Policy, Research, Public Consultation and Events

Survey Summary - Responsible Dog Ownership Review - November 2015


In July 2015, Municipal Licensing and Standards launched its review of responsible dog ownership. 

ML&S began its initial round of consultation in August 2015 with a comprehensive online survey about dogs and dog ownership responsibility. In addition to the online survey, the review also incorporates feedback gathered from five public consultation meetings and discussions with veterinarians, animal behaviour academics, dog trainers, dog walkers and other stakeholder organizations. 

The online survey was posted on the Municipal Licensing and Standards website www.toronto.ca/mlshaveyoursay and ran from August 21 to September 21, 2015. Preliminary findings were collected and the survey was re-posted and circulated from September 25 to October 30, 2015 to gather additional feedback from the public. The purpose of the survey was to seek feedback from a broad range of Toronto residents and stakeholders to consider any changes which may be needed and to ensure that the City can effectively balance, manage and address dog behaviour, owner responsibility and public safety. 

The survey focused on questions that provided the public with the opportunity to submit detailed written responses on a range of issues. With 2550 completed surveys, including extensive written comments from respondents, MLS staff completed an in-depth review of the issues and opportunities. 

The purpose of this document is to communicate survey findings including, key themes and detailed feedback that were identified in this review.

Respondent Profile

The survey was made available online through the MLS public website and distributed to Councillors through the Monitor for distribution in his or her ward. The survey was sent by email to all Toronto veterinary clinics, resident and neighbourhood associations for circulation through their mailing lists. The survey was tweeted once weekly via Strategic Communications, Toronto Animal Services and 311 twitter accounts. 

In total, there were 2550 responses. Respondents responded individually with the exception of one respondent, who identified that it was completed on behalf of a residents' association. 

The survey required each respondent to identify the ward in which he or she was a resident. The wards with the highest response rate were Ward 32 (12%), 30 (8%), 27 (8%), 19(8%), 20 (7%). Of those who responded to the survey, 71% were dog owners.

Key messages 

Few complaints about dogs: The large majority (83%) of respondents indicated that they had not made a complaint about a dog. 

Dogs at large (on the loose), dog barking, dogs biting and an aggressive dog in a public place are the source of most complaints: The majority of the respondents who at some point complained to an organization about a dog indicate that they complained about a dog at large (47%), a dog barking (21%), dog bites to another domestic pet (22%), and aggressive dog in a public place (21%). 

Complaints about dogs are made to a variety of organizations: While half of respondents identified contacting Toronto Animal Services (55%) or 311 (43%) to make a complaint, they also contacted other organizations depending on the nature and time of the complaint. Examples of organizations contacted to voice complaints were 911 (4%), Councillor's office (15%), Toronto Police Services (14%), ML&S (8%), other (15%). “Other” includes dog's owner, property management, condo board, Toronto Public Health, Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation department. 

Even if respondents did not make a formal complaint, dogs at large (50%), dog barking (36%) and not cleaning up after the dog (80%) were identified as the biggest issues with dogs in their neighbourhood.

Dog issues are not a big deal but can be bothersome: A large percentage (49%) of respondents were not bothered, nervous or afraid. While others were irritated, but not nervous or afraid (40%). A small percentage (11%) indicated that dog issues in their neighbourhood did make them nervous or afraid and 13% said issues had affected their sleep. Some respondents identified that they had no issues with dogs. 

Dog issues can change an owner's behaviour and cause stress to their dogs: Of those who responded 46% indicated that they avoid certain areas where there are dogs that they think are aggressive or dangerous. Another 40% indicated that their dog has experienced stress and 15% indicated that their dog's behaviour has changed. Some respondents indicated "other" (39%) and the majority of these respondents identified that there were no issues or that the issues identified did not affect their dog(s). 

Dog owners are responsible when their dog bites: The majority of respondents (95%) were aware that the owner of the dog is responsible if their dog bites another domestic animal or a person. 

Most respondents do not know to which organization they should report a dog bite: The majority of respondents (57%) identified that they did not know who to report a dog bite to when asked. However, if they needed to report a dog bite the majority (78%) chose to report it to Toronto Animal Services, Toronto Public Health (28%) or Toronto Police Services (25%) and to a lesser extent 911 (9%). Other responses (6%) included physician or veterinarian, the owner, would not report or they weren't sure what they would do, some indicated that their response would vary depending on the situation and severity of the bite. 

Muzzling may be sufficient to protect the public: the majority (64%) of respondents think muzzling is sufficient to protect that public from a dog who has severely bitten in the past. 

Owners of dogs who have severely bitten should be subject to increased fines: Of those who responded, 60% identified that they would like to see the owner subjected to increased fines, others (46%) think there should be a special licence and 44% think that signage should be posted if a dog has bitten and severely injured another dog or human. Other suggestions were mandatory training, seeking an animal behaviourist and not being permitted in off-leash parks, some thought the dog should be seized from the owner or euthanized. 

Respondents would like more information: The majority (79%) of respondents would like to see the City of Toronto increase public awareness and information about dog owner safety and dog owner responsibilities. 

Communications: Respondents indicated that they would like to receive communication in multiple ways. The majority preferred website, social media, through their councillor, via signage or public awareness campaigns or TTC shelters. Other suggestions included vet offices, off-leash parks, schools, pet stores, property managers, CBC radio. 

Other feedback: About half of respondents chose to add additional feedback not covered above on a range of issues. A number of individuals had concerns about enforcement, in particular the availability and response time of enforcement staff. Quite a number of respondents identified that education is a key part of responsible ownership. 

Others had concerns about dog owners not being responsible, unaltered dogs in parks, dogs off leash on the sidewalk or in parks (not in designated off-leash areas), people not cleaning up after their dogs, and dogs needing personal space. Other comments identified that some respondents had few or no problems with dogs or owners. Some would like to see more off-leash parks or off-leash times in existing parks during non-peak periods. Some would like to see more education initiatives for owners and public information for residents. Certain respondents indicated a concern that certain dog owners who are required to muzzle their dog are not complying with this requirement. Some noted that the survey itself was negative, and that most dogs and owners are very responsible and that it is rare to come into contact with a vicious dog. Those dogs who do bite are typically from fearful rather than vicious dogs.

By the Numbers 

Dogs at large, dog barking, dogs biting and an aggressive dog in a public place are the source of most complaints:

Survey data shows that while there were certain key sources of complaints, respondents identified that there were a variety of other issues that were complained about. Complaints included a dog not being cared for (17%), aggressive dog on private property (8%), not cleaning up after a dog (15%) someone having too many dogs (5%) and other (12%). Other responses included reporting a puppy mill, dog broke free of a tether, dog left outside, pit-bull without a muzzle on, found dogs, dog chasing a child, dog in a restaurant or coffee shop. 

Issues identified but not reported include, an aggressive dog in the off leash park (25%), an aggressive dog in a public place (21%), An aggressive dog on private property (11%), dog bit another dog (11%), dog bit a human (5%), someone had too many dogs (11%) and a dog was not being properly cared for (16%). Other issues (14%) included dogs with no tags, unaltered male dogs in the off leash park, no issues with dogs, abusing a dog, dogs left in cars and unattended, insufficient off leash areas. 

Detailed Feedback 

1. Dogs at large

The City of Toronto defines dogs at large in Chapter 349, Animals. According to the by-law the definition for at large is an animal found on any  property other than that of the owner of the animal, and not under control of the owner except where the owner of the property permits the animal to be on his or her property. The by-law identifies that no owner of a dog shall cause or permit the dog to be at large upon or in any grounds or lands owned or operated by the City, such as sidewalks, curbs, boulevards, walkways or other public places, except where permitted by City by-law. Dogs are deemed to be at large when they are found on property other than the property of the owner of the dog and not under the control of any person. This includes when an unaccompanied dog is tethered on public or private property (such as when an individual tethers their dog to go into the coffee shop or grocery store). 

Dogs at large are a key issue noted by respondents in the survey. The survey findings indicate that 47% complained about a dog at large and, of those who hadn't complained, 50% identified that dogs at large were an issue. Of particular concern to residents who witnessed dogs at large were safety concerns for themselves, their children and/or their leashed dogs. Some individuals identified having been chased, bitten or approached without consent by dogs at large. Others identified that dogs at large were the result of irresponsible or arrogant dog owners. 

Respondents also identified the need for additional enforcement for dogs at large, especially in parks. Others suggested that owners and their dogs need more off leash areas in parks to increase compliance and reduce the number of dogs at large in parks. Some thought higher penalties or better signage would encourage compliance. 

2. Dogs biting other dogs or humans

While this is not a common occurrence, it is the one that poses the greatest risk to the public and other dogs. A dog bite is defined in the by-law as any piercing or puncturing the skin as a result of contact with a dog's tooth or teeth. In the case of dogs that have bitten persons or animals, the owner shall be served with a notice of caution (if it is the first offence and the bite is not severe). If the bite is severe or it is the second or subsequent bite on record the owner shall be served a notice to muzzle. 

Of those that responded to the survey, 22% had made a complaint about a dog biting another domestic pet, another 20% complained about an aggressive dog in a public place, and 13% about a dog who bit a human. In cases where a complaint was not made, respondents identified similar issues in the survey. For example, 21% of survey respondents had witnessed an aggressive dog in a public place, 11% identified noticing a dog biting another dog and 5% noticed a dog biting a human. 

While a number of these issues did not present lingering effects, some respondents (11%) identified that they were nervous or afraid since having an issue with a dog. Others (40%) identified being irritated about the situation but not nervous or afraid. Some respondents (13%) indicated that the issue has affected their sleep. 

Some experiences had an effect on respondent's dog. Almost half (41%) of those who responded to this question noted their dog(s) had experienced stress and 15% noted that their dog(s) behaviour had changed. Many (46%) of dog owners noted avoiding certain areas of the city because of certain dogs. 

Currently, both the City of Toronto by-law and the provincial Dog Owners Responsibility Act (DOLA) identify that the owner is responsible if their dog bites another person or domestic animal. Of those who responded on the survey 95% were aware of this dog owner responsibility. DOLA sets out that the owner of the dog is liable for damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog one a person or domestic animal. A proceeding against a dog owner may begin if an individual alleges that the dog has bitten or attacked another person or domestic animal, the dog has behaved in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals, or when it is alleged that the owner did not exercise reasonable precautions to prevent the dog from biting or attacking another person or domestic animal or behaving in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of a person or domestic animal. 

Both Chapter 349, Animals and DOLA provide the City with the authority to order the owner of a dog who has bitten either a person or a domestic animal to restrain the dog by means of a muzzle, a leash and/or confining the dog to its owner's property. This authority exists to ensure the public is adequately protected from dogs who have previously bitten. This authority requires the owner to engage in more effective control of their dog. Of those who responded to the survey, 64% thought muzzling a dog at all times while off the owner's property was sufficient to protect the public, 18% weren't sure whether it was sufficient or not, and 19% thought it was insufficient. Many of the survey respondents would also like to see increased fines for any further charges (60%), specialized licences for dogs who've bitten (46%), and the owner should be required to post a sign on their property advising the public of their dog (44%). Other suggestions included mandatory training for the owner, requiring the owner and dog to consult with a behavioural specialist, pay damages and vet bills resulting from the bite, remove the dog from owner's care, and some were not sure about what should be done. 

3. Increase communication

Public education or communication about this by-law and its application is of interest to respondents. It is clear that while most respondents (95%) understood that a dog owner is responsible for their dog 57% did not know who to report a dog bite to or were not sure what steps to take if their dog or another dog bites. Although, when presented with options for organizations to contact most respondents (78%) indicated they would contact Toronto Animal Services, 28% would contact Toronto Public Health, 25% would contact Toronto Police Services, 9% would contact 911 and others (6%) identified that they would call the owner, their doctor, and for some who they would report the bite to was dependent on the circumstances or the severity of the bite. 

Seventy-nine percent of respondents would like to see the City increase public awareness and information about dog safety and owner responsibilities. Most respondents also wanted the City to communicate with them about the by-law and responsible dog ownership in general and identified several preferred options for communications, such as social media, signage, public awareness campaigns, TTC shelters or City of Toronto website. Overall, is seems that it would be useful to consider ways to better communicate and increase the public's understanding of this by-law.