Do off leash areas actually achieve what councils hope they will?
 Baw Baw Features   Baw Baw News   By // 08:30, Tuesday 29 September 2015

bbsc pet expo 2014 penny gibson of crossover with solomon and gracie by william kulich for the warragul citizen

BAW BAW // THE BAW Baw Shire Council has recently reminded residents its 12 month trial of off leash areas is limited to nine parks around the LGA.

Above: on leash: Penny Gibson of Crossover with Solomon and Gracie at Burke Street Park, Warragul. Photo: William PJ Kulich.

First published in the 28 August 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.


At the introduction of the areas in March, some in the community questioned the worth of the areas. The debate provoked strong emotions from off leash area fans and opponents, so the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen set out to answer the question: do off leash areas actually achieve what they are set up to achieve?

The answer, in short, seems to be off leash areas have long-term benefits for both dogs and humans, as well as the surrounding community, so long as they are appropriately policed.

A practising veterinarian who is writing a doctorate of philosophy at the University of Melbourne on anxiety in dogs, Dennis Wormald, told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen off leash dog areas needed strict rules to ensure dogs and humans got the most out of the spaces.

He also said people needed to have common sense when walking more aggressive dogs – one of the concerns frequently raised by objectors to allowing dogs to run free.


A Baw Baw Shire spokesperson said the council would inform the public to not walk dogs in the off leash areas if they could not be controlled without enforcement.

“This is a decision that every responsible pet owner must make,” the spokesperson told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.

However, he said available evidence that dogs in off leash areas proved to be dangerous to wildlife was not sufficient.

A report by the Wildlife Hospital at Healesville Sanctuary concluded that 115 attacks on animals were made by dogs between 20 September, 2008 and 31 January, 2010.

A further 79 attacks on animals were made by cats, suggesting dogs have a bigger environmental impact than cats.

Mr Wormald said if the necessary fencing was installed, the same biodiversity could be maintained, even though some of the wildlife may vacate from fear of the dogs.

The Baw Baw spokesperson said fencing would be installed if the trial was successful and if the council saw it necessary.

Mr Wormald said allowing dogs to run around parks and other areas without the restrictions of a leash provided for more than twice the exercise than a walk with a leash provided.


“Off leash areas are beneficial to both humans and animals, as it takes only 45 minutes off leash to provide the same amount of exercise of 2 hours on a leash,” he said.

Baw Baw mayor Debbie Brown said in a media release the balance between the wellbeing of others and the satisfaction of dog owners needed to be kept throughout the trial.

“Of course, this balance can only be struck if dog owners continue to exercise caution by only allowing their dogs to be off leash if they are able to control them,” Cr Brown.

Mr Wormald said off leash parks would encourage dogs to socialise more and the animals would be able to engage in playful behaviour, but more restrictions needed to be placed on those with unfriendly dogs.

He said the benefits of off leash dog walking areas, including an increased life span for both pet and owner, and higher attendance and use of amenities outweighed the negatives, so long as there was sufficient infrastructure.

He said deterrents for owners who do not clean up after their dog or bring hostile dogs to the areas could be introduced.

The council said the success of the trial depended on the actions of the community.

“If everyone obeys the rules and respects the right of other park users to enjoy the parks, there is no reason why the trial would not be successful,” the council spokesperson said.

Dog owners seen leaving waste at any park will be fined $200, but Mr Wormald said enforcement was a major issue in dog behaviour restrictions across the state.

“There is a complete lack of policing of dog walking at the moment,” he said.

He said the main message was “be smart” around and with dogs at all times.

Baw Baw’s trial off leash areas are at Brooker Park in Warragul, Bellbird and Alex Goudie parks in Drouin, Darnum Recreation Reserve, Trafalgar’s James Balfour Oak Tree Park, Dowton Park in Yarragon, Kydd Parke Reserve in Jindivick and Dunstan Oval and St Phillack Reserve in Rawson.

Follow the author on Twitter

 Get free email updates from the Baw Baw Citizen 

 Read more Baw Baw Features   Read more Baw Baw News  

2 responses to “Do off leash areas actually achieve what councils hope they will?”

  1. John Kneebone says:

    My complaint is it’s ok for council to allow freedom to let dogs off leash in St Phillack Reserve in Rawson, BUT the amount of dog droppings has increased 10 fold from ignorant pet owners who think that it is beyond them to pick up after their dog.
    Living and observing in area it is disgraceful that if you happen to bring to attention of dogs owners whose dogs soil paths etc that they have a responsibility to others who use the area for recreation not having to dodge walking in droppings only to be verbally attacked when there are bins and bags for collection is beyond me.

    It’s not working walk around crater lake and you will see for yourselves.

    Maybe policing is the answer but that is not cost effective , a few signs reminding to pick up might help BUT lethargic dog owners will bleat ,it’s good to see some adhere to rules though…Over to you Baw Baw Council !!!

  2. Keryn Riddington says:

    The above comment seems to assume that the droppings are made by dogs OFF leash. I would like to say that my experience(not in Rawson but Warragul) is that many people who had their dog on lead did not pick up after it and thus many of the droppings are on the path. an off leash dog is much more likely to do its droppings off the path and in the grasseds area.