What Are the Rules in Off-Leash Dog Areas in New Hampshire?

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During a recent trail walk with my two mini-bernedoodles I got into a rather large altercation with a woman and her self-proclaimed “not friendly dog.”

SOS friends – I need your opinion here.

I have two puppies: Miko (a little over a year) and Larry (a little over 7 months). Both are super sweet dogs and they are very well trained. Frequently, like yesterday, we go to a hidden off-leash dog area in Portsmouth. They usually run ahead of me, exploring the many acres of land, and come back when they hear a whistle or the words “touch” /
“heel.”

Logan Sherwood, Townsquare Media

Logan Sherwood, Townsquare Media

While we were in the woods of an area that was highlighted as “off leash,” Miko and Larry saw another dog off leash, probably 30 feet away.

As dogs do, they were quick to run over for a smell and a “howdy” to the other dog. I did the typical “mine are friendly if yours are,” which I thought was just the courteous thing to do.

After all, we were in an off-leash dog zone. Aren’t all dogs friendly here? Guess not.

Logan Sherwood, Townsquare Media

Logan Sherwood, Townsquare Media

As my dogs and I were approaching, the other woman leashed her very large dog, grabbed the dog by the collar and began screaming “mine is not friendly.” And then louder, “NOT FRIENDLY.”

Kicking her legs to create space, “Get your #%#$^*& dogs away.” This all happened in about 5 seconds.

I yelled, “touch,” and Miko, the older one, came right to my side immediately.

My 9-month-old dog, Larry, hung around the “not friendly dog” and owner for another 5-10 seconds. I yelled “touch” twice; however, I am fairly certain Larry could not hear me over the rude expletives the woman was yelling.

I whistled over the yells and he came back to me.

The ordeal was 10 seconds.

I started to do the “hey sorry, have a great day” thing but the owner seemed to want to teach me a lesson. She yelled at me as if I had let Miko and Larry have the lay of the land or as if they had tormented her dog first.

“You cannot bring your dogs here if they are not 100% recall trained,” she said. “My dog could have killed your dogs” was an actual sentence out of her mouth.

First of all, they did recall, and they did it well for their age, being yelled/kicked at, and having another dog held up in front of them like a like a piece of steak!

Second, every person who has trained a puppy knows the pup may be perfect with come, sit, stay in your room; however, when they go into the living room it is a bit harder (more distractions). When they go into the yard, even harder (MORE distractions).

Same thing with recall training. Eventually, you need to go into the woods to do longer distance recall training for them to master it.

I’ll reiterate – Miko came back immediately. One word – “touch.” The younger one took 10 seconds. I was actually proud he ignored the dog and came to me within the 10 seconds!

And again, this was in an off-leash area.

The woman was unsatisfied by my answer and felt the need to remind me that her dog could have killed mine (the other dog probably could have based off size). That’s when I firmly picked my side.

“If your dog is not friendly, he or she should not be in an off-leash area,” I said. “If your dog attacked mine that would be on you and your dog. Not me and mine.”

We went back and forth until I waved the white flag and we went our separate ways.

I was walking back with frustration. Was I right? Should her dog have even been there? Was I wrong? Should Miko and Larry have responded faster than 10 seconds? If so, where was I going to train for that scenario again… we were there for that exact reason: distanced recall training in an off-leash area outside.

I need opinions. Tell me I am wrong. Tell me I am right. Just help me make sense of this situation.

Disclosure: After the incident, I did some research. If I was wrong and my dogs were too young or something, I would want to find the woman and apologize. What I found were varying answers.

Some dog parks in NH require dogs to be at least four months old. Some parks the age is six months old. Some off-leash dog parks require the dog to be spayed or neutered. Some do not mention that requirement at all, although usually good practice.

Some off-leash dog parks, this one we were at, in fact, identifies that dogs must be under voice control and observation at all times. An ambiguous statement, right? I would say my dogs were under my voice control as they heeled to me within 10 seconds while distracted by another dog. She would probably argue the opposite.

If you’re curious about the rules and regulations of a specific off-leash dog park in NH, you can check them out here!

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