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Letting Your Dog Off Leash:
Tips for Sharing Leash Free Spaces With Other Dogs

Generally speaking, leash laws dictate that your dog should be on-leash unless in a designated off-leash area. Some municipalities set aside certain parks or spaces specifically so that dogs can run free. It's great fun to watch a dog enjoying a leash-free run, but comes with responsibilities.

Where there are off-leash parks or spaces, there are usually other dogs too. Multiple dogs sharing the same space has the potential for problems to occur. Here are a few things to remember when using a leash-free space:

  • Only bring healthy dogs to the park. There is a risk of dogs contracting diseases from each other. Another risk is that with so many different personalities and temperaments at the park, younger, more rambunctious dogs could knock over or inadvertantly injure an ill or older pet.

  • Don't bring a puppy. Puppies do not yet have fully developed immune systems. Puppies can also be overwhelmed by the sheer number of dogs in the park, and some adult dogs do not appreciate puppies. Positive experiences with other dogs is important for developing a young puppy's confidence around other dogs.

  • Aggressive dogs do not belong in off-leash areas. Whether the dog is people-aggressive or animal-aggressive, he or she is not a good candidate for off-leash areas. Aggressive dogs present a danger to people and to other pets, even if they're kept on a leash. Kids or other dogs can still run up to your pet - a recipe for disaster. Muzzling a dog at a park is also not a good idea, as he is unable to defend himself if he gets attacked.

    If your dog shows any sign of aggression, immediately leash him and leave the park.

  • Make sure your dog is under control. "Off-leash" is not the same as "out-of-control". If your dog does not come when you call him, take him to a good obedience class or find a dog trainer. He should have excellent recall; should understand the word 'no'; and should respond if you have to step in and separate him from another dog. Although it's fun to socialize with other dog owners, it is always the owner's responsibility to supervise his or her own dog.

  • Good socialization is a must. There are many puppy and adult dog classes that teach dogs to appropriately socialize with one another. Being well-socialized will make your dog calmer and more relaxed in situations with new dogs or lots of dogs. That doesn't mean that an odd skirmish or two won't happen; dogs don't always like one another. But this brings us back to the fact that dogs have to be under their owner's control at all times - owners should be able to recall or separate their dog from another if need be.

  • Don't bring toys or food. Dogs can become possessive around toys or food, so leave them at home.

  • Pick up after your dog. No one wants to step in a pile of dog poop. It's unsightly, smells bad, can spread disease, and dogs can run through it well when they play. Take your dog for a potty break before entering the park. Watch him while in the park and clean up immediately. Dispose of the bag in a garbage can.

  • Use common sense. For example, if you have a big, strong playful dog that can quickly get overexcited and start playing too roughly, recall him before that happens; give him a break to settle down before letting him return to play.

Letting your dog off leash can be a fun and rewarding experience for both the dog and for you. Leash free parks and spaces are a privilege; be courteous and responsible so that these parks remain open for all of us to enjoy.