Dog Off-Leash Guidelines

Together with our community, we’re developing Dog Off-Leash Guidelines. They will provide direction on the provision, distribution, design and management of off-leash areas at parks and beaches.

The draft Guidelines have been developed based on community feedback and we want to make sure we’ve got them right.

Tell us what you think of the draft Guidelines by completing the survey by midnight on 28 April 2024.

There are over 8,000 registered dogs living in the City of Port Phillip. Many of our public spaces and beaches provide space for dogs to be off-leash. We have heard two different things from our community - some people want more dog off-leash areas, and some people think there are too many dog off-leash areas. 

Our population is growing, and with limited public space we need clear guidelines to plan the best way to accommodate our residents and their pets, without impacting other park and beach users.

Between December 2022 and January 2023, we held a community-wide engagement program, including community pop-up conversations, intercept surveys, community workshops and this project page. We wanted to understand the community’s views on dogs in public spaces.

In April 2023, we conducted research focusing on understanding the demand for dog off-leash areas in the City of Port Phillip. This research included a review of current demographics and an inventory of existing off-leash areas to identify peak usage times and spaces. We also benchmarked our findings against neighbouring Councils to gain insights into their provision of dog facilities, and strategies for managing conflicts in shared spaces. We heard valuable information for future planning that considered the complexities and challenges of accommodating different needs and expectations within limited spaces.

In June and July 2023, we recruited a Deliberative Panel - a diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds and interests - to develop five Principles and supporting statements recommended to form the basis of the draft Dog Off-Leash Guidelines.

In late 2023, we used the feedback received from the community panel and the broader community engagement program to develop the draft Guidelines.

Key parts of the draft Guidelines

The draft Guidelines recommend that dogs cannot enter Port Phillip’s specialised sports fields that have a premier playing level surface (meaning they host elite sport) . Not allowing dogs on these fields will help us to maintain them to the high standard they need to be kept at.

There are three sports fields in Port Phillip that fall into this category: North Port Oval in Port Melbourne, SS Anderson (Pitch 1) in JL Murphy Reserve in Port Melbourne, and, once built, the Community Synthetic Ground (Pitch 3), also in JL Murphy Reserve. It’s important to note that these are not currently dog off-leash areas.

Sports fields might seem like good spaces for dogs because of their size, however the main use of these spaces is for organised sport.

Other sports grounds that are currently dog off-leash areas will keep their existing restrictions and continue to remain accessible outside of sports training and competition times.

We heard from some of our community that they would like access to dog-free public open spaces.

The draft Guidelines recommend that Council create some dog-free parks, where dogs wouldn’t be allowed at all. We will first ask for community feedback on this recommendation before making any changes.

There are already three areas where dogs aren’t allowed. They are Perce White Reserve in Port Melbourne, part of West Beach in St Kilda, and Frank and Mary Crean Reserve in Middle Park. The restrictions in these areas will remain in place.

Council is considering what changes it can make to dog beach rules to make them more consistent. We're also thinking about having one beach where dogs are never allowed. More research will be done to see if this is possible. We will seek community feedback before making any changes.

There are two fenced Dog Off-Leash Areas (DOLAs) in the City already - Eastern Reserve North in South Melbourne and MO Moran Reserve in St Kilda.

The draft Guidelines recommend that Council only develops fully fenced DOLAs when there are issues with safety (such as being close to a road) or environmental protection issues.

We need to make sure that any fenced DOLAs are large enough so that dogs and their owners feel safe in these spaces, preventing issues with dog behaviour and overcrowding.

We heard from some of our community that they would like separate areas based on dog size. Our Dog Off-Leash Areas (DOLAs), both fenced and unfenced, are for dogs of all sizes.

The draft Guidelines recommend that Council will not provide separate areas based on dog size.

This is because it is difficult for Council to enforce size restrictions and can lead to issues with dog behaviour.

The draft Guidelines outline a process which council will use when assessing where to put new dog off-leash areas (DOLAs). It considers things like:

  • If there's a need for a DOLA in a certain area, based on how many dog owners live there and how much park space is available.
  • If the chosen spot is easy to get to, has good sightlines, shade and enough space for dogs to run around.
  • How the DOLA will impact nearby residents, the environment, or any heritage or culturally significant sites.

Once a site is deemed suitable as a new DOLA (fenced or unfenced), Council would then design it to reflect best practice standards, including:

  • Using natural surfaces.
  • Connecting entry and exit points to pathways.
  • Making sure they are well lit, where appropriate
  • Providing seating, drinking fountains with dog bowls and bins.
  • Having clear signage to make sure everyone is aware of the rules.