Monday, July 2, 2007

Poison Pen Letter re Off Leash Strategy

I have been busy this morning. I wrote a long letter to the City Planner in charge of the Off Leash Strategy that was released a couple weeks ago in relation to the 5 new off leash Pilot Parks that are opening here in the City. I just read it a couple days ago, and it's interesting reading. As you can tell from my letter below, I'm not very happy with it. You can make your own decisions. Ouch!

The pamphlet that I made for Seaview Park is on my blog - here - and the leash free park guidelines for Dogerloo are directly under my letter at the bottom of this post.

Hi there John - I hope you'll excuse the length of this email and all the attachments - but I'm sure you know that off-leash exercise is one of my great passions, and to my great embarrassment - I only finally read the Off Leash strategy a couple days ago - and it has really put a fire under my bum if you know what I mean.

Before I read the document I had planned on revamping my "Charlie loves Halifax" website ( ) because of the strategy - and that is one of the questions I'm emailing you about - are the new pilot parks offleash yet? I want to go to the parks and have a look at them because some of them I don't have on my site at all - and none of them (of course) do I talk about being off leash - I want to talk about what kind of places they are - whether they're good for throwing the ball, or if they're better for pass and sniff walks. As I'm sure you realize - Seaview and Point Pleasant Park give dogs 2 entirely different kinds of off leash experiences - and I'm sure these 5 new parks will add to their types of outings they can have - and I want to tell people what to expect.

So that's one of the questions I have - when can we start taking our dogs there - is it immediately? Or is there a specific date in the future.

The next thing I wanted to talk about is some concerns I have with the Off leash Strategy. I appreciate all the hard work that you have been putting into it for all these last months, and I know that you're trying to make silk from a sow's ear because dog issues are always a no-win issue in Municipal politics. It's always whoever yells loudest who wins - and it's usually not the dog owner who's the loudest yeller. But that aside, I'm going to give you my opinion anyway! haha!

#1 is my concern about one line 3.5.1 Park Rules for Dog Owners - Owners are legally liable for any injuries caused by their dogs. My problem with that is that when you go to a dog park you HAVE to take a certain responsibility for your dog, and that there's going to be all kinds of different dogs there and that they are going to (or might be) playing with your dog and wrestling and you have to do what you feel comfortable with. If you feel uncomfortable with what's going on with the other dogs - it's your responsibility to leave the area so that you feel your dog is safe. As well - I've had experiencences with friends at Seaview who's dog has lightly scratched another dog and that dog owner has COMPLETELY freaked out and taken their dog to the Metro Emergency Clinic and spent several hundred dollars for a slight scratch and then expected my friends to foot the bill - for NOTHING. Would YOU pay that bill because the other dog owner is completely neurotic? I certainly would not.

That one line in the Park Rules for Dog Owners is opening up - not only dog owners - but you are also opening up the City in my opinion to harassing litigation. That is very yucky.

I have attached a pdf file from a leash free park in Waterloo Ontario called "Dogerloo" - unfortunately the Association that took care of this park and the website that associated with it disbanded in 2005 - so this document doesn't exist on the internet anymore - but I still have the document - and it gives GREAT advice about what is usual behaviour and what to expect in an off leash park - things like DON'T carry small dogs around because that's just like carrying "bait" around to the biggger dogs.

I've also attached a document I made up when I used to go to Seaview Park everyday - it's called "Dog Park Etiquette" and it's based entirely on things from - a great website from Ontario - and I had the owner Marjorie Darby's approval to do it. It's a series of articles on what is appropriate dog behaviour in dog parks, and I think it's really good stuff to know.

The problem I mostly have with the Off Leash Strategy is that it seems to not take dogs at all into consideration. There's not really any mention of dogs in there - only City Staffers and how they're going to deal with when things go wrong with the "dog off leash problem".

I also take some umbrage with how the phrase "responsible dog owners always" do this or "responsible dog owners always do" that - like as if you're trying to break dog owners up into "everyone is equal, but some people are more equal than others". You're only cool if you follow "our" rules.

As well - you mention that in the public consultations that people didn't really seem to want to be involved with the off leash strategy implementation - but don't you think you might have gone a little bit TOO far with that? I have to admit that I was absolutely aghast when I read 3.2 Interdepartmental Off Leash Strategy Committee:

"The successful implementation of the Strategy will require an ongoing interdepartmental approach that will include staff and bedgetary committments. A permanent interdepartmental Off Leash Strategy Committee will oversee implementation. It will serve as a decision making body for the selection and design of off leash areas in parks as well as a forum for staff to share views and raise concerns or concepts. The Committee will also establish monitoring and enforcement protocols for dog-related issues, and develop and administer a conflict resolution process. From 2007-2009, the Committee will prepare annual reports for Regional Council concerning Strategy implementation and will make recommendations to Regional or Community Councils concerning the designation or de-designation of off leash park areas. Thereafter, the Committee will provide reports as needed.

The committee will include staff from Real Property Planning, Halifax Regional Police, and Transportation and Public Works. On occasion, staff resources from other HRM departments may be requested to assist the Committee."

Who is speaking for the dogs and the dog owners on this committee? This committee could be filled with dog haters. Hell, it could be filled with CAT LOVERS for all we know! Couldn't you squeeze in a couple people from the dog community there? I'm sure you could find a couple people willing to sacrifice their time. Escpecially since they're making the decisions regarding designation and DE-DESIGNATION of parks.

In all seriousness - these issues are important enough to me that as it stands now, I don't think I'll even be using the new off-leash parks - the liability risk is too great.

And if I'm not going to be able to avail myself of the offleash park I see absolutely no reason to continue to licencing my dogs - because I thought that was a good enough reason to do that. I was completely 100% willing to spend the $15 per dog for my 3 dogs to do that. But now I am not.

I hope there is going to be some more discussion.

Thanks John!


Joan Sinden

In order to improve your enjoyment of the Leash Free Park (LFP) we have put together the following guidelines.


It is up to park users to negotiate amongst themselves their comfort level of their dogs' interactions within the LFP.

We all love our dogs and that is why we take the time to go the LFP. Some people appear to be more protective of their dog than others and this is usually the result of conflict between dog owners. Apparently, the conflict amongst dog owners is HIGHER than the conflict amongst the dogs. Some dog owners may or may not have a sound level of understanding dog behavior. Therefore, it is up to the individuals to decide what they are comfortable with when it comes to their dog's interaction with others in the park.

We acknowledge that at the extreme end of the continuum, some of these behaviours will be considered unacceptable by dog owners as they may lead to injury or spark defensive/offensive behaviour in other dogs.

However, we stress that this is up to the owners to negotiate the level at which they are comfortable with these behaviours, because most of the time, such behaviours are normal, and sometimes necessary.

Charging - Dog or dogs quickly race up to single dog. If your dog is charging, you should do your best to call him back. If your dog is charged by another, don't panic-it will take some time for the dogs to establish their new place in the hierarchy, given the newcomer.

Mass greetings - No, we are not talking about taking your dog to church although some dogs are angelic and others seem devilish. New dog enters the park and two or more dogs approach to greet. Many dogs are uncomfortable with this type of welcome. Some will receive it in a submissive manner, choosing to roll over, lower their head, submissively urinate etc. Others will just stand and tolerate it. Some will try to run away resulting in a chase and unfortunately a few will behave defensively, which could result in the new dog snarling, snapping, growling or even biting. As a courtesy, it is recommended that you recall your dog and temporarily distract him from the new dog.

This is most often likely to occur at the gate. Dogs do not like enclosed places. As such, the park itself, and the gate in particular, will promote territoriality. Please do not encourage your dogs to greet others at the gate, and please do not stand by the gate - KEEP MOVING, DO NOT STAND IN ONE PLACE.

Dogs hump for the following reasons; to mock behavior seen in other dogs, because it feels good, to gain higher ranking, due to hormonal responses and/or because it is self-rewarding or has been inadvertently rewarded by their owners. Some dogs may have hip problems and cannot cope with the added weight, therefore they react in an unpleasant manner. Regardless of the reason, humping can trigger unwanted behavior and again, as a courtesy, you should interrupt your dog's humping actions. You will notice that some dogs continue to hump (the air) even after they have been pulled
off the other dog. This is because humping is involuntary, just as your heart beats.€

Humping - For some dogs, humping is part of their play and mutually acceptable to owners. Some owners however are offended by this, more so than the dogs. If it is not mutually acceptable, do your best to separate the dogs. If the dogs return to each other to continue play, this may indicate they are both happy in their play.

Posturing - Some dogs will stand tall over another dog always trying to keep their head over the other's body. Hackles or guard hairs may rise up between the shoulders and may even extend down their back. The tail may be stiff or may be wagging in short but fast left/right movement(jerky kind of movement or no movement at all, just straight and stiff). (wagging tails do not always mean happy tails!) The ears may be forward (confident) or may be back (fearful). Do NOT interfere with this communication. More often than not, human interference will result in the two dogs engaging in a fight that likely would not have happened otherwise. Stand back and happily call your dog away if you are uncomfortable with it. If you don't permit your dog the opportunity to establish himself and communicate with other dogs, you will leave him in a state of conflict whereas he will not know where he stands. If you interfere with this behaviour, you ris placing your dogs in conflict, and dogs in conflict are the most likely to fight. 'Alpha type' dogs NEVER have to fight. Lower ranking, submissive dogs will not fight and often, but not always,
not even try defend themselves. Overall, most dogs really do not want to fight and the majority of conflicts rarely result in injury.

Smaller dogs being carried by their owners- Simply put, it is like dangling bait. This usually results in dogs wanting to nip at the dog being carried. It is not recommended that you carry your dog.

Play biting - This is a common form of play and is necessary. It helps puppies to establish a soft mouth. Adult dogs engage in play biting as well and most of our domestic socialized dogs will have a soft mouth and not result in any harm. If you are not comfortable with your dog engaged in acceptable play biting
with another dog, that is unfortunate (for your dog) but it is your right to cease your dog's interaction and leave the park. Humans use their hands to touch, grab, feel etc. Dogs use their mouths.

Rejecting other dogs - Barking, snarling, snapping, body movements, growling, raising lips etc are all forms of communication that dogs use to relay messages to others. A dog that is barking, snapping (the air but towards another dog) and or growling is communicating his demand that the other dog leave him alone. There is nothing wrong with communication. If you reprimand the dog for 'communicating' you
are essentially teaching them to skip the talk and just engage physically(shoot first ask questions later). If your dog is being rejected or 'told off' by another dog, it should be your responsibility to call your dog away if YOU are uncomfortable with it. Your dog needs to learn to respect other dog's space and learn its

Finally, please continue to move in the park. Dogs standing still, with the owners will begin to feel more territorial about their area.

It is one of the most often misunderstood and incorrectly used words in the K9 vernacular. There are over a dozen types of aggression and this label is best left to experts in Canine Behavior to assess. If your dog endures an injury, as the result of an altercation with another dog, and it requires medical attention, it is your choice if you choose to report the incident to the City of Waterloo.


1 comment:

  1. Realistic expectations... what's that? (sigh)

    I'd say more, but I'd only get more ticked off.

    Great writing, Joan. Wonderful!!