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  • Writer's pictureNicola Smith

Toronto Dog Walking - Off-leash Dog parks vs On-leash Walks

With the increasing number of dogs in the city, we are looking to evaluate what the best way is to help dog owners and their Toronto dog walkers properly walk them. The question is, if off leash dog parks or on-leash walking should be the preferred choice when exercising your pup.

For some dogs and their owners, dog parks are a very safe and fun place, but this is not the case in all instances. The climate one often finds in dog parks is not always the best or the safest place for all dogs to burn off their energy. When there are 40 dogs to 6 people, with dogs of various breeds, different backgrounds, varying levels of training and socialization, it sometimes can be a recipe for disaster. This is what you can find at many off-leash dog parks while their owners are at their 9-5’s. Invariably, there are some dogs who should not attend dog parks; those that are too young and not yet properly immunized, those that are too old and disinterested in play, those that are too shy or fearful, too bold or defensive and those who lack training.  

A recent survey discovered that only half of dog-parents walk their dogs at least once a day and 33% admitted they rarely walk their dogs at all. Quite obviously, some people go to dog parks in lieu of walking their dogs. And others mistakenly think that the exercise and stimulation their dogs get in a dog park can be a substitute for actual training when nothing could be further from the truth. Training must take place away from the distractions of the herd; as obedience and impulse control are imperative in any public arena. And socialization is a process of exposure to diverse places, sights, sounds, smells, other people of all ages as well as other dogs, all meant to be incrementally digested over time. This will prepare your dog to be introduced to a dog park where proper etiquette is needed, expected, and sadly, often missing.

While dogs are social animals, they, like humans, each have unique personalities and preferences. Every breed is also genetically predisposed to different characteristics and traits resulting in styles of communicating and playing that may be at odds with some other dogs. Consequently, all dogs and breeds are not necessarily compatible companions or appropriate players just because they are dogs.  

Off-leash dog parks are meant to be positive places where dogs have the opportunity to run and jump around, burning off energy and do other doggie things with other dogs. Some dogs will thrive in this environment, others will get bullied, some get into fights that are difficult to control at the best of times, and especially so when dogs out-number their walkers. Then, there are the dogs who will just stand around, not getting any exercise at all. Is this not the whole idea of an afternoon walk; to have your dog burn off excess energy so that they return home in a happy and peaceful state of mind?

For those of you positively inclined to use dog parks, practice your training before doing so; you and your dog will both feel safer, calmer and more confident knowing very clearly what is expected and what the boundaries are. Remain mindful, closely observing the dogs at play; sometimes, it takes something as little as one dog missing or misreading another’s social cues for things to get out of hand very quickly. All it takes is for your dog to have a few bad experiences to seriously set them back in their development. A dog that has been overcome with fear can potentially become aggressive as it perceives the need to defend itself.

When all is said and done, on-leash walking is the best and safest way to establish a relationship with your dog based on your leadership. It provides opportunities for training, socialization, exercise and acquainting your dog with all the smells and experiences of the larger world outside of the home. Hiring an experienced dog walker well versed in canine body language is the next best thing; they will be able to provide compatible on-leash group walks maximizing opportunities for further socialization while challenging your dogs mentally. Walking properly with an experienced walker, your dogs will learn to stay in a calm state of mind while with their pack-mates and thereby establish better manners when with their four-legged friends.


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