How to deal with new neighbor who refuses to leash his dog?
February 17, 2018 10:14 PM   Subscribe

My dog got into a scuffle with a former neighbor's dog 3 years ago and I've kept my dog away from other dogs since that time. New neighbor moved in 2 weeks ago, has been letting his dog run around off leash, and has made it pretty clear he has no intention to leash his dog. What do I do?

She didn't break the other dog's skin during the fight, but she went for the neck and it was really sudden so we've been super cautious with her around other dogs since then (she has never shown aggression toward humans fwiw). There have been a couple of "close calls" where unleashed dogs tried to approach her, but I was able to prevent them from getting to her while yelling at them to get their animals.

I've lived in this apartment since 2013. My apartment is one of 14 with a giant fenced-in area that includes all 4 of the landlord's adjacent houses plus a vacant lot. Because of the large fenced-in area, new neighbors have been tempted to let their dog run off-leash in the communal property. In the past, I've been able to just say "hey, leash your dog" and everything has been fine. This time, not so much.

The new neighbor lives upstairs, and the (outdoor) stairs end right outside my front door. The first incident happened when I was talking to my neighbor with my door cracked, and his dog barreled down the stairs without warning. My dog barked, causing his dog to want to investigate, and I had to grab my dog's collar to keep her from running out the door. A minute later, he walked down the stairs and let his dog outside the gate onto the public sidewalk. The dog was unleashed, and in fact didn't even have a collar on(!)

My neighbor talked to the owner on my behalf after the incident and asked him to keep the dog on leash, but he was non-committal (this was a couple of days ago). Tonight, he let his dog barrel down the stairs without a collar or leash again, and we tried to talk to him again. The dog's owner, who seems nice enough although pretty stubborn, has argued that his dog is well behaved (true, from what I can tell) and that his dog doesn't need to be on a leash because his dog isn't a problem, and if my dog attacks his dog that's my fault and not his problem. He claims his dog doesn't have a collar because a skunk sprayed it and he is waiting for a special order collar.

As far as I can tell, legally speaking, is if both dogs were a public area and his off-leash dog approached mine while mine is leashed and his dog was bitten, it's actually his fault for not having a leashed dog. I don't know if that changes because it's private property or not and I'm really concerned about what my liability would be if something happened. I've already talked to the landlord about this. He said he asked him to leash the dog, and that he said he didn't have enough money for a leash. My landlord is definitely on my side, but he's been frustratingly passive in the past when it comes to resolving these sorts of neighborly conflicts, so I'm not too hopeful.

I really don't know what to do in this situation. I'll continue pushing my landlord to do something, but I'm hesitant to piss him off because he hasn't raised the rent since we moved in and he could easily rent it for double what we're paying on our month-to-month lease. My first concern is for our dogs' wellbeing, and my second is about liability. How should I proceed?
posted by zug to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Your neighbor is offloading the wellbeing of his dog onto you.

The problem here is that YOU have been offloading the danger of your dog onto others, this neighbor included. I want to be kind here, but it's hard. Your dog is them problem, that's your ethical and moral responsibility. This tops legalities IMHO.

Keep a gate between the room to the outdoors and the rest of your home so your dog does not burst through a halfway open door. Keep the leash length within collar reach when your dog is in common areas. Be responsible for your dog, stop betting and taking chances, or offloading the responsibility.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 PM on February 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

As far as I can tell , legally speaking, is if both dogs were a public area and his off-leash dog approached mine while mine is leashed and his dog was bitten, it's actually his fault for not having a leashed dog.

Nope. Are these the explicit laws in your state? Because around here, the owner of the dog that causes damage is pretty much always responsible, regardless of circumstances, especially so when the dog has a history of aggression toward other dogs, like yours does. (I'm sympathetic, my dog inexplicably hated about one in every ten dogs he met. I've had to yell at other hikers on leash-only trails to control their dogs a thousand times ”but she's friendly" - "mine's not, he might bite her face off if she comes close").

You cannot control the behavior of your neighbor, and law-enforcement agencies have more important priorities. My advice is to train your dog so that she will come back to you each and every time, and keep pepper spray on hand meanwhile.

Also, learn what to do in the event of a dog fight because with a dog like yours, you'll find yourself in that situation sooner or later. My hands just happened to be close by (I was holding the leash!) the last time an off-leash dog attacked my leashed dog in a city park, and the medical care and lost wages cost me thousands (even so, I was lucky that the eight puncture wounds from their hound didn't sever nerves, and no bones were crushed by its strong jaws, otherwise the injuries could have been life-changing given my job the owners ran as I was too slow to dial 911 with my bloodied hands).
posted by halogen at 10:59 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify since I didn't explicitly say this, my dog is always leashed and under my control while outdoors.

As to the question about leash laws, I live in California and I guess I'm not 100% sure, but every website I have consulted in researching this says that in the case of a leashed dog who bites an at large dog that approaches, the owner of the at large dog will be found at fault since they do not have their animal under control.
posted by zug at 11:26 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Leash laws only apply to public property. On private property this is up to your landlord I am pretty sure.
posted by fshgrl at 11:48 PM on February 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

I find it interesting that you're talking about the responsibility of the dog owner to leash their dog but nowhere do you mention your own responsibility in training your dog not to attack in the first place. Your statement is contradictory, if your dog is under leash and supposedly under your control, it shouldn't be able to bite a dog that approaches, no? If it's able to attack, how is it under control? Should the other dog be leashed? Absolutely. But you're the one with the problem dog here.

Ultimately, if your dog is able to hurt another dog, a toddler or a cat while leashed, it's dangerous and it doesn't matter if the other animals were getting too close, your dog will be the one who gets put down. You have a real issue and making other people contain their dogs isn't enough of a solution.
posted by Jubey at 12:56 AM on February 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

What about a muzzle for your dog when outside? It will give you some reassurance that your dog can't do anyone any damage and will serve as a visual clue to others using the same area so that they can make decisions about how to proceed. You could also get something like this, which you can get as a harness and collar as well.

Your description of a large, private fenced in area sounds ideal for dog owners to be able to let their dogs run around safely in and presumably that's what they do when your dog isn't there. I had an encounter with a fellow dog owner once where both dogs were off lead but only his was causing the problem, and he insisted I had to walk a different way with my dog when it was his issue with lack of restraint. I really resented his pompous assumption that I had to take part in helping him sort out his out of control large dog. Not saying this is you, of course!
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:27 AM on February 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

This is a private area, not public. Your neighbors are, IMO, fine to let their dogs run around in it. I have a similar problem, although our yards are separated by a chain link fence. If my dogs (one in particular) are out at the same time neighbors' is, they both run to the fence and bark and shove their bitey muzzles as close to the other as possible. Our solution is that we have an understanding that we dont let our dogs out at the same time. Both of us check to see if the other is out; if so, we wait a couple of minutes. In the summer, we take turns chilling outside with the dogs. Maybe you can try something similar.
posted by Fig at 5:04 AM on February 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

Neighbor is claiming they aren't leashing their dog because its collar was destroyed and they don't have money for a leash. Buy them a collar and leash. While this obviously isn't the real reason they're not leashing the dog, it's a sign of goodwill and prevents them from using that excuse. You can say, "The landlord was upset that your dog wasn't leashed; you can use these until the collar you ordered comes in."

I think it's possible that strong reinforcement of the building culture of leashing dogs may help, but they might continue to refuse. In that case you should ask your landlord to threaten eviction if they don't comply; they don't want any involvement in a liability suit.

If all this fails, you're stuck living with it. Now that you know about the situation, it probably won't be that hard to keep your dog reined in, though I get why it sucks. Leave the property while exercising your dog to keep it from stressing you out as much.

(Depending on your dog, you could also see if they can get along in a friendly way, with a blanket and hose on hand to separate them if it doesn't work. But obviously only you can assess that risk.)
posted by metasarah at 6:53 AM on February 18, 2018

If neighbor's dog is perfectly well-behaved, then it should be under full voice control and never ever approach a strange dog without being given permission to do so by the owner. In my experience, dogs that are this well trained are vanishingly rare.

OP, I think you need to stop using the communal yard. It's private property and if the landlords allow unleashed dogs, you need to treat it like it's a dog park, not your back yard. But I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect that people keep their dogs on lead until they get to the "dog park". Unless this guy can guarantee that his dog will heel even when your leashed dog walks by in the hall, he's keeping you a prisoner in your apartment by letting his dog cavort around in the halls. Can you try to compromise with him over keeping his dog leashed in the stairway/hall/on the way to the common area? The fact that he seems to not even own a leash or collar is just....does he never take this dog anywhere else?!

Dog-aggression and leash-reactivity are super common and people who do the "it's ok, he's friendly!" thing are playing Russian roulette with their dogs' well-being, and other dogs' lives. But yeah, that common area is a de facto dog park, treat it accordingly and take your dog for walks on public streets/sidewalks. Which is a pain, but that's your responsibility as the owner of a reactive dog.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:53 AM on February 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Have you talked to the landlord to get their take on unleashed dogs in the common area? Is there any language in the lease?
posted by Gnella at 7:09 AM on February 18, 2018

I should add, part of the appeal of this rental property for the other dog owner is most likely because his dog can run free unleashed in that fenced yard, it may have been a major reason in his moving there. It would never occur to me that with a place with a (communal) yard, I would still be expected to leash my dog, especially if it is friendly, so I think the neighbour has a definite point here.

I do think it's completely reasonable, though, for you to ask him to leash his dog going past your apartment to avoid exactly the situation you mentioned. Not only that, a dog barreling unleashed down stairs can easily knock down someone coming up so it's just plain unsafe. If the landlord doesn't care about a neighbourly dog dispute, he may care about his own liability of getting sued (if any) if someone gets hurt (breaks a hip) etc due to off leash dogs bolting up and down stairs and his not enforcing any rules, so maybe that's a tactic. It's basic good dog ownership.
posted by Jubey at 7:13 AM on February 18, 2018 [13 favorites]

"My first concern is for our dogs' wellbeing, and my second is about liability. How should I proceed?"

Please get a professional trainer for you and your dog immediately, one who specializes in fear- and leash- aggression.

Your dog's well-being is best served by your helping your dog to be happy and feel safe everywhere. Being able to socialize with other dogs is important, though I know from my experience with rescues that this is sometimes impossible, but get a professional opinion on yours!

Unfortunately you've been reinforcing this fear with your behaviour for so many years that it's probably beyond your ability to do what usually works for reactive dogs that have had a scare.

I'm not sure of the bylaws in California, but your liability here in Toronto would be for the damage your dog would cause on or off leash, as it would most likely fall under the definition of Dangerous Dog.

Just because your dog is leashed doesn't mean it's under your control. If your own reactions are causing your dog to become defensive, your dog is being influenced by you to attack and protect, and perhaps more so as it is leashed and hyper alert for perceived dangers, and therefore proactively defensive because the other dog is not restrained.

So, your second step should be to familiarize yourself with the bylaws you need to be aware of in your area, but with an eye toward how your dog should behave wherever you go. You can't control others' behaviour, but you are responsible for yours and your dog's.

I've had to do this kind of training with rescue dogs I've had. My neighbour is currently going through this with her first dog, and was shocked when I told her that one reason her dog was being snapped at by other dogs is that he was taking too long to "greet" them with his butt-sniffing.

I'm sorry you're fearful. It's very scary when dogs get in scraps. A good trainer will train you as much as your dog, so that in the future, you can observe your dog and others to see whether or not they're exhibiting good dog manners.
posted by peagood at 9:00 AM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

One more clarification, and I'll bow out:

It is impossible for me to avoid the outdoor "common area" - it surrounds all the houses. These are a bunch of old victorians converted to multiple apartments. My front door opens to the outdoor common area, and I have to walk from my door to the common area gate and open it to leave. Basically, any unleashed dog can approach all humans and other dogs that leave any one of the apartments before they are able to leave the common area.

With his outdoor stairs coming down directly adjacent to my front door, a meeting between his unleashed dog and my leashed dog is probably unfortunately inevitable - I certainly won't take my dog out when his is outside, but I can't stop him from letting his dog out when I'm on my way in or out of the communal gate (the entire area is covered with concrete so it's not exactly a fun doggie play area).

If it were possible to just avoid the problem I wouldn't be asking the question. His refusal to use a leash has basically put me in the situation where I cannot take my dog outside to use the bathroom without some risk of confronting his off-leash dog.
posted by zug at 1:29 PM on February 18, 2018

Then this makes it even more important that you get dog training. If he won't leash his dog, then your only option is to train your dog not to react. It's the obvious, most likely way to prevent a dog fight and the way to avoid liability is to, you know, not be liable.

Something else that might also help is to ask or figure out if this dog owner is on a schedule. Most people take their dogs out at certain times for toilet and walks. I'd outright ask when these are and then just avoid taking your dog out at the same time.
posted by Jubey at 2:03 PM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I certainly don't know the history of your dog, but I'm really not seeing anything in your question that indicates that strongly that your dog is super aggressive or barely under the control of you as a fearful owner.

Was your dog on a leash when it got into the 'scuffle"? Was the other dog? Were they both loose and did not come when called? If a loose dog approaches a leashed dog, there is ALWAYS the potential for trouble. We owners have the responsibility to be alert and do what we can, but we can only do so much. You currently keep your dog confined on a leash (thank you!) ARE you a fearful dog owner? Have you worked on recall and sit/stay training? I am also someone that is concerned about the havoc an unleashed dog can cause, and my dog is not aggressive, nor am I at all timid or afraid of loose/strange dogs. If you are timid, or if your dog does need work in obedience, doing a training class would benefit both of you (as well as strengthening your bond and being fun.) Unless your dog is snarling, snapping, or pulling even when the other dogs are on a leash when you are out, I certainly wouldn't put on a muzzle. No dog deserves that unless they've earned it. If your dog is highly reactive, and can't abide the sight of another dog, that's different.

Frankly, I sympathize with all dog owners (and doggos) that a fenced-in common space should be a place where the dogs can have (supervised) freedom. The fact that the owner doesn't bother to leash the dog to take him outside, the fact that he regularly turns the dog loose in the hallway, that he can't control him or stop him coming out an opened door, and that he doesn't even have a collar on him (or can't afford a leash!! WTF!!*)are all big signs to me that this is a totally irresponsible dog owner that doesn't give a damn. What happens if the dog knocks over someone in the common area? If the dog does get into a fight with another dog--be they on or off leash--how are you or bystanders (or the owner) supposed to restrain him without a collar? A dog that barrels out the own door of their own home and won't come when called is NOT under control.

The 'common space' is not a dog park. It's a common space for the apartments that the RENTERS are allowed to enjoy--adults, older people, kids--and a dog should be on a leash or at least supervised when they are in the common space. Doggo freedom comes second after people use. Dog owners have the responsibility to check before they let the dog loose, ask their outside neighbors if they are comfortable with their dog off leash, and the dogs should be well trained to come when called. Owners also need to pick up the shit. If this guy is turning his dog out without taking him down for potty breaks, that's probably doubtful. (I hope you clean yours up!)

Check your lease for responsibility concerning pets. Without targeting anyone's particular critter, ask your neighbors if they have an opinion about dogs off leash. How do they feel about pets in the common area? Then remind your landlord about his liability concerning safety in the public areas. Believe me, he doesn't want anybody to be barked at in the hallway, knocked down by a dog barreling down the stairs, or jumped on in the common yard. He probably doesn't like crap on the lawn and a dog peeing/marking in the hall, either.

*Skunk sprayed the collar--pretty doubtful--I call bullshit. My dog has numerous collars and leashes. Hell, you can make a free leash out of baling twine or spend $.50 for a rope! Heck, my son puts his belt around his dog if he needs a spare leash and can't find it in the truck. If this dip wad can't afford a leash, how can he buy a 'special' dog collar? How does he afford dog food or vet care? Is the dog even neutered? IMO, he's an ass.

And you, as a responsible dog owner, ask yourself: have I done all that I can to train my dog? To keep people and other dogs safe around him? To exercise him enough so that he's a tired, therefore good, dog? Do I clean up after him? Is he neutered?

If so, GOOD BOY!!
posted by BlueHorse at 2:26 PM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree with BlueHorse -- it sounds like you're not really sure if your dog is super-aggressive or not. I have a small dog who's a total jerk to new dogs when he's on leash...growling, lunging, etc. As soon as he gets past the initial bad meeting behavior, he's fine with the new dog forever.

Maybe, to avoid lots of potentially unnecessary machinations, you could try talking with the neighbor to see if they're interested in an on-leash meet-and-greet? Frame it as a favor to help you and your dog. Then, if your dog does any real biting, etc., you can just pull away, then worry about it. Or, maybe your dog will be just fine, and you won't have the problem anymore.
posted by nosila at 3:00 PM on February 18, 2018

Answering questions: It's safe to assume that my dog is well-trained, has been worked with by professionals, and that I am not a particularly fearful or ignorant owner. Her off-leash recall is 9.5/10 when there are no dogs within 20 feet, and 4/10 when there are (hence not letting her around other dogs off-leash). She was fine at the dog park when she was younger, this behavior started around 3 and has gotten worse as she aged. Both dogs were off-leash during the scuffle.

She cannot be trusted around other dogs until she is very familiar with them, and of course it's difficult to get to that stage when the first stage involves trying to lunge and bite unless I know the owner quite well and trust them and their dog. She's never had a problem with small dogs, but given that she's 80lbs and small dogs are... small, I don't let her around them either, just in case.
posted by zug at 3:06 PM on February 18, 2018

Do you have a spare leash and collar you can “lend” him? A slip lead? Heck, does your vet have any of those skinny little slip leads that they basically treat as disposable?
posted by mosst at 7:06 PM on February 18, 2018

Can you take your dog out when your neighbor isn’t in the yard? Could you work out a loose schedule with them so that your dogs aren’t out at the same time?
posted by bendy at 10:52 PM on February 18, 2018

Thanks all for the answers and suggestions. I was a little freaked out when I wrote this since his first go-to was about legal responsibility rather than a more normal discussion, but you all had some great suggestions that helped calm me down.

Sounds like my best bet is to buy the owner a collar and leash and then try to keep to opposite schedules. If he's amenable, I'll try the communal dog walk as well. I can push my landlord if I have to, but this is an place where all the neighbors try really hard to be friendly and kind to one another, so I don't want to go the disciplinary route unless I really have to. I could stand to be a little better with getting my dog regular exercise, so I'll step that up as well. Thanks!
posted by zug at 4:35 PM on February 19, 2018

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