Can I Let My Dog Roam Free?

A dog standing in a road

Leonid Shkurikhin/EyeEm/Getty Images

Have you ever wondered if it's OK to let your dog roam free? You may live in a rural area and see other dogs roaming. Perhaps your dog loves to wander and explore as most dogs do. Maybe your dog always comes back. Why do some people say this is not a good idea?

Unfortunately, it is neither safe nor appropriate to allow your dog to roam free. But why? Are we just raining on your roaming dog's parade? Read on to discover the unintended consequences of allowing your dog to roam free.

Why Dogs Used to Roam Free

Many decades ago, it was considered the norm to allow dogs to roam free, especially in rural areas. Back then, there were fewer cars on the road. Dogs were less often considered members of the family as they are today. Many dogs lived on table scraps and slept outside; it was just the way life was. The life expectancy of dogs was much shorter back then. Many dogs that like to roam are often not spayed or neutered, and this has led to many unwanted and stray dogs that ended up being euthanized.

These days, we have a better idea of the risks. Veterinary medicine has advanced, and most people think of their dogs as essential members of the family. While roaming the countryside and exploring the world is loads of fun for most dogs, it is simply not safe. Whether you live in an isolated rural area or just a quiet neighborhood where everyone lets their dogs run loose, free-roaming dogs lead to trouble.

Why It's Not Safe to Let Your Dog Roam Free


Even the most isolated road has a car or truck pass by occasionally. You may say your dog never crosses the road, but there's no telling when that can change. He may see an animal on the other side or wander into the street uncharacteristically. Dogs that have been hit by cars account for a very high percentage of pets entering veterinary emergency clinics. Many of these dogs do not survive.

Infectious Diseases

While exploring, your dog can come across disease-carrying substances from animal feces, urine, dead wildlife, and even other living animals. Rabies is a fatal disease to dogs and people, and wildlife like bats, skunks and foxes are often sources of this fatal disease. Leptospirosis is a bacteria that can cause liver and kidney failure and is spread by wildlife urine. Some algae on ponds can cause serious illness in dogs. Dogs are opportunistic scavengers that instinctively eat what they find appealing. Sometimes this can lead to severe gastrointestinal upset and infection with things like salmonella or e.coli.


Parasites include worms, fleas and ticks, and all of these parasites can cause severe illness. Your dog will most likely encounter several of these parasites if left to roam. Ticks can cause serious blood-borne illnesses like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichia. Fleas can cause anemia, severe skin infections and tapeworms. Intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, giardia and coccidia are all common in the environment and the chance of your dog being exposed to one or all of these increases if it is left to roam. Again, your dog may eat whatever he finds appealing and ingest a parasite in the process. Many of these parasites can cause your dog to become sick, often beginning with decreased energy and appetite. You may never notice this until the complications are serious.

Injury to or From Other Animals

Dogs are predatory creatures by nature. They may chase and attack wildlife and other pets. While it is a shame for local wildlife to be harmed, it is even more tragic for someone else's pet or livestock to be injured or even killed. If your pet is responsible for injury or death to an animal owned by another, you would most likely be held responsible for the cost of the care of the pet, or the monetary value of the animal that was lost. On the flip side, an aggressive or defensive animal (domesticated or wild) might injure or kill your dog.

Disturbing Other People

Be a good neighbor, even if the closest one is miles away. A free-roaming dog can travel for miles. He might wander onto someone else's property and dig up the garden or destroy other property. He might defecate on their property. Furthermore, your dog, regardless of how nice he might be, can frighten people. People, especially children, will, unfortunately, often approach dogs that aren't typically aggressive. However, if your dog is scared of the unknown person, it could bite. If your dog roams free, It's simply rude and irresponsible to trouble other people in your community this way. Keep in mind your area may have laws allowing property owners to keep dogs off their property by any means necessary.

Legal Consequences

Many areas have leash laws, meaning you could be fined for allowing your dog to roam free. In some cases, your dog could even be taken from you.

Lost or Stolen

Your dog may wander too far one day and never make it back. People may think your free-roaming dog is a stray. Someone may take him to the pound or keep him for themselves. Your dog could even be knowingly stolen by a malicious or greedy person.

As much as your dog might love to run, you are doing the dog and your community a disservice but allowing this. Instead, get out there and exercise with your dog. Build a fence for your yard or bring your dog to a large enclosed field or meadow to play. Consider visiting a dog park if your dog can play nicely. Please be a responsible dog owner and keep your dog from wandering around your community.