A woman walking a dog on a leash through Auckland on a Saturday morning.

Yes or No – Should My Dog Be on a Lead in Public Spaces?


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Should your dog be on a lead in public spaces? It’s a simple question and it’s covered by the Dog Control Act, but not every dog owner knows the answer. That’s why PD Insurance and the Department of Conservation are running the Lead the Way programme to help improve general dog leash knowledge. And to share the potential dangers of off-leash dogs, including their (usually unintentional!) impact on wildlife.

In this article we’re rounding up some top dog lead questions and answers. We’ll also share the perks of getting a Lead the Way lead. Take a look.

A woman walking her dog on a wooden bridge, holding the dog lead.

Should my dog always be on a lead in public?

Should your dog always be on a lead in public? We recently asked 2,000 pet insurance customers this question to find out what they think. We specifically asked when a person should have a well behaved dog on leash.

Here are the results:

  • 54% – at all times
  • 28% – sometimes, depending on the situation
  • 16% – sometimes, depending on the Council rules of the area in question
  • 2% – never, if the pet is well behaved they don’t need a lead

Now let’s take a look at what the Dog Control Act says.

When and where are dogs supposed to be on a leash?

Generally speaking, dogs always need to be kept under control – whether at home or in public spaces. The best way to achieve this in public spaces (in addition to training them) is having your dog on a lead. Using a dog lead is a big part of being a responsible dog parent.

Unless you’re in a designated ‘off-leash dogs’ zone the golden rule is to keep the lead on. Depending where you live in New Zealand and what season and/or time of the day it is, where dogs can and can’t be on and off-leash can vary.

Regardless, you should always carry the lead with you, even if your dog is off-leash. Not keeping a dog under control can result in a fine of up to $3,000.

A dachshund wearing a harness goes for a walk

New Zealand’s Dog Control Act

Local governments have the power, as outlined in the Local Government Act 2002, to establish rules for different reasons. This includes stopping dogs (controlled or not) from entering certain public places. For example, you can be fined for taking your dog to a national park.

They can also require dogs, except for working dogs, to be kept on a leash in specific public areas or in designated parts of the district. Read the full dog control act here.

For example, in Auckland dogs must be on-leash in all council-controlled public places with unrestricted access. This includes boating areas, public roads, cycle tracks, bus stops, footpaths, near playgrounds that are being used and near sports facilities.

Why use a dog lead to keep people and animals safe?

Dogs grow up faster than people. By the time your German Shepherd is 18 (human) months old, it can already have reached its full dog size. If it’s not used to wearing its dog lead by this time you could be in for a rollercoaster of a ride when trying to step outside the house and venturing into public spaces.

Let’s just say your dog could be leading you and not the other way around.

Avoiding a dog’s bark and its bite

Even a dog that’s well leash trained ought not to roam freely in public off-leash. Dogs can be very emotional animals – like us – but when they shout it comes out as a growl and when they fright or become territorial they can be driven to bite.

If your dog gets scared, startled, feels threatened or simply follows through on unbidden curiosity with its mouth, it could spell disaster.

Protecting your dog and NZ wildlife

Think of the unique yet vulnerable wildlife we have in New Zealand and what it means for a dog to go foraging in a nest of hatchlings, for example. Or, imagine a young child who’s as tall as your dog looking it straight in the eye. Whereas the child is simply looking, for a dog that behaviour signals a challenge.

We’ve put together great guides to help you protect children, dogs and wildlife, including:

Have you done our wildlife conservation quiz to find out how wildlife wise you are as a dog owner? It’s fast and you can up your knowledge on caring for your canine companion and our wildlife in one go.

A little puppy holds his tether in his mouth and looks super cute during a walk

How to lead train a dog

Now for the big question: How do you train your dog to walk on a lead? Dogs are generally very keen learners because they like the activity and engagement that comes from spending time together. They enjoy the focus being on them too.

Here are steps for getting your dog trained to use their lead:

  • Reward based training. Positive reinforcement dog training using treats has been shown to have the best long term learning outcomes for our pooches and it saves you scolding or punishing them.
  • Introduce the walking gear before the walks. Ease them into lead training by getting them used to wearing a collar dragging a lead around the house. Make sure you supervise them so they don’t get into a pickle if the dog lead snags anywhere. If you’re planning to use a harness, introduce that too. Reward them when they’re in their “walking gear” to create positive associations.
  • Go slow and work together. Choose a quiet, safe environment for initial walks and keep them short to match your furbaby’s short attention span. Teach them to walk with no pressure on the lead, standing still if they pull until they return. Remember, each puppy learns at their own pace, so be patient and go at their speed. Check out our complete guide to teaching your puppy to walk on a lead.
Two woman that are old friends laugh as they try to keep up with their dogs who lead the way running ahead

How to stop my dog pulling on its lead

Dogs often pull on their leads out of excitement or because they’re faster and more energetic than us. Their keen sense of smell makes walks a sensory adventure and pulling becomes a rewarding habit.

You’ll need to stop your dog from pulling on its lead by teaching them to walk beside you. Start by “being a tree”, which basically means stopping and standing on the spot each time your pup pulls. Then once they come back to you, give them a treat to reinforce that behaviour.

Sounds simple right? It requires patience and repetition and it works wonders long term. There are a few more steps to getting it right, which we’ve covered in our guide to stop your dog pulling the lead.

What type of lead is best for a dog?

Getting the right gear for your dog is important – when you think of how even a tiny dog can pull a fully grown unsuspecting adult that gives you a good idea of a dog’s inner might. It also means that the dog lead and collar put a lot of pressure on their muscles, bones and joints.

Getting the right gear, like an anti-pull harness, helps make walks more manageable and safer. Especially for certain breeds prone to neck issues like IVDD. Check out our guide to dog leashes and leads.

Lead the Way dog leads

Did you know you can join in on the Lead the Way programme just by choosing the one of its colour coded dog leads? The leads are designed in a range of colours – each to communicate what your dog is comfy with in terms of interaction.

Here’s a quick look:

  • Green (green light) – this is a dog is comfy around dogs and people and you can approach to greet it
  • Orange (go slow) – sometimes comfortable around other dogs and people, but not every time
  • Red (stop) – give the dog its space as it’s not comfy around unfamiliar dogs and people
  • Yellow – give the dog its space because it’s living with disability or vulnerable in another way

It’s important to ALWAYS ask the owner before you pet a strange dog. For your sake, the owner’s and the dog’s.

A woman standing on the beach with a husky dog, holding a dog leash.

Taking your dog to off-leash spaces

Many of New Zealand’s beaches have dog friendly zones at different times of the year. Even then, usually the zone is open to dogs at specific times of the day, so check ahead to make sure. Read more in our article about dog friendly beaches in New Zealand.

Remember, always carry your dog’s lead with you, even when you’re in off-leash dog spaces. This applies on beaches, in parks, pet friendly cafes and well beyond. Check out our guide to dog park safety for more top tips.

Award winning dog insurance for a soft landing

While keeping your dog lead on, or in, hand when necessary is a great way to protect your dog here’s another… Multi award winning dog insurance that helps pay for unanticipated vet bills that can quickly spiral from the double to triple dollar digits or more.

Dog insurance can help cover the cost of treatments for illnesses, accidents and even dental – it’s up to you to choose the level of cover that suits your pet and your pocket. Buy a PD Insurance policy online today and get one or more months of FREE pet insurance. Click below to get a quote.

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