Did You Know: Calgary Has Leash Laws

Yesterday the hot topic in local news and social media was the story of a person walking his/her dogs off-leash in an on-leash area at Nose Hill Park: one of the dogs got caught in a toothless trap designed to catch coyotes for a University of Calgary research study, performed in conjunction with the City of Calgary.

Those are the facts and you can check out the hyperlinks for more details.

Outrage ensued, Twitter and Facebook fired up, and complaints were made to the City, the University, and the Humane Society, such that the study was put on pause less than 24 hours after the incident.

If you ask me, this seems like blaming a car for hitting you when you purposefully walk into oncoming traffic.

The dog was off-leash… in an on-leash area.  The traps were specifically put in densely wooded on-leash areas (and are only active between sunset and sunrise) to prevent this very thing.  And to suggest a child could get caught in them as well (as I’ve seen some do) is just hyperbole.

One affronted person tweeted an Alderman to ask what bylaws apply to this situation.

Let me tell you: Bylaw Number 23M2006, section 12, which states owners of dogs shall ensure they are not running at large, meaning off-leash, not under control, and can still include on-leash dogs if they cause harm or distress to others.

Alma and Moses in Nose Hill Park. Note the leashes, the close proximity to me as I take photos, and the controlled sit-stay. 

This dogs-at-large rule applies to both on-leash and off-leash areas.  So yes, that even means if you can’t control your dog at the dog park – have them come in when you call, for example – that is still considered “at large” even if it’s a designated off-leash area.

Outside of designated off-leash areas, dogs are to be on leashes no more than 2 metres long (that means, yes, flexi-leashes are against bylaw!).  While on city pathways, dogs are to walk on your right-hand side away from oncoming pedestrians, bikes, and other dogs, and are not to interfere with others.   It’s all in the bylaw; did I just blow your mind?

As for the case at hand, the University research team posted signs in the parks at least 50 metres from the traps.  This means as the owner was reading the sign, the dogs was out of sight and 50 metres away – not under control or on-leash, and therefore definitely at large.

Nose Hill Park frequently has signs posted warning of studies, surveys, animal warnings, and pesticide sprays.

Now I know most signage gets ignored – Caution, Hot!  Wet Paint.  Please Use Other Door.  Cash Only.  Out of Order. Slippery Floors – but as a responsible dog owner using a large park that is famous for coyotes (obviously, hence the study), deer, and porcupines, caution and awareness should be your priority.

Rather than throwing the hammer down on the City and the University for undertaking a study that undoubtedly will have interesting results that are beneficial to dog owners (lots of little dogs lose their lives to coyotes in that very park every year), I’d prefer to see this situation touted as an educational opportunity to better inform the public about leash laws, training, and responsible pet ownership.

Because the bottom line is that if the dog was on-leash as it should have been, this never would have happened.

Geez, pair this with the Nose Hill Gentlemen incident and perhaps it’s better to avoid that park altogether.  (I jest.)

As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to look out for your dog’s safety and wellbeing at all times.  That means staying on-leash in on-leash areas, observing pet bylaws, undergoing training, and being realistic about the control and supervision you have in off-leash situations.  If you can’t guarantee their safety, don’t take the risk.

Not to mention, it’s irresponsible or unaware owners who ruin it for the rest of us by creating valid complaints about this city’s dog owners and their perceived lack of care and attention to park and pathway etiquette and bylaws.

These are the very bylaws that earn Calgary international praise for our Responsible Pet Ownership mandate and help keep unfortunate dog incidents out of the news, but that doesn’t mean very much if no one knows about them or abides by them.

The good news is that the dog in question walked away from the incident free of harm, but unfortunately, in my opinion, the media and commentary surrounding the story has missed the lesson entirely.

The Husband, myself, and Moses at Nose Hill Park

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Flexi-Leash Fury

Flexi-Leash Fury

Visualize for a moment with me, now will you?

I am walking my dog down a familiar suburban sidewalk.  On the horizon I spot an oncoming pedestrian.  Like any alert dog owner, I scan for the silhouette of a dog, just to prepare for any possible meetings, greetings, or altercations.  I see nothing and proceed as normal.

Then, as the figure approaches, I notice something in her hand.  It appears that she’s holding something – about the size of your averaged paperback – by its handle.  Ahh, the all too familiar flexi-leash.  Since her accompanying dog is not readily noticed, I scan once again for her canine companion until I spot him:  a small Scottish Terrier who is a good 20 feet away from his owner, sniffing and marking his way along the neighbourhood lawns.  He is far ahead of her as she marches down the sidewalk towards me completely oblivious and unprepared.

As we get closer, Mr. Scottish Terrier finally notices us approaching and is not okay with our presence.  Barking and lunging ensue.  My usual recourse for interactions such as these is to pull over to the grass with my dog on the inside and calmly keep going, paying no mind to the temper tantrum that is occurring on the sidewalk.  I give the other owner a wide berth, allowing him or her to take as much control over the reacting dog as is possible.  We have worked on this a lot and happily Moses rarely perks an ear to these types of encounters any more.

However, in this particular case, that is not an option.  With his owner as the pivot point, the terrier now has a 20 foot radius to patrol as we pass by, necessitating our move onto the curb among parked cars and close to residential traffic to keep out of the little mongrel’s way.  The terrier proceeds to bark and lunge at the end of his leash, and even gains a few extra feet of leash since his owner is too slow on the brake.  I can hear the flexi-leash click as it either becomes totally extended or the brake mechanism has broken.  With the long distance from his owner to gain momentum, this 20 lb little dog is actually able to nearly pull his average-sized middle-aged female owner over with his efforts to get closer to us.  She tries backing on to someone’s lawn in a weak effort pull him out of our way, since she cannot reel him in without any slack in the line.

Once we pass and are safely back on the sidewalk, it takes everything in my power not to shout back to her “lose the flexi-leash!”

Sure, there really are several problems working in tandem here: a less than stellar dog owner, poorly trained dog, and a crappy, but all too common, piece of equipment.  My target here is the ever-infuriating flexi-leash.

Nothing during the course of an average dog walk irritates me more than encounters similar to the above.  Or seeing any dog at any time being walked on a flexi-leash for that matter.  As a motorist or pedestrian it is far too common a sight to see a dog walking along, or even crossing the street, 20 feet ahead of or behind its owner.  The safety concerns seem obvious, yet stores keep selling these leashes, and people keep buying them.  Yes, I immediately and harshly judge the flexi-leash user.  And not just because incidents like the aforementioned are frequent and put a damper on my own dog walks, but because there are legitimate reasons why the flexi-leash should never be considered a useful tool to the responsible dog owner.

Quite frankly, flexi-leashes are an abomination, and their popularity is based on completely false and irrational myths believed by naïve buyers.  Despite by-laws in many municipalities setting the maximum appropriate leash length at 6 feet/2 metres (e.g. Calgary, Alberta), these little devices are as popular as ever.

The ads will tell you that these retractable leashes give your dog more “freedom” while you maintain control.  This is very simply false.  Any added distance between you and your dog means less control.  Just ask the owner of the Scottish Terrier from the story above; she had no control over her dog whatsoever, and the look on her face at the time suggested to me that she was quite aware of it.  Was it enough to prompt her to ditch the flexi-leash for a sensible 6 foot one?  Well, unfortunately probably not, but there’s no accounting for common sense.

And all too often we see the unbalanced, under-exercised little lap dog yapping away at the end of the flexi-leash.  But how about when it’s the other way around?  Now imagine that a calm, friendly dog is on the end, still 20 feet away from its owner, and going in for a greeting with an unfamiliar dog – and said greeting just happens to turn south for one of a myriad of possible reasons.  The owner of the dog has no immediate recourse to protect their dog from the aggressor when the altercation is going down so far away.  A dog truly intent on harming another can and will do so in a split second.  Now imagine both dogs are on flexi-leashes and neither owner is able to respond quickly enough.  Mon Dieu!

Your dog’s health and safety is your number one responsibility as a dog owner, so how is it that the flexi-leash keeps slipping through the cracks?  The flexi-leash poses a safety risk to your dog, and that’s all there is to it.  Your dog can encounter any number of things during a walk (other dogs, other people, bikes, vehicles, porcupines, skunks, etc.), and when they are 20 or more feet away you are less likely to be able to anticipate it, prevent it, or help them quickly in a serious situation.  Yes, people actually have stood helplessly by while their dog – at the end of a flexi-leash – wandered onto the road and got hit by a car.

In addition to being a hazard to your dog, the flexi-leash also poses hazards to the human user, including tripping and tangling which are obvious risks associated with that much lead.  More serious hazards actually include reported cases of abrasions, rope burn, and even finger amputations (for those who believe a visualization of these hazards is helpful, visit http://www.flexiusa.com/operation/safety-advice.php ).  The flexi-leash comes with a bonafide owner’s manual when purchased, with the least of precautions being that they’re only to be used with obedient, well-mannered dogs.  Experience, of course, shows us that is rarely the case.

Some actually suggest that having a dog on a flexi-leash has made the need for teaching them to “heel” or “come” unnecessary.  Opting to forego some basic obedience because of sheer ignorance, stupidity, or indifference?  Really?

And while we’re at it, no, allowing your dog to zig-zag around does not “give her more exercise” or let her “enjoy” the walk more.  Are you truly so lazy that you are looking for shortcuts and cannot take your dog on a proper daily walk?

Flexi-leashes also do not prevent your dog from pulling, as many claim; they just mask the problem.  Put the same dog on a proper leash, and the owner will complain of pulling – why?  Because the dog always pulls.  When using a flexi-leash, the dog actually learns to pull, since they must pull forward to get more lead.  Additionally, flexi-leashes self-retract when not locked, so there is always tension on the leash.  Because the reel of the leash is the only part that monitors the tension and slack, the owner is oblivious.  But all you have to do is look:  no slack in the line means the leash is tight; tension means the dog is pulling.  Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

And, finally, for those who will inevitably respond that the flexi-leash is a great tool for training your dog at a distance, I pose this question: if your dog isn’t perfectly behaved at the end of a 6 foot leash, how can you expect them to be just as good from 20 feet away?  If you properly practice building up distance when training, making slow, gradual increases in distance will ensure you’ll never need to make use of a long-line or flexi-leash.  Your dog will learn to pay attention and respond from 5, 10, even 50 or more feet way.  From a training perspective, the ever-tight flexi-leash also does not provide any method to send our dogs clear messages or follow-up.  Sure, from a distance we expect our verbal commands to do the work, but if they are spot-on and built up gradually, a flexi-leash should never be required.  Controlling our urge to push our dogs too far too fast will make the seemingly most legitimate use of the flexi-leash obsolete altogether.

The bottom line:  the flexi-leash is an awful contraption that should never be used.  The use of a flexi-leash simply signifies to me an untrained dog accompanied by an uneducated owner.  And fewer things are more infuriating than that.