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Potential Updates to Dogs in Parks

May 25, 2023 3:32 PM

For decades, dogs were unwelcome in Madison's parks. In 1973, an adopted ordinance essentially prohibited dogs in any public park, school grounds and City spaces. Recognizing this regulation was outdated and frustrating for park visitors, in 2015, Madison Parks established a more dog-friendly pilot program. Through thoughtful planning and public input, the approved pilot program allowed leashed dogs, on a park path in 26 parks. The success of the program allowed for an approved extension and expansion of dog-friendly parks later that same year.

dog by water on leash
Kiba by Kayla Johnson

As Madison's population continued to grow, the number of dog owners increased as well, prompting a thorough review of the long-standing ordinances. As further evidence, the 2018 – 2023 Park and Open Space Plan stated dog walking as one of the top recreational activities to do within the City of Madison Parks.

During the summer and fall of 2019, Parks Long Range Planning subcommittee (LRP) reviewed the dogs in parks policies and City ordinances. During that time, the LRP held a robust public input process, including five citywide community workshops and an online survey – garnering more than 1,900 responses. Hearing significant support for this change as well as some concerns, mainly about unleashed dogs and owners leaving dog waste, the LRP drafted the revised ordinances. In February 2020, the Board of Park Commissioners (BPC) and the Madison Common Council revised the Madison General Ordinances 8.19, 23.32 and 1.08 to allow leashed dogs in most Madison parks.

In the spring of 2020, Parks staff began implementing the new policy, allowing dogs in most neighborhood, mini and community parks. As part of the change, the BPC approved approximately 30 "dog free" parks. Since then, under annual review by the BPC, the community provided feedback and notably most often requested a dog free park change to dog friendly. These annual designation changes have understandably created confusion for some park users and caused additional educational and enforcement work for the Park Rangers.

In early 2023, LRP discussed these ongoing dog designation change issues and how to best maintain and select dog free parks. With the feedback and support of the Park Rangers, the LRP subcommittee is proposing leashed, licensed and permitted dogs be allowed in all general parks, with continued notable exceptions – including conservation parks, athletic fields, beaches, shelters, playgrounds, golf courses (during golf season), splash parks, culturally significant resources such as burial mounds, and more.

Dog owners are expected to keep their dog leashed and under their control at all times as well as always pick up their dog's waste. This proposed change allows Park Rangers to better monitor and enforce through education and citations.

In July, the BPC will review the proposed change, to allow leashed, licensed and permitted dogs in most parks. The community is invited to provide feedback by email ( and/or attend the virtual Board of Park Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, July 12, 2023.


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