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Yes, dogs love to run free in the wild. But that doesn’t mean they should.

“I like to let my dog roam off-leash. He usu­ally be­haves, but some­times he chases deer. Is this the nat­u­ral or­der of things, or am I a bad dog par­ent?” –Free-Range in Fayet­teville

Dear Free-Range, Few things in this world bring more joy than a happy dog, and if that's your main pri­or­ity, head to the dog park. But if you want to share the won­ders of the wilder­ness with your pooch, bet­ter rein him in. Some dog own­ers will ar­gue that ca­nines are built to chase, and her­bi­vores could cer­tainly use a lit­tle more ex­er­cise in places that lack nat­u­ral preda­tors. Plus, some pups can go off-leash safely (where it's per­mit­ted), and if you know you can call off the hunt with a whis­tle, your dog might be one of them. But if your best bud goes se­lec­tively deaf when he catches a good sniff, he might be at risk for a crime of pas­sion—dogs do catch their quarry on oc­ca­sion.

Even if your pup's of sus­pect ath­letic abil­ity, a lais­sez-faire strat­egy can lead to the spread of par­vovirus and dis­tem­per to foxes, coy­otes, and bears (and dogs can pick up strains of plague). Plus, the pres­ence of ca­nines has been shown to stress some species so much that their pop­u­la­tion de­clines. One ex­am­ple: bighorn sheep in Ari­zona's Catalina Moun­tains.

There are also re­ports of dogs wan­der­ing home with new “friends” in tow, in­clud­ing bears and moun­tain lions. So it’s not just the wildlife that’s at risk. It’s you.


Let your dog lose his head once or twice? Treat your­self to some team bond­ing in obe­di­ence class. More than once or twice? Vol­un­teer for a day at your lo­cal wildlife re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter.

Got a con­fes­sion? Email us at con­fes­sions@ back­packer.com.

For more info about re­duc­ing your im­pact, visit LNT.org.

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