Wildlife groups say Calgary's off leash dogs causing problems

Wildlife cameras snap thousands of dogs on the run in parks where leashing is required.

Wildlife cameras snap thousands of dogs on the run in parks where leashing is required

Dogs enjoy a spring day at Sue Higgins Park, one of Calgary's 157 sanctioned off-leash areas. (Helen Pike/CBC )

After three years of collecting wildlife photos, most pictures snapped by the Calgary Captured program are of humans and their pets between 2017 and 2020.

What's more, of 20,000 photos collected of dogs off-leash, 89 per cent were in areas where they should have been on a lead. 

The city has more than 150 designated off-leash areas. By default, dogs must be leashed in any public space – unless there are signs allowing them to run free.

A heat map shows the instances of off leash dogs captured by Calgary Captured cameras. (Submitted by Tracy Lee )

While dogs love zooming through the mud, water, and grass – wildlife groups want dog owners to understand the rules aren't random, they help animals thrive in Calgary. 

Spring is an important time for birds. Nature Calgary's Kaya Konopnicki said it's a time they are getting ready to mate and nest. 

Some birds in Alberta don't build their homes high up in trees. Instead, shorebird species and killdeer nest by burrowing on the ground. 

So Konopnicki said when dogs and even people walk through grassy areas in Dale Hodges Park, or Carburn park, they could be treading on nests or scaring the parents away.

"When their parents are scared away from the nest that way, they might not return," Konopnicki said. "All of a sudden you've got a failed nesting season. And that is a concern … these little tiny effects start building up."

The Miistakis Institute, which helps run the Calgary Captured program, said the data collected showed how animals in parks with more human activity and off-leash dogs have changed their behaviours. 

"We did find through this study that in areas where we have a high level of human activity and dog activity, that wildlife has shifted its behaviour to be more nocturnal," Lee said, "So they've shifted to use the parks when we're not there."

One easy fix? Abide by the bylaws, Lee said. Adding while the city has great bylaws to protect wildlife, their data show more education is needed. 

"The city is implementing these bylaws for a reason," Lee said. "They have these bylaws for the benefit of not only us, but also the biodiversity that occurs within our city."

A coyote captured by one of Calgary Captured cameras located in Fish Creek Park. (Submitted by Tracy Lee)

Konopnicki said that while it frustrates her to see off-leash dogs in these sensitive areas, she's stopped confronting people about it. 

"A lot of times people are like: 'I'm allowed to have my dog off-leash here. You can't tell me what to do. Leave me alone.' I've had people yell at me," Konopnicki said. 

As a dog owner herself, she said it's not just a concern for wildlife. 

"My dog doesn't enjoy meeting your off-leash dog, I think it's just even a matter of common courtesy," Konopnicki said.

According to the city, infractions and complaints have dropped over the last two years. In 2020 there were 5,370 complaints and 497 tickets issued. Last year, that went down to 4,975 complaints and 444 tickets. 


Helen Pike


Helen Pike led CBC Calgary's mountain bureau in Canmore. She joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues and wildlife. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.