There are a number of benefits and challenges associated with the use and management of off-leash areas, and additional considerations when the off-leash area is fenced. Benefits are optimised when appropriate planning, design and management protocols are put in place, and conversely challenges are exacerbated when these matters are not appropriately addressed.

Off-leash areas can provide the following benefits:

  • they provide an alternative recreation option, particularly for residents not as involved organised sport or recreation; and are environments that offer ‘social connection’ with other dog owners
  • they provide an environment where dog owners can exchange advice on dog management, and where responsible dog ownership principles can be promoted and reinforced
  • they allow dogs to socialise freely (important for dog to dog socialisation)
  • they allow apartment and small allotment dwellers to own dogs
  • they provide a focal point for community education and training programs

In addition, fenced or partially fenced off-leash areas:

  • allow dogs to be in parks that include sensitive environmental areas or closely located facilities that may not be compatible with dogs running off-leash e.g. playgrounds, picnic areas
  • allow off-leash areas to be located closer to roads or trails than otherwise possible
  • allow people who do not want to interact with dogs to still have use of the park.

However, there are significant challenges that can be associated with off-leash areas including:

  • increased likelihood of dog litter not being picked up by owners
  • dog owners not controlling their dogs
  • inappropriate dogs (e.g. unregistered, entire dogs, dangerous breeds & dogs that are too young or not vaccinated) being brought to the site
  • increased likelihood of dog rushes and/or bites to humans and other dogs
  • people taking too many dogs to an off-leash area
  • dog owners who do not understand and ‘read’ dog behaviour and know when to take action to remove a dog from the environment.

Then there are additional challenges that are associated with fenced and partially fenced off-leash areas:

  • an increased likelihood of dog bites, rushing and poor owner control over that which occurs in unfenced off-leash areas
  • increasing expectations of dog owners/the community in terms of level of provision and compliance monitoring
  • increased management/maintenance costs
  • overcrowding
  • an attitude by some dog owners that they do not have to prevent their dogs from annoying other people and dogs because they are in an area primarily used by dog owners
  • a decrease in use of the site by cautious or responsible dog owners because of the frequent presence of unruly or aggressive dogs.

The challenges and benefits of dog off-leash areas is discussed in greater detail in the  Technical Manual-‘Planning, Designing and Managing Dog Off-leash Areas’© (Due for release)