When Can You Start Walking Your Dog Without a Leash?

A question we get a lot here at When Hounds Fly is “when can I start walking my dog off leash?”  It seems like it’s a goal for a lot of people – almost like a sign their dog is well trained, to be able to walk around the city without a leash on.  The answer we always give them?  Never.

We know they mean well, and they’re eager about training their dogs, and training them well, and we love seeing that effort.  But – for those of us living in Toronto (and all city folk) – never is the right answer.

Why is it so important to keep your dog on leash?  Let’s break it down.

What are the potential downsides to having your dog on a leash?

None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Your dog could care less; at least, assuming you’ve trained them to walk well on a leash. Keep reading to find safe and respectful ways to provide more freedom for your dog.

What are the reasons to always have a leash on your dog?

  1. Safety.  You could have the best trained dog in the world, but you just never know.  What if your wonderful, smart dog just one time takes off after a squirrel or a cat and gets hit by a car?  Would you ever forgive yourself?  What if a car backfires and scares your dog, and your dog runs away?  It only takes one time, and no dog is perfect.
  2. In respect of other dogs.  One of the most common reasons we see clients for private lessons is because their dogs are leash reactive; ie. fearful, anxious, or aggressive towards other dogs while they are on leash.  One of the biggest complaints these clients have is that people let their off-leash dogs run up to their on-leash dogs, saying, “don’t worry, my dog is friendly!”  But the fact is, yours may be – but theirs isn’t.  Theirs is scared or aggressive.  And yours is at worst going to get injured (going back to the first point, safety) – potentially then developing their own fear or reactivity – or at best, will remain safe but set that reactive dog’s training that they’ve been working so hard on back.
  3. In respect of other people.  You love dogs.  That’s great; we do too.  But not everyone does.  Some people are scared of dogs, or have allergies, or have religious/cultural beliefs that mean that they don’t want to interact with your dog.  Letting your off leash dog charge up to them is incredibly insensitive.

Two dogs off leash walk



Letting your dog run off-leash outside of designated off-leash areas isn’t necessary!

Want to safely provide more freedom for your dog? Here are some ideas!

  1. Bring your dog to a designated off leash area.
  2. Use a long line and harness to go for hikes. Check the local legislation regarding the use of long lines, as not all places allow them.
  3. Rent a backyard! Sniffspot allows people to rent private spaces to allow their dog off-leash.

Want our city to be more dog friendly?  Be a good neighbour with your dog, and keep leashes on unless in off leash areas!

Need help teaching your dog to walk nicely on leash? Our instructors are ready to help!

5 Replies to “When Can You Start Walking Your Dog Without a Leash?”

  1. I was nervous when I saw your lead in and wondered what your answer would be. I was so relieved to hear that you said NEVER.
    There is nothing worse that seeing a beautiful golden retriever laying dead in the street with its owner standing over him with his leash rolled up in his hand. ” If only” he must be saying over and over.

  2. My dog is leash reactive. We’ve been working very hard on curbing her behavior with clicker training, but it is so challenging when other’s chose not to leash their dog in public places. Thanks for putting this article up.

  3. Two things I hear at lot from dog trainers are “only let your dog off leash in off leash areas” and “dog parks are terrible, never take your dog there.” While both of these things are sound advice they leave a lot of owners stuck between two bad choices. Most people don’t have the luxury a private, fenced backyard in a city this size and will end up having to choose one of these routes to give their dog any off leash time.

    Until Toronto invests in adequate facilities for pet owners you will always see people walking their dogs off leash, regardless of whether or not they should. In their eyes, the most they can do is train the dog well enough to make that feasible.

    1. We have 4 Dog parks within 5 min drive of our area in the East End of Toronto but it took some time to figure out which one was the best one for our mini sized dog. It takes some time to research each park and getting to know the owners but overall its been such a blessing. My advice for people who say there are no other options, please spend some time looking for a Dog park that fits your needs.

  4. My dog off leash but she a service dog
    And being on a leash can sometimes interfer with her tasks but that’s it! She is vested and beside me at all times and dosent leave her heel position!

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