Off Leashed: Unofficial Rules Part 1 – Unleashed

By Justin Lorentz –

“Most unofficial rules are just common sense rebranded”

Toronto’s off-leash parks have rules, as outlined in Municipal Code Chapter #608-34 (Dogs.11). TL;DR my top three include (rephrased):

  1. Leash your dog(s) immediately if they behave aggressively.
  2. Owners of dogs that dig holes must fill them in immediately. Holes are safety hazards for other users, especially after dark.
  3. Always carry a poop bag, a spare and one to share.

These rules make sense, they’re reasonable, and like unofficial rules, you’d expect them to go without saying. However as a new(ish) dog owner I feel there’s an unofficial rule that needs to be said: dogs are to be off leash in an off-leash park.

Off-leash parks give dogs a chance to hang out with their peers without physical tethers to their owners. When you pass those creaky gates into your local fenced-in haven, your dog’s command recognition can be imperfect; it can inconsistently be good at dropping a toy, and it can sometimes choose to stay. Dogs can just be dogs.

But to keep a leash on your dog as they plummet into a crowd of canines is like keeping a child’s shoes untied before letting them play tag with their friends. The excited furballs are a hazard to themselves and to their buddies around them. 

We can all see the elephant in the room yet rarely is it ever acknowledged. And elephants exist for a reason, they’re hard to confront especially when you are likely to see that dog and their owner in line for coffee at Dark Horse on any given day.

Eventually the leash-loving owner will become enlightened; everyone gets there. But what does it take to learn? Ideally it takes and honest conversation but it can also unfortunately take experience.

Here are two learning moments I had in my years of dog parking:

  1. My dog was playing with a younger buddy about the same size, same play style, same energy. One difference: the other dog trailed an eight-foot flat nylon leash. A good 10 minutes into their playing, the other dog’s leash got tangled around my dog’s slender leg. My dog tripped and dragged for a second. He walked it off but limped on that leg for a bit.
  2. An adult dog was running full speed with a four-foot leash flapping around on the ground. While looking away, I heard a loud yelp. The loop of the leash got caught on a root and jerked the poor buddy by its collar to a hard and startling stop. That dog’s fine, I see it at the park all the time. Except now it’s off-leash; the owner’s a convert.

Both those stories suck, but they make clear the hazard a leash can be to its wearer and other playmates.

Let’s not wait for people to learn these lessons at the expense of their or other peoples, dogs. Find the courage to talk to your leash-loving puppy peers when you see their dog tangled in, or tangling up others, at the off-leash park. It may not be obvious to the owner what they’re doing.

A compassionate conversation can’t go wrong, and your advocacy could save a dog from a stressful moment.