open letter – for a more responsible dog community

A couple of weeks ago I sent an open letter to four agencies in town, including the City Commission and the Bozeman Ranger District. It’s been passed on to other agencies already so I consider it open. If you need a template to write to your city agencies, please feel free to use this.

I generally send out a yearly letter, and I keep hoping for a more responsible dog community, where ALL dogs and their people can have access to town and the trails undisturbed by out of control dogs and owners that don’t care. City’s don’t know there are problems unless they are given information on what is really going on.

I will continue to be an advocate for responsible dog families who are trying to do the right thing. And I will forever be an advocate for dogs that need to get out and about and can’t because of unmanaged environments.

Cheers and happy reading! Nancy


My past letters to the City Commission have been in regards to dogs, specifically, management in town, and on the nearby front country trails. I would like to expand that this year.

While Bozeman continues to make magazine headlines as one of the Top 10 Most Dog Friendly Places, many people that live here see it a bit differently. It is definitely a dog town that boasts almost 200 acres of official off leash open space, trails that go through town that allow dogs on leash, and two mountain ranges with unlimited trails for hiking with your dog. On paper this is amazing.

But the reality is, dogs are off leash almost every place in town, not just in designated areas, they are off leash on ‘dogs must be leashed trails’, and even running around in areas where dogs aren’t even allowed, Gallatin Recreation Area/Ponds for example. There is not one single place you can go in Bozeman and be guaranteed a safe leash walk with your own dog, without an off leash dog coming into your space. This applies from Main street to the mountains.

Is it a war zone? No. Is there a big problem that is causing conflict on a daily basis? Yes.

Because there is a lack of enforcement, the culture in Bozeman is ‘off leash and deal with it’. Bozeman is in fact growing an irresponsible dog owner population. The dog park mentality of “take a dog off leash and let them run whether they are under voice control or not”, has seeped out into town, City Parks, GVLT trails, Forest Service trails, and beyond.

It is common for off leash dogs to run up to strangers, baby strollers, other dogs, dogs on leash with elderly handlers, children, service dogs that are working, picnickers, wild life, etc. And there is rarely an apology, explanation, or even acknowledgment from the off leash dog’s owner. Why? Because ‘rules for off leash dogs’ in Bozeman has never been clearly defined, and the lack of enforcement allows this ‘owner behavior’ to not only continue but to flourish.

This summer I have purposefully gotten out more often. There is always a pulse to a community, I wanted to really get the pulse for the dog community, more so than just through my training business. I work with on average, 400+ clients a year, but there are many more dog owners in Bozeman, and I have a sense of curiosity.

I have been walking the various GVLT trails everyday all summer, they are great trails and because they are supposed to build a better community, what better place to walk, right? I have either walked with one of my dogs or a client’s dog. I have been the only one on leash. The only other dogs on leash are my clients walking with me. I have had numerous dogs run into my space uninvited with unapologetic owners, two dogs that have stalked me, and too many dogs to count that showed up without owners nearby at all, they were from a house or neighborhood nearby and just cruising apparently. These trails are treated as an extension of the dog parks in town.

I have been in the Gallatin National Forest almost two to three times per week. I have never seen a dog on leash. In the FS information I picked up at their office, it states in very tiny print, dogs must be leashed to prevent chasing of wild life. Because this would be an almost impossible task to enforce, you would think that at the very least, managed and under voice control? I have passed dogs under really good owner voice control, but have passed many more that were either busy running around chasing wild life, or having a dog park experience in the back country.

Recently at the Gallatin Rec./Ponds we had two off leash dogs run right through our picnic space while they were manically chasing gophers. Their owners? Casually walking on the trail and never once offered an apology, or made a motion to get their dogs. This is common, not uncommon.

Not all dogs appreciate a dog park experience, in fact the majority of dogs do not. Yet our City is making a statement, simply by omission, that all dogs must be able to ‘deal’. We have responsible owners in town with lovely dogs, they pay taxes, their license fees, take excellent care of their dogs, but will never be able to use all of these great amenities because their dogs don’t want an off leash dog in their space. There is not a single place to walk where all dogs are in fact on leash except Lowe’s Hardware store. This is a sad statement.

I have received calls from some City Commissioners over the years, sat one two committees that include an Animal Control Officer, offered examples of programs that have become successful in other City’s similar to Bozeman. Not much has changed.

I would be open to talking and discussing possibilities and opportunities for a more responsible dog owner population. Our town should be dog friendly to everyone, not just off leash dog owners. If this is of interest, please let me know.

Thank you,

Nancy Tanner, CPDT-KSA

22 Comments Add yours

  1. Deanne says:

    There have been so many times when we step off of the trail with Shep to allow people and their off leash dogs to go by; and the owners simply let their dogs harass him. The worst is when they just don’t care or tell us that their dog is friendly. I don’t care if it is “friendly,” Shep obviously has issues that we are addressing by moving off of the trail and working with him. He’s not giving off any “let’s be friends” signs, but the dogs and their owners just ignore all of the boundaries that we are trying to establish…

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Deanne, I think you have hit the heart of the issue. If you are doing the right thing, why are other people ignoring that, and why is that not only OK, but the norm? If all owners were held accountable to the same rules when out and about with their dogs, we would all be on the same playing field and there would for sure be less conflict. I keep working towards this, and I hope others will too. I have two dogs who are lovely but don’t want other dogs in their space, we cannot use the off leash or leash only trails in town or the busier ones in Hyalite. We have found our peace with where and when we walk, but it bothers me on a few levels that people who don’t care enough get 100% access to everything at anytime…

  2. And there lies the problem. It is not really whether dogs are on or off leash. It is whether or not the owners understand their dogs, other people’s dogs and, as you say, have their own dogs under control. If all dogs were friendly, well socialised, came from stable backgrounds, etc. the off leash environment would not be a problem. Oh that life could be that fair!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      totally agree! I do believe if you have a dog you have that responsibility, when you step out with your dog they are your responsibility, not the environments responsibility. Just as I wouldn’t allow my children to run up to strangers and tug on their clothes and pick pocket them, I don’t want dogs to do that same gesture with other dogs. I’m not sure what it is like in the City’s in South Africa, street dogs or leash laws? We have super responsible city’s here and there across the country, but in Montana they still pretend it’s the ‘old west’ and sometimes don’t pay attention to a growing population that own multiple dogs per household…

  3. Cooper's Leash Handler says:

    When my on-leash dogs are approached by “enthusiastic” off-leash dogs in my neighborhood, I am faced with a difficult dilemna. Do I keep my dogs on-leash, where they feel at a disadvantage and become surly and growly – or do I drop the leash and risk having my dog run into traffic and get hit by a car? Why would any dog owner force this decision upon another dog owner?

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      you’re far to nice of a person, and your neighborhood is a virtual dog park. Why would someone impose this decision on another, because that is the culture we are creating here. I would have animal control and the Mayor’s home number on speed dial 😉

      1. metisrebel says:

        I don’t know what the laws are there but you might try a can of mace while stepping in front of your dog.

        When I had protection dogs I carried a water pistol full of vinegar for just that purpose.

        It’s an idea.

        Preferably I’d rather spray the owner in the face but usually they don’t get close enough 😉

    2. metisrebel says:

      Also, I’ve run into this in non-dog parks, as well.

      I don’t “get it”.

      1. Nancy Tanner says:

        in Bozeman, MT we do have leash ordinances, but they are rarely if ever enforced. And the real problem is that our City is shaping generations of people to be irresponsible dog owners, simple by their lack of enforcement. People who walk off leash have more voice and more freedom with their dogs than people who are trying to be responsible.

      2. metisrebel says:

        I’m not sure “more enforcement” would work–although it is certainly something to consider.

        I suspect the “regulars” have to step up and start saying, “This is NOT an off-leash area. Now leash your dog!” [and I’ve been known to mutter ‘before i kick it because i can’t reach YOU’]

        I think I spend half my dogwalking time shouting “CALL YOUR DOG”–and I live in a place where they do give $200+ tickets out with some frequency.

        I share your frustration with this. I find myself “fixing” my dog’s training more often than I should have to, due to other people’s irresponsibility.

        One place I’ve started is nailing “cute” dog photos and such by pointing out how badly the dog is behaving. The public perception of dogs as cute brats seems to be proliferating.

        I think as bloggers and those that talk about dogs in the public eye, the one service we CAN provide is to keep hammering on what *are* good dog manners.

  4. Sharon Lowry says:

    As you know Nancy, I have been guilty of the “off leash” dog on a few occasions. Both of my dogs are territorial (as you well know.) If I have them on leash and a strange dog charges into their space, they both become very reactive and I have a problem on my hands. They want to get rid of the offending dog! Literally!! If they are off-leash like 99% of the dogs on the trails or designated on leash sites, they will let the dogs come up to them and do the sniff thing and we all go on our merry way. This is something that I don’t know how to handle. So, that being said sometimes it seems safer to have them off leash like most dogs in these areas. Believe me I would love it if everyone would have total control of their dogs. Which raises another question…Do you say anything to the offending owner or just let it go. This I really need help with because I tend to say what I think, and I always feel like it falls on deaf ears.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Sharon, Here are my thoughts, and you are not alone on this one. If people had kept their dogs with them and not let them charge into your space to begin with, would you have had to let your dogs be off leash int he first place? Probably not. You have learned like many others, that unless you comply to off leash owners, you don’t stand a chance in hell, because they are not going to change for you.

      Seriously, do you have more options than me? Say what you want, it most likely will fall on deaf ears anyway. But say what will make you feel good and proud for standing up for your dogs. If you are doing the right thing you don’t need to apologize to anyone.

      On our Monday night walk we had an older dog charge our dog, I blocked him, got his collar until his owner could come get him. He growled at his owner as she was telling us he just wanted to say hi and was really friendly. If we are becoming so blind and deaf to what our dogs are truly saying and just making stuff up, well than Mrs. Lowry speak your mind I say 😉

  5. mtwaggin says:

    Nicely done Miss as always. We’ve talked often and why is it that the problem seems to be so much more rampant in Bozeman and that area? I just don’t know. Thank goodness for you and your proactive clients and YAY for those that are advocates for those single dog off leash areas!!!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      It’s a double edge sword in my opinion. We live in a super outdoor active community, so people are out and about all of the time. Taking your dog with you to everything is not uncommon. But it doesn’t mean responsibly taking your dog out and about with you.

  6. Kim says:

    I recently scored big time with 2 woman who consistently failed to bring leashes with them as they walked their 2 large (and untrained in any way) dogs in the area where I walk my dog twice a day…near my house. For the most part, I’m the only one who walks my dog in my area…I live among very few houses and pretty rural…and my dog is always on leash. Except for a handful of regular neighbors, I almost never run into anyone. But after 2 run-in’s with these women where they had to physically wrestle their dogs to get past me and my dog (who was excited, but sitting next to me on leash), I loudly explained to them that Holly is afraid of other dogs and to please bring a leash with them when they go for a walk should they encounter us, or other dogs like her. Now, Holly is not afraid of other dogs, she just likes her space (but if not given her space, the gloves are off and the beat-down is on!)…but I figured they’d have no idea what that meant. This was a simpler excuse to get them to use a freakin leash…and it worked! The last 2 times we crossed paths, they had BOTH their dogs on a leash!!! Now if I could just figure out how to get them to not have to physically wrestle their dogs in order to get past us, I’d be in heaven 😉

    Off-leash dogs are the norm here. Few people let their dogs inside the cabs of their trucks, much less even own a leash or know how to use one. If I wasn’t so diligent in preventing it, Holly’d be having fight after fight with loose dogs in order to get them to stop running into her space (and in her face) without so much as a howdy first.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      gloves are off and beat down is on! I am going to use that line, that’s awesome. Tell Holly thanks for the inspiration! hahaha.

      I am so glad to hear there is some compliance though. It’s harder when a verbal warning to an owner falls on deaf ears… I think humans have way more selective hearing than dogs, if truth be told 😉

  7. metisrebel says:

    I don’t live where you do but I can tell you Nancy that I’ve had serious problems in EVERY “off leash” park in the city that I’ve visited with owners that refuse to believe their dogs are capable of bullying.

    Owners get po’ed with me because I tell them ONCE “get your dog off my dog” [if I even have time for that] before hauling their 100lb Fluffykins off my dogs butt. Pushy dogs tend to go for him because they can tell he limps and has a crooked tail.

    I don’t “get it”. If I see my dog attempting to t-bone or hump [he rarely tries but like all dogs, he’s a dog and he’s young and learning] I am over there as fast as my arthritic bones can carry me hauling him off.

    Last time, it was 100lb Bouvier. Now I LOVE Bouviers, they were my protection dog of choice for many working years but when someone is standing there like a stump while my dog is being pinned and shaken then humped and they are wheedling in a saccharine voice “Sweetie, come to mummy. Come on baby” while my dog is under threat–I really have to wonder what is wrong with them.

    Then she said, “Well I’ll take my dog away [ya think????], captured the Bouv, put it on a leash and said, “Well I don’t want him to turn on you when you’re hauling him off.”

    So, my response was, “It will be the LAST thing your dog ever does and why weren’t YOU hauling him off? Do you even realize that t-boning, pinning and shaking, and humping are DANGEROUS behaviours? No dog, even the most even-tempered will tolerate that forever.”

    She stormed off down the off leash beach.

    I am training The Drama Prince for a therapy dog–yet owners INSIST on letting their dogs stick their face in his when he’s *learning*.

    As for folks working with dog behaviour such as shyness and aggression–that just compounds it but the fact is people–you aren’t wrong for getting snarly at stupid dog owners that somehow think it is their right to let their dog act like a bonehead with YOUR dog!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      you know, I would agree. Just yesterday I went to a dog park with some clients as they wanted to see how it all worked. It is a 37 acre fenced park with trails, lovely by all measures. I told them there are no guarantee’s. They will meet people who are really attentive to their dogs, knuckle heads who don’t get it, dogs by themselves, and dogs who should not be at a dog park because they just aren’t suited either physically or temperamentally. In one lap we met some lovely people, some I knew, and lovely dogs under voice control with their owners. We were then charged, body slammed, and growled at by dogs who’s owners were easily 100 yards away and chatting amongst themselves. Not a single call back or apology, and I was the one body blocking their dogs from my clients dog. They continued to stand in the trail talking and we had to get off the trail to go around them and pass. These types of people make me grind my teeth! We had a dog hike with us for a bit with no owner in sight, and later found out that his owner sits int he car while his dog does laps around the 37 acres. So my clients dog, well she was a rock star, but I believe she is because they put a ton of time into their relationship with her, and her training. They were able to experience the good, the bad and the ugly. Now they can go if they want, but with open eyes

      1. metisrebel says:

        Oh wow, thanks for that.

        I thought I was the only beech in the park that hates crappy dog behaviour and finds myself protecting my dog more often than I should have to.

        It gets tiresome hauling dogs off my dog to dirty looks. He’s really lovely with other dogs–he’s like a doggy therapist who can go to the most frightened, freaked out little dog and engage it. He will literally throw himself on his back and let them jump on his chest. Then, the little dog becomes brave and plays. I’ve seen this with nervous dogs, large and small, many times over.

        He doesn’t challenge other dogs. He welcomes them.

        My friend says I should rent him out to therapize other dogs *lol*.

        I never, ever want him to lose that sparkling quality.

        However, some dogs just see him as weak due to his slight limp and crooked tail and bully him. And the owners just stand there sucking back lattes and looking stupid.

        Good on your clients for working so hard with their dog.

        Me, I try to find “nice dogs” for mine to play with and I am hoping that maybe having him in his class, I can find some folks that can have play dates with him so he’s safe.

  8. metisrebel says:

    BTW Nancy, my 100 dog survey results are up. That’s the observation of 100 dogs in real life and I think it points out, just how irresponsible [or confused?] 95% of dog owners seem to be about what good dog manners actually are…

  9. David says:

    I personally would love to see more done to control dogs in Bozeman. I would say that almost every time I go out hiking there has been an uncomfortable situation with dogs off leash approaching me and my kids. We have had dogs and in general the kids are pretty good with them. But both my kids have also had negative experiences with aggressive dogs and every time they encounter one on the trail they are nervous and come back close to us. Even if your dog isn’t aggressive, not everyone appreciates a dog coming up slobbering on, jumping on, and sniffing them. On top of that, I hate going to any trail head and wading through piles of crap for the first 1/4 mile of the hike. Frankly many, if not most of the dog owners in this town need cited. I know the good ones like yourself wish the rest would behave appropriately so not all dog owners get a black eye.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      many people agree with you! People should not allow their dos to approach children without being invited period. That is just common sense and good trail etiquette.

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