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Leash your dog in the preserves or risk being ticketed

A white and brown dog walks on a path
(Photo via Shutterstock)

No matter how cute, ‘friendly,’ well-groomed, sweet-smelling, or well-dressed your dog is, it still needs to be on a leash when it’s anywhere in the forest preserves other than inside a dog park. 

Visiting the preserves with an off-leash dog can be scary or dangerous for other preserve visitors and their dogs and you could be ticketed.

“The fine, at minimum, is $25 but that can increase if you are a repeat offender, etc.,” said Deputy Police Chief David Barrios Jr. “Since our preserves and trails are multi-use areas, loose dogs can encounter anyone riding a bicycle, jogging or using our properties in other ways and put them in danger.”

If you see a loose dog in the preserves, with or without an owner, call the Forest Preserve Police nonemergency dispatch number, 815-727-6191, and select the prompt to have a Forest Preserve police officer dispatched to your location.

In addition to being ticketed, it’s a bad idea to walk your dog off leash for its own personal safety. Your pet could run off and be hit by a car. It could get lost in the woods or be snatched by a coyote. Your loose dog also could scare or injure other preserve visitors and their children or dogs.

And don’t rely on the fact that your dog is friendly. Someone else’s leashed dog may be triggered or threatened by your off-leash pup, whether your dog is friendly or not.

Frequent complaints

The Forest Preserve often receives calls and messages from people who are upset by loose dogs. 

A man who recently sent in a message via the Forest Preserve’s website, detailed his frustration with loose dogs. 

“As a dog owner myself, I value the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with my leashed dog, but recent experiences have unfortunately made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable using the preserve with my dog,” he wrote. 

“On several occasions, I have encountered large, off-leash dogs while walking my dog on a leash,” he added. “These encounters have been stressful and unpredictable, as even the most well-behaved dog can be unpredictable when off-leash. It is not only the potential for aggression towards my dog or myself that concerns me, but also the disruption to the wildlife and ecosystem.”

Another man who had a hip replacement called to say he’s afraid he will be injured if he’s knocked over by a dog. But he doesn’t blame the dogs. 

“This is a social issue,” he said. “It’s a people problem. I’ve been attacked two times this month when dogs came running at me from over 100 feet away.”

And the owners can’t “recall” their dogs because they won’t listen, he added. 

“And I couldn't outrun it,” he said of a recent encounter. “And the dog was snarling and growling and it was in attack mode. It was very stressful.” 

Neither man wanted to be identified. 

Forest Preserve police have seen their share of things going wrong when dogs are loose. A small dog was once “carried off” by a hawk. Loose dogs have bitten leashed dogs. And off-leash dogs have attacked wildlife. 

Tips for staying safe

According to the American Hiking Society, keeping your dog leashed ensures that others will feel comfortable when they meet you on the trail. 

“It also prevents your dog from chasing wildlife and reduces the habitat damage that occurs when dogs run off the trail,” the site states. “Dogs can leave behind a predator scent that disrupts wildlife and may hinder nesting and feeding activities.”

A leashed dog also is a safer dog because the leash keeps your pet by your side, the Hiking Society maintains. 

“Unleashed dogs can quickly run off when tracking a scent and may disappear from your view very quickly. Always use a leash so that you and your dog will finish your hike together safely and can hike again at another time.”

The Hiking Society also warns that not everyone on a trail will like your dog. 

“Be sure to keep your dog well controlled so that other hikers don’t feel frightened or threatened,” according to the website. “Also, don’t assume that other dogs you might meet on the trail are friendly, even if they are wagging their tails.”

And if you are approached by an off-leash dog, here are some tips to avoid being bitten from the American Medical Veterinary Association:

  • In a situation where a dog is acting fearful or aggressive, don’t provoke the dog. Disengage and move away when any dog behaves aggressively. 
  • Don’t make any sudden movements or loud or high-pitched sounds because these may activate the dog’s predator instinct and escalate its behavior.
  • Move away slowly, confidently, and calmly, and break eye contact with the dog.
  • If the dog is displaying aggressive behaviors, contact authorities immediately and report the dog’s location and appearance. 
  • Avoid engaging with the dog, and caution others (particularly children) to remain calm and avoid engaging with the dog.