NewsMissoula County


Reminder for new and existing leash laws in Missoula

Many areas of Missoula require dogs to remain on a leash. Each trail is posted with signage describing leash regulations.
Leash Required
Posted at 5:45 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-12 10:47:04-04

MISSOULA - Missoula has a city-wide leash law, meaning once you leave your own premises, you must have your dog on a leash.

There are certain trails and parks that allow you to let your dog off-leash, but there are still various rules and regulations one must follow. Missoula Parks and Recreation and Missoula Animal Control want to remind Missoulians exactly why these laws are so important.

“It's for the safety of other people, it's for the safety of pets,” Missoula Animal Control Manager Holli Hargrove says. “First, you know, every person doesn't love dogs, and many people are fearful of dogs. Many kids are fearful of dogs. So it's just being respectful, and the responsible thing to do is not to allow your dog to run up to someone that may not want that to happen to them.”

While most areas around Missoula require leashes, there are varying rules for trails and parks. Some spaces have full leash requirements, typically because they are high-traffic areas, like McClay Flats and Rattlesnake Greenway.

“There's a lot of use and potential for conflict,” Missoula Parks and Recreation Conservation Lands Manager Jeff Gicklhorn says. “And so in that case, making sure dogs are on leash at all times, limits the amount of conflict and the natural resource damage that can occur.”

Other areas do not allow dogs at all, such as Marshall Mountain and Sawmill Gulch.

Even trails that allow dogs to remain off-leash, have voice restraint rules. This means your pet needs to be well enough trained to respond to your voice, stay within eyesight of you, and refrain from coming within five feet of another person.

“That doesn't mean scream their name 10 times to try to get their attention,” Hargrove says. “That means you can call your dog immediately, get his attention and have it come back to you or stop what it's doing.”

A voice restraint area also limits each person to two dogs off-leash.

Entering Dog Voice Restraint Area_FINAL[91].jpg
An area with a voice restraint rule will have signage like this.

Another key rule for voice restraint areas is to know leashes are required in the parking lot, and within 200 feet of the trailhead.

“So that doesn't mean allow it to jump out of car off leash or run up to somebody that's on leash. It means it should be on a leash when he gets out of the car, at the trailhead and in the parking lot,” Hargrove says.

Hargrove and her animal control officers know very well the consequences of breaking leash laws. Off-leash dogs can be very dangerous for surrounding pets, whether or not they are friendly.

“He may be friendly, but the dog he is running up to might not be friendly. And if that dog doesn't want that dog in his face, injuries can happen,” Hargrove says. “If a dog on leash has a dog off-leash run up to them and then that dog off-leash is the one that gets injured, well that dog should have been on leash and shouldn't have been allowed to run up to them.”

Reactive dogs can injure other dogs that come into their space, and when a dog fight breaks out, humans can be bitten or worse trying to break it up.

“We as people, we don't greet every single person we see when we're in the grocery store or we're on the sidewalk. And not every dog wants that either,” Hargrove says.

Another aspect of Missoula leash laws is staying in control of the leash.

Even dogs who are leashed can attack other dogs or humans walking by if their owner is not paying attention. Leashes in Missoula are not allowed to be longer than six feet long.

While the safety of other dogs is a big reason for leash laws, protecting local habitat is also a contributing factor.

Cushion plants are a very sensitive group of plants that tends to grow beside trails in Missoula.

One species, the Missoula Phlox, is native to Missoula’s North Hills, which is why two new leash restrictions have been placed at the Waterworks Ridge and Bluebird Preserve.

“The main cause of decline for that species is trampling,” Gicklhorn says. “And so people and dogs going off trail whether or not it's muddy or icy, or right now when the plants are actively flowering is going to lead to trampling.”

Keeping dogs on trail is crucial for ensuring a successful breeding season for Missoula Phlox and other cushion plants, and keeping them on leash can make sure that happens.

“Remember that when you're out recreating on any trail or any public land, to be a good trail steward is to reduce your own impact, right?” Gicklhorn says. “Figure out how you can preserve the landscape as much as possible and protect the wildlife and plant species that are native to that location.”

Dog Park Missoula
Dog parks, like Jacob's Island near the University of Montana, have large spaces for dogs to roam off-leash.

Dog parks around Missoula offer a perfect space to let dogs roam free.

Many owners at Jacobs Island Dog Park say they understand the need for leash laws and appreciate having dog parks to use.

“We've been coming here to the dog park probably for 20 years,” Missoula dog owner Mike Jakupcak says. “And I think it's one of the best parts of the zoo because it is leash free, The dogs are not required to be on leash. So if you don't want your dog to be leashed, you're still places you can easily go and have them have fun.”

Other owners say they are against the leash laws, and believe that friendly dogs should not be ticketed.

However, Hargrove says, even if one dog is friendly, doesn’t mean the dogs in the area are.

She also mentioned the possibility of arthritic or injured dogs who could be seriously harmed by another dog running up to them.

Some owners are working hard to train their dogs and can be thrown off by an unleashed dog running toward them.

Whatever a person’s opinion, refusing to leash a dog in a leash requirement area can result in a criminal misdemeanor citation with a $50 plus court fees.

“Areas have signs with all the rules. People just need to read them and follow them," says Missoula Animal Control manager Holli Hargrove.

Each area is posted with signage describing the leash laws for that area. Folks are encouraged to call animal control at (406) 541-7387 with any questions.

Another rule Hargrove emphasizes is the need to license each dog in Missoula County. In the city of Missoula, those with more than two dogs need to have a permit.

All ordinances can be found on the Missoula City-County Animal Control website.

Gicklhorn and Hargrove have another, very crucial rule: pick up your dog’s waste.

“You are on duty when your dog goes duty. There is no poop fairy,” Hargrove says.