Dog-Friendly Neighbourhoods in Toronto

Happy Dog by Michael Gil
Happy Dog by Michael Gil

If you're a dog owner, it's often not the shopping options and home-to-work transit convenience that play the vital role in deciding which part of the city you'll move to. For some, the dog-friendly factor has taken the first place on the list of priorities when looking for a new home. The question then is: What really makes the neighbourhood dog-friendly? What's the critical factor upon which the dog owner decides to live in Rosedale, or the South Riverdale area? Naturally, the quality of pet stores, proximity to vets and to the grooming services, and the availability of dog walker services for busier dog owners are going to play a significant role in the decision process.

However, there's the single most important factor which even those who never had a dog name first: parks. (And Toronto's parks are some of the most beautiful in Canada.) Although we all agree that parks are of utmost importance to our dogs, there's still one element that people without dogs don't think about. It has to be more than a normal park: an off-leash park.

Casey Conklin, with her dogs Deedee and Storm, currently frequenting the Riverdale's Withrow Park says,

Urban dogs need the space of a leash-free area to run around, exercise, and socialize with other dogs.

Off leash park by Cassandra Jowett
Off leash park by Cassandra Jowett

It was also a very important factor for a lot of my friends, their dogs love to exercise and they can run for hours, so the choice of location was obviously a huge deal for them. It's very simple: if you live with people who also love and have dogs, just like you, you're much more likely to love your neighbourhood. Toronto has more than 70,000 registered canine companions — one dog for every 34 people, so it shouldn't be too hard to find the right community for you and you dog.

Which Are Toronto's Most Densely Dog-Populated Areas?

According to last year's survey, the Beaches, formerly the most popular part of the city to live with a dog, lost its first place to another great dog-friendly area: Lawrence Park. Lawrence Park beat the east-end sanctuary just by an inch. The third place has been taken by Swansea and Bloor West Village. It's clear that since all three most favoured areas have direct access to parks and other spaces where dogs can run around freely, the park is very highly valued among dog owners. My personal favourite worth checking out is definitely the Lytton Park Neighbourhood as well.

When we look at Toronto through the eyes of different breeds, it looks quite different. Stronger breeds, like rottweilers and pitbulls are highly concentrated in Downsview. Pit bulls concentrate in a stretch of the west end going north from Parkdale through Mount Dennis and the Junction into Rexdale. This is similar to the pattern seen in past years. Miniature poodle owners concentrate in downtown areas around Yonge and King, and Lake Shore condos, mostly the areas and types of housing where a big dog couldn't be happy. Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are most heavily represented in High Park, the Kingsway, the Beaches, and Lawrence Park.

Labradors by Derrick Mealiffe
Labradors by Derrick Mealiffe

Dog Landlord, Dog Apartment Relationship

One of the biggest obstacles to tackle as a dog owner who wants to rent an apartment is finding a landlord who likes dogs or at least doesn't mind them. Generally, Toronto has very dog-friendly landlords; however, sometimes, as always, you can stumble upon exceptions. The Residential Tenancies Act states, "A provision in a tenancy agreement prohibiting the presence of animals in or about the residential complex is void." In other words, even if a place you rent from claims they have a "no pets policy," it's not legally enforceable.

How to Get the Dog In

However, it's very hard to prove that they didn't pick you up to be their tenant just because you have a dog. The best strategy is to simply withhold the fact that you're a dog owner, and when you're accepted, the landlord isn't legally allowed to kick you out for having a dog. The only way the landlord can kick you out on the grounds of your pet is if your dog posed a serious danger or caused substantial damage. (Clearly, in this point, the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act does have puppies in mind…).

Living with a Roommate

If you don't mind living with somebody (this is probably the part most useful to university students), you can try to find a roommate via Craigslist As long as your dog is well-trained, most people don't mind having one around. They might even help you with him when you need it! Since many students have had to leave their family dogs for the first time, they're often even more excited about dogs.

Too Hot for a Dog

Naturally, every dog owner tries to keep her dog outside as much as she can. Dogs simply shouldn't be locked inside if they don't have to be; we can probably all agree on that. However, there are times when you simply cannot go around this situation and you have to leave your four-legged friend at home. There are two major things you have to be careful about. The first is temperature and the second is cats. The temperature is not such a big problem in winter as it is in summer. Dogs don't mind the cold as much as humans do. Of course this depends highly on the breed of dog, but in general, they are okay even with a bit lower temperatures. The problem arises in summer, especially in apartments without the air-conditioning. A lot of houses in Toronto are not that spacious, and narrow in general. Especially in the University of Toronto area, spaces are very tight. This is not the best space for dogs. If you don't want them to suffer (I'm sure that you don't) try to find a house with air conditioning or think about investing $200-$500 in a window or a portable air conditioner.

Neighbourhood to Run For

The best neighbourhoods as we've already established are those with a good park access, especially with the access to the parks with designated leash-free areas. (Dogs have to be kept on leash at all times except for these areas, according to the City bylaw.)

Allan Gardens Dog Park by Craig Nagy
Allan Gardens Dog Park by Craig Nagy

Allan Gardens is one of those places people of Toronto don't wonder into as often as to other parks, and that's a huge mistake. First of all, it is one of the most dog-friendly parks in the city. It has an off-leash area, and it's fenced, so your dog can't wonder off that easily and a young banker, Andrew, says, he cannot walk his dog in the morning, so he and Bolt really appreciate that there's 24-hour access to the park. Even non-dog-focused areas of the park are appealing. There's a century-old conservatory and a beautiful old greenhouse.

Also offering off-leash access for you four-legged friends, plenty of space to run around in, this area is not fenced in like Allan Gardens. The park offers 24-hour access during the winter, but during the summer months access gets restricted heavily. I really don't see any logic behind this, and hopefully this is going to change soon. If your dog likes the company, as does Christy's poodle, Annie, you'll be happy to know that there's usually a big bunch of friendly and playful dogs in the park.

The Brickworks is located along a network of gorgeous hiking trails, many of them off-leash-friendly. It's well worth the 25-minute trek from Castle Frank Station. But if you must drive, parking is available. The "Dog Patch" is a large completely fenced, wooded area with plenty of exploring opportunities. Best bet: visit in the summer months to take advantage of the Brickworks Farmers' Market and additional community events.

The city's largest, and for many the obvious choice. (I prefer smaller ones myself.) The so-called Dog Hill may be your run-of-the-mill dog park, but the adjoining well-marked trails are also part of the designated off-leash area. Dog Hill has plenty of seating for weary feet, nearby washrooms, and a drinking fountain for pets. Another big advantage is the parking area, so even if you don't live just right the corner, you shouldn't have a problem with finding a parking space.

The great thing about this neighbourhood is that you have almost every pet-related business right under your nose. (Of course this all is thanks to quite a significant pet-loving community; don't you just love efficient capitalism?) The huge 24-hour off-leash area is bordered by the lake at the south end, which is great especially for water-loving dogs like Labradors. If you forget the poop-bag at home, they are free to get at the beach. As in Allan Gardens, the off-leash area is fenced. (A little pointless when there's an access to the water, so the dog can just swim around.)

If you choose to live in downtown-west, South Stanley Park will be your favourite destination to have some fun with you canine friend. (Or friends for that matter.) The restrictions of the visiting hours have been lifted to reasonable standards, so you can enjoy plenty of time with you dogs. There's also a very nice South Stanley Dog Owner's Group, if you want to socialize a bit more.

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