past almost 14 years of full-time RVing.
The slick brochures produced by the flacks for the RVIA paint a picture of leisure, romance and adventure on the open road, taking in the many wonderful things to see and do in this country. Footloose and fancy free.
But more people ARE living in RVs, not because that is their first choice but because it is their last option.
This is a little-recognized and long-ignored side of living in an RV that is as far from that slick brochure as is imaginable. The people who buy or are given worn-out, run-down and even unsafe castoff RVs are doing so out of desperation and economic necessity. They have no plans to ever hit the open road and live the carefree RV lifestyle.
In many RV parks you won’t see these rigs anywhere near the best sites. That’s where the people living the “brochure lifestyle” are set up. They only intend to stay a few days before moving on and they pay premium rates for the elite sites.
But way in the back, many parks try to hide their so-called Long-Term Tenants who are just scraping by and living in RVs that are barely fit for human habitation. It is obvious on even casual inspection that the rig has not moved in years and the present occupant has no chance of ever hitting the open road with it.
More often than not (again, in my experience) these people have dogs. Big dogs. Aggressive dogs. And neither the people nor the dogs like being approached by strangers. If you’re in one of those nice rigs parked near the pool and happen to walk your dog(s) anywhere near one of these dilapidated rigs, you will know immediately that you’re not welcome in that part of the park.
If you’re unaware of this phenomenon, then you’re probably not an active RVer. What I’ve described to you is something I’ve encountered in RV parks in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Texas, certainly, but other places as well. I’ve encountered exactly what I’ve reported above in all of those states.
I’ve had two of my 25# dogs attacked by very large and vicious dogs – once in Las Vegas by a mixed-breed that snapped the small clothesline that had kept him tied to his owner’s trailer for more than 12 hours a day. He had my dog’s entire head engulfed in his mouth. The subsequent surgery cost that dog’s owner over a thousand dollars, but at least my dog survived . . . the owner said he was going to take his dog out in the desert and shoot him.
The second attack was by an off-leash shepherd mix in Colorado on one of my dogs who was on a leash. His owner claimed the manager of the park had given him permission to walk his dog off-leash. He said he’d cover the vet bill, but instead hooked up his trailer and fled the park before he could be served a summons.
The manager of the park admitted that he had, indeed, given the man permission to walk the dog off-leash, though he acknowledged he had no authority to waive the city ordinance prohibiting that very thing. Because the responsible party had vanished, the park had to cover the veterinary expenses to avoid a lawsuit.
i didn’t say I wasn’t seeing breed bans in the West – they certainly exist. I said they’re in the park rules but aren’t being enforced. And your assertion that “…breed bans not only discriminate but they do little if anything to prevent or stop dog bites and attacks…” begs the question: Why, then, do the bans exist.
I can tell you that they exist at the insistence of the RV park owners’ insurance companies. The insurers’ actuaries have compiled gigabytes of data showing exactly which breeds cause most of the truly serious problems.
All dogs can bite, as you learned from the chihuahua. But the bite of a chihuahua is trivial compared to the horrific wounds a pit bull, for example, (or even your German shepherd) can – and do – inflict.
If you don’t believe me, you need to have a long talk with your liability insurer.
Terry Ezart says
One word – COYOTES are everywhere. they look at your playful dog as lunch and will attack whether one on one or with a pack hiding in the bushes. A good coyote is a dead one . . . I speak from experience . . .
My dog was attacked yesterday while I was walking on leash on the RV park road. A St Bernard ( known to be a dog aggressive breed) came barreling out of the open door of an RV and attacked him.
I went straight to the owners and informed them. They claimed there were no St Bernard’s at their RV park! Saw the dog again today off leash in front of the RV.
They have a leash required at all times stipulation on their brochure but I was told the full timers that been their for years ignore it. Reading this post, the owners are opening themselves up to potential lawsuits.
Diana Christiana says
I am in an RV park in Michigan. My dog is required to be on a leash and is, as my neighbor’s dog runs free. I have spoke with the owner of the RV park as well as the owner of the dog and nothing is done to them.
Their dog is left unattended 8-12 hours a day and barks constantly. Again, nothing is done.
What can I do?