Keeping dogs on-leash protects our parks’ ecological integrity

Today’s blog comes from Emma Dennis, an assistant Discovery Program leader at Killarney Provincial Park.

I am a lover of the outdoors and an avid hiker, so it’s only natural that I own two dogs that share that same passions. As Killarney residents, we are lucky enough to have Killarney Provincial Park as our backyard.

Whether we are hitting the Granite Ridge Trail on a Sunday morning for a quick hike to start our day, or spending the afternoon adventuring to the top of “The Crack,” we live our best lives when we are hiking the trails.

As a dog owner, I am always looking for new, dog friendly trails to conquer.

two dogs on trail

Rules and regulations in regards to dogs in parks can sometimes be intimidating. A “Dogs must remain on leash” sign can sometimes be interpreted as “Dogs are not welcome.”

As a dog owner with a great love for animals, I can see why this may be off-putting. However, it’s this love for animals — coupled with my love of the environment — that allows me to understand WHY it’s so important that we obey this rule.

It ensures the safety of our pets, and the protection of our surroundings.

How does keeping your dog on leash protect the environment?

Mukluk during “Tails on Trails,” 2019

Let’s talk ecological integrity.

Ecosystems have integrity when they have a mixture of living and non-living parts, and the interactions between these parts are not disturbed (by human activity).

As human beings, we should aim to live in harmony with our natural environment, leaving no trace behind.

As dog owners, we should aim to do the same, making sure that we leave our natural surroundings the way they were before a hike with our four-legged friends.

And that means ensuring dogs are kept on leash.

Group photo (featuring Arkanine, Mukluk, and Winnie) at the top of Granite Ridge during “Tails on Trails Dog Hike” at Killarney Provincial Park, 2019

There are different ways that keeping your dog on leash protects ecological integrity.

Let’s get down to business. Your dog’s business…

Keeping a dog on leash allows us to see where he/she decided to…y’know.

Aside from the obvious reasons to pick up after your dog (ew!), dogs — yes, even healthy ones — can carry viruses, bacteria and parasites which can be passed on to wild animals.

Bring a doggy bag with you and properly dispose of it.

A leashed dog can’t go “barking up the wrong tree”

Some dogs have a heightened prey drive, others are curious, and some just like to chase things.

Wildlife face natural predators, but an encounter with a domestic dog is stressful and can compromise the safety of the other animal(s).

Though your dog may still bark at furry passersby, the leash allows wildlife to make their getaway safely. It is important to be able to enjoy your surroundings without disturbing the wildlife that call it home.

Two dogs at top of the trail.
Mukluk and Opal with their bear bells to alert wildlife to their presence, leashes attached at all times

Letting your dog run off-leash can also compromise your own safety. Unleashed dogs can actually lead bears back down the trail to you. And you wouldn’t want your pup injured in an encounter with a skunk, raccoon, or coyote.

Without a leash, your dog may unintentionally wander into a protected or sensitive area

Dogs may trample, disturb soil, dig up trees, plants and woody debris that act as essential sources of food/habitat for species, as well as essential nutrients for the earth.

They may also wander into areas that have been closed off to visitors in order to preserve/protect an area that is experiencing environmental stress.

There is also the risk of your pet wandering into an area containing invasive species, unknowingly collecting seeds, and distributing them throughout other areas of the park (just happens when you’re covered in fur!).

Dogs are unaware of these ecological risks.

That’s why it’s so important for dog owners to acknowledge these risks, and contribute to the preservation of these natural landscapes.

Let’s all do our part!

Emma and Mukluk looking out from a lookout.
Mukluk and I during our first organized dog hike (Tails on Trails) at Killarney

Ontario Parks are wonderful places to explore and enjoy the natural environment in the company of our four-legged adventure companions.

Dog friendly trails, fenced-off exercise areas, and designated dog beaches ensure that everyone has a good time.

Remember: dogs should be on-leash at all times in provincial parks. The only exceptions are in designated off-leash areas.

By keeping your pup on-leash, you are not just creating memories with your dog and enjoying your natural surroundings, you are preserving the area so that dogs and owners can experience the same beautiful trail you did for years to come.

Where will you explore with your four-legged friend?