Making All City Parks Off-Leash Dog Parks Is Crazy

*December 6 update* – Just to close the issue on this, since getting clarification that the proposal is for “select” city parks to be given “courtesy hours” early in the AM and later in the PM, it is safe to say that responsible dog owners would be strongly in favour of this. This allows dog owners more options for legal off-use areas, and allows others to wish to avoid off-leash dogs a greater ability to avoid them, since where and when they are off-leash would be understood. Great for dogs in need of space.

Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong made the news by suggesting that all city parks be made available for off-leash use by dog owners from 9pm-9am.

At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, and you’d think that any dog loving person would be in support of this. However, upon closer evaluation, this is a horrible idea both for everyone.

Four Reasons Why This Is A Very Bad Idea:

  • Many dogs chase and bite fast moving objects. In particular, cyclists, runners, and children do not mesh well with dogs. Many dogs chase fast moving objects and can frighten a cyclist, causing them to fall, or bite a runner. Dogs do not belong off leash anywhere near cycling or running trails.
  • Small children are susceptible to being knocked over and injured by dogs. It is for this reason children do not belong in dog parks. Similarly, dogs do not belong off leash near where small children play.
  • When a dog is off-leash, the likelihood of even diligent owners picking up every poop is reduced. Couple in darkness, and, the odds of poop being left in city parks where users sit, run through, and roll on increases. Dog feces can carry zoonotic disease like various types of worms, giardia, and other parasites and bacteria. This is a health risk to everyone, but especially the young, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
  • Not all dogs want to play with other dogs off leash. Many owners that have dogs that are elderly, injured, have disabilities, are fearful, or even aggressive need spaces to walk their dogs, on leash, and be free from interactions from other dogs. A boisterous, friendly dog, that runs up to any of these dog is a disaster waiting to happen. If any park is fair game for off-leash dogs, these dogs will have nowhere to go.


Minnan-Wong is correct in that there are too few dedicated off-leash parks in the city. As a result, in every community in Toronto, there are school fields and parkettes everywhere that are already being used illegally by dog owners as unofficial off-leash parks anyways. But, in these cases, they are usually free of children, joggers, cyclists, and other users of the park that would naturally come into conflict with off-leash dog owners.

In other places, such as the greenspace along the Martin Goodman trail, due to the high volume of cyclists and joggers, the vast majority of dog owners keep their dogs on leash. It’s a smart move anyways, since no one want to see their dog get run over by a cyclist, or have their dog chase down and bite a cyclist.

However, by making it officially legal to allow any dog off leash at any city park during that time period, there will be an significant increase in the number of runner/cyclist/child dog incidents. Many of these incidents will involve biting.

It’s Not Quite Like That In New York

He claims that this works in cities like New York. But, as far as I know, only Central Park has off-leash dog hours. This leaves many other places for joggers, cyclists, and dogs who’d rather not play with others to enjoy, free from having to deal with off-leash dogs. A blanket rule that allows any dog to be off-leash at any city park is quite dangerous.

What I would propose:

The city should just greatly expand the number of approved off-leash areas to meet need. Perhaps officially designate a large # of city parks as off-leash areas during designated times. But, each park should be considered carefully, taking into consideration the other types of use it currently serves. This already happens unofficially.

For example, Dufferin Grove, by College and Dufferin, is not an official off-leash dog park, but, the soccer field is commonly used by local residents as an off-leash park during the day. It is not a park commonly used by cyclists or joggers, and the playground area where children play is far away and physically separated by fencing. Dufferin Grove is very easily a park that should be approved to be an official off-leash dog park, provided soccer games are not in session.

Dufferin Grove Park Off-Leash Dogs
Duke and Elmo, off-leash,at Dufferin Grove Park. No soccer game, no joggers, no cyclists, no children, well-trained, great recalls – no problem.

There already is a process for applying for off-leash areas. Why not just make it work faster, and approve more of them?

PLEASE, for the sake of everyone, including dog-lovers, please do not implement a blanket bylaw that allows any dog to be off leash at any city park. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

5 Replies to “Making All City Parks Off-Leash Dog Parks Is Crazy”

  1. Greetings!

    Thought I would provide you with some important information for you to consider:

    This website is the home of supporters of off leash rules in New York and contains a number of facts, statistics, and arguments

    This is the official New York city Parks website that shows what the rules are and which parks follow off leash hours

    This section shows the number of dog bites in 1993 and references the department of health. The first website shows the number of dog bites in 2011 on the facts bar on the right and also references the department of health.

    Now a few points of clarification. I am not advocating for all parks to be off leash. Secondly, I am not asking for off leash hours between 9 pm and 9 am. Parks close at night and open in the morning. (This was reported wrongly in the Star, but more accurately in other daily newspapers)

    Also, to say that “children do not mesh with dogs” is not true. Some may not. Kids need to be properly introduced and socialized to dogs. And dog owners that have rude pets should be kept on a leash as is prescribed in the Dog Owners Liability Act.

    Finally, as someone who claims to train dogs, you should know that a properly socialized and good dog is one that is exercised often. More off-leash areas would encourage this.

    I look forward to having an informed discussion!

    Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong

    1. Thank you Councillor, for taking the time to read this blog post and respond. It sounds like what you are proposing is different than represented by the Toronto Star. The main article I read was this one:–dogs-may-run-free-in-all-city-parks

      The title of which is “Dogs my run free in all city parks”.

      Of course, I am in favour of significantly increasing the number of off-leash areas for dogs to run, provided it makes sense for the specific park.

      Regarding young children with dogs – socialization of a dog to children is different than having small children in an environment where dogs are at large and running and playing. For example, it would be very dangerous to allow a 3 or 4 year old toddler to roam free in the middle of a dog park such as Trinity Bellwoods or Stanley Park, as even a medium-sized dog at 50 pounds, running, could easily collide into a small child and seriously harm them. This is different than exposing dogs to children in a controlled fashion.

      Thanks for leaving your comment and I will be sure to look at your proposal moving forward.

  2. I found this letter – the date is November 9, 2012, which is 6 days in the future? Regardless, as the councillor clarifies in his comment, his letter suggests off-leash hours be allowed in “select City parks” vs. “all city parks” as generally reported by the media. There is a very big difference. Anyways thanks again to the councillor for commenting on this blog post.

  3. Andre – Thanks for speaking up for the children (this is not the right way for socialization) and for those dogs who need the security of knowing they will get a little space of their own. This is important in a city like Toronto and especially in my area which has so many dogs and so many people. I don’t believe ALL parks need off leash hours but I am in support of more off leash hours in an increased number of parks. BUT as my dogs don’t do well in off leash parks – I won’t be using any of those off leash park hours – don’t my dogs count as well?

  4. As a fellow dog trainer and experienced pet services professional, I support Andre’s position regarding the need to consider the current use of the park (i.e. cyclists, runners, children) before implementing an off-leash rule as proposed. Children and dogs, no matter the dog or the child in question, should always be introduced in controlled settings and allowing dogs to run and interact with each other off-leash around a children’s play area is dangerous.

    Although I am fully in support of more off-leash areas, I have some concern that proposing a general rule with these hours even in select parks might inhibit the process of creating daytime off-leash parks in areas where it is appropriate, such as the one mentioned by Andre above. There are many cases of this self-selection of off-leash areas for daytime use and, especially when the majority of the operational park hours between 9pm and 9 am are in very limited light, I believe creating safe spaces for owners to bring their dogs to play off-leash in daylight is very important. As a woman who often walks her dog alone, I would not be comfortable having to wait until 9pm (essentially dark most of the year) to be able to take my dog to the park. Schedules and commutes often prohibit walks prior to 9am.

    The councillor is absolutely correct in saying that properly exercised dogs are generally better behaved, however exercise is far from sufficient to ensure that a dog properly socialized, a fact that is often exemplified in the city’s dog parks. For this reason, owners need to be constantly vigilant when their dogs are off-leash and it is very hard to keep a close eye on your dog in the dark. Daytime hours allow owners to be able to maintain the necessary visual contact with their dogs at all times so that they can intervene when their dog engages in inappropriate play or rude behavior. All puppies need this feedback from their owners to learn proper off-leash behavior and even the most well-socialized dogs need reminders form time to time.

    In short, while I think this proposal could be of great use if considered carefully, I am not fully convinced that it would meet the need of Toronto’s dog owners, whom the councillor correctly identified as some of those most frequent users of these parks. I would say that a survey of the hours that dog owners could and do use these parks would be necessary to effectively implement a strategy that would limit illegal park use and provide adequate off-leash areas for dog owners.

    Thank you very much to the councillor and Andre for this great discussion!

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