Calgary is a great place to live if you have a dog. Not only are there more than 130 off-leash dog parks in the city itself, but there are also countless leashed walks to choose from, whether it be a picturesque riverside walk or a panoramic view of the downtown. And, if you get bored of the urban, and want something more adventurous to do one weekend, then there are plenty of great locations to explore with your four-legged companion in the expansive countryside overlooked by the dramatic Rocky Mountains.
Nevertheless, if you are new to the area, or are thinking about getting a dog for the first time, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure that your canine companion stays happy and healthy all year round!
1. Dogs need to be licensed
The city of Calgary requires dog owners to license their pets as a condition of ownership. This means that if you have a dog that you brought with you from somewhere else, or you have recently acquired a dog or a puppy, you need to register them with the city’s Animal Services by providing them with your dog’s details (name, breed, age, distinctive features), as well as your details (name, address, phone number, email address). You can complete the licensing process online, on the phone, or in person at certain designated locations.
After paying the license fee (see the City of Calgary’s website for the latest fees), the city sends you a metal tag with your dog’s unique license number on it. It is a requirement for your dog to wear their license when not on your property, as it not only proves that your dogs is licensed, but it will allow Animal Services to return your dog to you if it gets lost. If your dog is not wearing their license tag when out and about, or if you fail to license your dog, you risk paying a fine (see Schedule D of the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw for details). The license needs to be renewed annually.
Please note that the above applies specifically to the city of Calgary, and other towns and counties in the surrounding areas have different bylaws relating to pet licensing. For instance, Rocky View County has a one-time, no-fee payable licensing requirement for dogs, but each property can only have a maximum of three dogs. As a result, if you move from one area to another, you need check whether you have changed jurisdiction, as you may need to re-license your dog according to the bylaws of your new residence.
2. Not everywhere is off-leash
Unlike some other countries (such as the UK) where dogs can be walked off-leash unless specifically stated otherwise, Calgary’s bylaws state that dogs must be on a leash unless in a designated off-leash area. Therefore, if you want to let your dog have a run, you need to take it to an off-leash dog park, such as Edworthy Park, or River Park, or stay within the designated off-leash area of parks that are multi-used (such as Bowmont Park and Nose Hill Park). However, it should be noted that designated off-leash areas can end rather abruptly (such as in Bowmont Park) from one part of a park to another, so you need to pay attention to the signs as you’re walking.
In addition, as with dog licensing, different municipalities have different off-leash rules, so if you are planning walks outside of the city, it is best to check the applicable bylaws in advance. For instance, Rocky View County permits dogs to be off-leash even if the area is not specifically designated as such, provided that the dog remains under the owner’s control (i.e. responds to verbal or other commands), but Cochrane, despite being in Rocky View County, has rules which are similar to Calgary, in that dogs are only allowed off-leash in designated off-leash areas.
Finally, if you are heading into a national or provincial park with your dog, you need to keep them on a leash at all times. While part of this stems from preserving the pristine wilderness in the parks, it is primarily for the dogs’ protection, as there are many poisonous plants that a dog can unwittingly eat, as well as wild animals (such as bears, wolves, coyotes and moose) that could seriously injure or even kill your dog if provoked.
3. Respect the weather
Due to its continental location, Calgary has four distinct seasons, each with their own weather patterns and temperature ranges. And while Calgary is arguably the sunniest city in Canada, with over 300 days of sunshine, the weather in Calgary can change very quickly in a short space of time, and it can be dangerous to get caught unprepared. Therefore, it is important to check the weather forecast before heading out, plan for rapid changes in weather, and be mindful of weather warnings.
Generally speaking, the spring and autumn usually have really good dog-walking weather (not too hot and not too cold) with lots of sunshine, and only the occasional showers. However, these two seasons can be quite muddy due to melting snow and ice (snow can start as early as mid- or late September and last well into May). On the other hand, while the average temperatures during the summer and winter are reasonable (generally around 20°C in the summer and ranging between 0°C and -10°C in the winter), these two months do get some extreme weather.
During the summer months, for instance, temperatures can reach 30°C, but with the humid factor, it can feel like 35°C+. In addition, due to the higher elevation, the sun feels a lot more intense (in my opinion) than e.g. in the UK or Europe, so you need to be very aware of dehydration and heat exhaustion for both dogs and humans. Therefore, if the weather starts getting hot, you may need to plan for a bigger walk earlier in the morning when it is cooler (as the temperature may not start to drop off again until 8pm or later) and always take water with you for both yourself and your dog. In addition, thunderstorms can roll in very quickly from clear blue skies, bringing with them heavy rains, golf-ball sized (or even bigger!) hail and even tornadoes (which was not something that we were aware of before moving here!), so it is recommended to sign up to weather alerts (which ping your phone if a severe weather warning is issued by Environment Canada).
The winter, meanwhile, can bring bone-chilling cold fronts down from the Arctic, which can last 1-2 weeks. During these periods, the temperature struggles to get above -20°C (which can feel like -25°C or even -30°C with windchill), and frostbite and hypothermia are very real dangers for dogs and humans.
As a result, since moving to Calgary, it has become a daily ritual for us to check the weather forecast before planning walk(s) for the day. While we have tried a few different weather apps and websites, we have found that the WeatherCAN app (available online at https://weather.gc.ca/, or for download from both the Apple App Store for iPhones and the Google Play Store for Android phones) has been the most accurate, as it draws its forecasts directly from Canada’s official weather service. However, if you are a visual person when it comes to the weather (and you like seeing the clouds move across a map), then we recommend the daily weather forecast shown on CTV News as part of the daily news briefing in the mornings.
While nowhere as big or as populous as Toronto or Vancouver, Calgary is still a city of over 1.3 million people that spreads over an area of more than 800 km² (you need to put all those dog parks somewhere!). So, unless you are happy strolling around the same block day in and day out, chances are you will want to explore what the city has to offer in terms of dog walking options.
Similarly to most North American cities, the Calgary is designed primarily around the car. Therefore, this mode of transport is definitely the easiest and most convenient for dog owners, not just for accessing dog parks, but also for hauling home dog food, dog beds, and other dog paraphernalia (though online shopping is providing alternatives). However, if you do not have a car – because you live in the downtown, or for environmental or budgetary reasons – then there are some alternatives for opening up variety in your daily walks.
For instance, the Calgary Transit network is surprisingly dog friendly – not only are dogs allowed on trains and buses free of charge (provided that they are on a leash), but they are also not required to wear a muzzle (which is in a pleasant contrast with many European cities, where dogs on public transport are viewed almost as a health hazard for the other passengers). Better still, use of the C-Train in the downtown area is free of charge, which makes it a really great budget-friendly option if you live in the city centre. For areas that are not on the C-Train line, the city offers a (recently expanded) rapid transit bus services (with routes designated by colour, such as MAX Yellow, MAX Teal, etc.) And, despite some extensive to-ing and fro-ing, the city has recently approved a new Green Line (to join the existing Red and Blue lines), so people living on the east side of the city will have more transport options in the coming years as well.
5. Read up on the bylaws
A final, important thing to be aware of when owning a dog in Calgary is that pet ownership comes with a host of responsibilities and requirements that need to be observed. A few of the most important items from the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw are below.
One of the less pleasant aspects of owning a dog is the fact that you will constantly be on poo clean-up duty. Therefore, you need to ensure that you carry poop bags with you whenever you take your four-legged friend for their daily walk, and pick up any poo, as otherwise you can face a fine of $150 (both for not having poo bags, and for failing to pick up poo). Some off-leash parks have free dispensers from which you can take a bag if you forgot yours, and most people will be happy to lend you one if you forgot your roll at home (or in your pants that are now in the wash).
Another important thing to remember is that dogs should not be left tied up in a public place. Not only can you face a $50 fine for leaving your dog outside unsupervised while you pop into the shop, but your dog could be stolen while you are gone. And while you are allowed to leave a dog in a car, you can only do so if the weather is suitable to do so. It is also advisable to provide some ventilation for dogs left in cars during the summer months when it can be a bit warmer, by leaving a couple of windows slightly open.
Some other rules to keep in mind (which may not be self-evident):
- You are not allowed to ride your bike on a multi-use, paved pathway with your dog running alongside on a leash
- Dogs are not allowed within 5m of a playground, swimming areas, sports fields or cemeteries
- Dogs are not allowed to hang out the window of a car, or ride in the bed of a pickup truck (except where the bed is either fully enclosed, or the dog is in a kennel)
Finally, you should note that if you are out and about in the countryside where your dog can roam off-leash (such as in Rocky View county), you need to ensure that your dog does not harass any livestock. Not only is this an offence that carries a hefty fine ($250 in the case of Rocky View County), but under Section 25 of the Stray Animals Act, farmers have the right to shoot dogs on sight that are chasing, worrying or otherwise harming livestock. Similar provisions apply to wild animals under the Wildlife Act.