Are Parisian Dogs Better Behaved?

Bonjour! There are so many interesting things to see when walking around Paris, from the art nouveau signs on brasseries and cafes, to the lovely architecture and, annoyingly enough, those amazingly well put together, thin, chic French women. (How do they pull that off with all those baguettes and pastries around? But I digress…)

Although I’ve seen some amazing sites in Paris, one that has really struck me as a dog person is the sheer number of off-leash dogs walking calmly alongside their owners. Now, keep in mind these are Paris streets; narrow sidewalks wind sinuously through the city, as manic drivers fly around blind curves with the assumption that pedestrians have the reflexes to get out of the way fast enough. Yet at least a third of the dogs we’ve seen have been off-leash, from tiny Yorkies to the ubiquitous French bulldogs, all the way up to the many Labs and Goldens.

Each time I’d see an off-leash dog walking perilously close to a curb, my throat would go dry in expectation of impending disaster. But strangely, those dogs not only didn’t dart out into the streets, they had amazing focus on their owners. I’m guessing many were simply raised from pups walking the streets of the city, and had to learn the hard way that taking their eyes off their owners, even for a moment, could result in a panicked feeling of being lost and alone. Of course, we aren’t seeing the dogs who didn’t fare well with this particular exercise.

I’d never suggest allowing a dog off leash in a busy urban area, but it does bring to mind the importance of doing off-leash exercises with very young puppies. Taking a pup to an enclosed park, letting him off leash, and then walking around, hiding behind a tree or bush now and then, teaches the pup the importance of keeping track of where you are. I know; as a kid growing up in New York, my mom used to take me along on shopping trips to large department stores. She’d get so involved in whatever she was looking for that she’d wander off, sometimes leading to an embarrassing announcement that there was a lost redheaded child at the security office. But you know what? It taught me to keep an eye on my mother, just as dogs learn quickly that they must keep track of the whereabouts of their owners.

So are Parisian dogs better behaved? Nah. They’ve just been raised in a way that teaches them the importance of keeping their eyes on the prize. And although we may not ever want to walk busy city streets with our dogs off-leash, we can certainly start with on-leash reliability and progress to off-leash obedience, because dogs should be able to do that. The better trained the dog, the more freedom he can be allowed.

Bon soir from Paris!

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As an aside, the fattest dog I ever saw was in a French restaurant that served up those 100 course meals. Dogs were allowed in most business establishments including restaurants. This dog lay in front of a blazing fireplace and I knew that each scrap of medium rare duck breast that I could not eat was going straight into his evening's feeding trough. But he was also remarkably well behaved, though he looked like he didn't get up much!

As for you, enjoying the cheese?

Do you think that maybe you're only seeing the creme' de la creme' of dogs that are able to focus completely on their owners despite any distraction, as the other dogs who were distracted by trash, noise, other dogs, etc might have been injured/lost/otherwise no longer at their owners' side? Just a thought, sort of a Darwinism for city dogs.

Well, as I said, we're not seeing the ones who didn't fare well with this particular skill. But just as dogs belonging to the homeless are often extremely well socialized, it seems that being raised in the offleash lifestyle seems to engender a real focus on the owner, or at least a willingness to stay with him or her. We saw many off leash dogs but not a single one who tried to run off--and we did see them near pigeons and other dogs, which would normally be plenty distracting. 

Strangely, very few of the dogs we've seen have been overweight at all. Or the people for that matter, but that's another topic. I'm sure any dog who constantly got table scraps would be overweight in any country. As for me, yep, many meals involving cheese, you guessed it, but this evening it's chocolates and champagne for our last night!

Recently, training an other-dog reactive dog on a sidewalk in La Jolla Shores, California, I met some European tourists. They seemed genuinely dumbfounded as to why all the dogs on the boardwalk were on leashes.  There was lots of vehicle traffic and a great variety of high-value distraction.

At first I thought they must be kidding, or unfamiar with dog behavior, but they seemed sincerely puzzled. "Yes" they all reinterated, "We've never seen so many dog on leashes as in America. Where we come from, leashes are rarely used".  Nicole, if and when you find out how this is accomplished, please let me know!

Linda Michaels M.A.Psych,CPDT-KA

I feel compelled to just mention that dogs being on-leash in public places doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't reliable off-leash.  In many places there are strict leash laws.  Personally, I prefer dogs to be on leash when I go downtown or to a park (other than an off-leash dog park).  No dog, not one, none of them are 100% reliable.  We see a lot of dogs getting hurt or killed, and owners putting themselves in mortal danger to save them, because of off-leash hiking around here.  Anyway...just sayin'.

Most dogs that I see walking on streets in the UK are leashed, but we get them sometimes that are loose.  They usually don't go on the road  (at least while I'm watching).  I think the point I would make is that it only takes once! I was once walking my dog down the pavement of a busy road on the lead, and met a jogger with an offleash dog.  The offleash dog wanted to avoid my dog (many do, I'm afraid), so curved into the busy road.  A driver had to slam the breaks.  Fortunately no one was hurt.

When I worked in Vancouver I regularly saw homless people and dogs and agree for the most part the dogs were very social, it shows the enviroment and what is just expected by lifestyle often makes for very good dogs and well saves lives. Dogs are so maliable if we are clear,even when we do not know we are being clear.

On another note about your learning to watch your mom so "she didn't wander off" I wish more parents got that concept and stopped looking for their children and calling them, sure keep an eye on them but teach them to watch you or you may get lost. I used to play that game with dogs all the time when I walked them in the forest, you aren't watching me for a second and I may disappear around the corner or behind a bush and from that I never had dogs wandering off getting lost.

Thanks Nicole

Enjoy your trip, I loved Paris.

I loved Paris, too. The off-leash dogs are part of an overall laissez-faire attitude; I 100% agree that it's simply a matter of not seeing the dogs that don't do well off-leash, off-leash (or at all). I live in Québec, and I see off-leash dogs all the time that definitely shouldn't be off-leash. It's mostly laziness.

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