Live with a companion dog, and you’ve probably come across the Rainbow Bridge idea, a mythical land where pets go when they pass to meet with their owners at a later date. While I don’t know what’s to come — although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to hoping my end mirrors that of cartoonist Charles Barsotti — there are real-world examples of Heaven on Earth for dogs. This weekend, I get to visit one.

Annie Brody founded Camp Unleashed (Facebook/Twitter) in 2004 “on the premise that dogs need a vacation from the human world — a place where they can be off-leash, safe, and in a pack with other dogs in their own natural environment.” The goal is to let dogs be dogs. The four-day retreat offers activities and experiences that highlight the dog’s point of view. Camp Unleashed has two locations — one in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and the other in Asheville, North Carolina — and campers can choose from agility work, cognitive games, canoeing and water sports, clicker training, off-leash hikes, and scent games, to name a few.

The idea of Camp Unleashed is simple: both dogs and their people benefit from a taste of life off the leash. But is there evidence to suggest that off-leash experiences might be beneficial to dogs or even mutually beneficial? A recent study from the University of Padova by Paolo Mongillo and colleagues investigated the attention between owners and their dogs, on-leash and off-leash, in the city center and green areas in Padova. If there’s a follow-up study, I’d have no problem visiting Italy to study these interactions. Just saying.

The researchers found that off-leash dogs in green spaces paid more attention to their owners than those on-leash, in both green spaces and the city center. Owners in the city center looked at their dog less frequently than owners in green spaces, and simply being in green space, without the chaos and distractions of the city, increased an owner’s looking time at their dog, regardless of whether the dog was leashed or not.

Attention is a major building block of social relationships. If you’re not paying attention to me, either overtly or covertly (I can tell if your eyes are glazed over), we’re not going to hang out all the time. Although this type of research is in its infancy, it seems like off-leash experiences have the potential to enhance the attention between dogs and their owners. Could this affect the strength and quality of relationships? Of course dogs need training, socialization and a stellar recall to get to the point where they can walk off-leash in public green areas, but perhaps the extra training and effort are worth it.

Do you find benefits from spending time with your dog off-leash?


Parts of this post originally appeared at Do You Believe in Dog? Camp Unleashed: Heaven on earth for dogs?

Image: Zvi Kons Budha, Flickr creative commons


Mongillo P., Elisa Pitteri & Lieta Marinelli (2014). Reciprocal attention of dogs and owners in urban contexts, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9 (4) 158-163. DOI: