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Where and when must dogs be kept on a leash in Switzerland?

Where and when must dogs be kept on a leash in Switzerland?
What are the rules of dog walking in Switzerland? Photo by Noel Wangler on Unsplash

Letting your dog roam the Swiss countryside off the leash can have dire consequences and you may even be breaking the law.

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In Switzerland, the Animal Welfare Act states that dogs must be able to enjoy outdoor walks everyday in accordance with their breed’s needs and if possible, do so without being walked on a leash.

However, this doesn’t mean that dogs can be walked off the leash in any given place – even if their recall is bulletproof. Aside from designated dog parks in larger cities, in Switzerland dogs must always be kept on a leash in all public areas.

Outside of public areas, dogs can - to an extent - be walked without a leash, provided the owner has full control of their pet.

In the spring months, when many wild animals settle and breed, however, some cantons have set in place strict regulations for walking dogs in and around forests to protect wild animals and disregarding those could have fatal consequences for your furry friend.

READ ALSO: 8 rules nature lovers should follow in the Swiss countryside

Check your cantons

While several cantons do not have set dates dictating when a dog must be kept on a leash either on the edge of a forest, in the forest or both during wildlife breeding season, some have specified the months your dog must be walked with a leash, and again others forbid walking your pooch off a leash in and near forests altogether.

So which canton dictates what?

Fribourg, Geneva, St. Gallen, Vaud

In the cantons of Fribourg, Geneva, St. Gallen, Vaud dogs may not be walked in a forest without a leash from April 1st to July 15th.

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In the canton of Vaud dogs also have to be leashed on the edge of the forest and any adjacent meadows.

Aargau, Basel-Country, Lucerne, Solothurn, Zurich

The cantons of Aargau, Basel-Country, Lucerne, and Zurich are slightly stricter with dogs having to remain on a leash from April 1st to July 31st if being walked in and just outside a forest.

The same timetable applies to Solothurn; however, dogs must only be leashed in forests during those months and not outside them.

Additionally, in Zurich dogs must remain on a leash up to 50 metres outside a forest.

Meanwhile, Basel-Country does not permit off the leash walking in wildlife sanctuaries.

Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Innerrhoden

Dogs being walked in Appenzell Ausserrhoden must be kept on leashes from April 15th to July 31st, and a month longer – until August 31st – in neighbouring Appenzell Innerrhoden.

Neuchâtel and Schaffhausen

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If you’re a dog owner in Neuchâtel and Schaffhausen then you’re in luck, the cantons have the shortest on-leash walking law (April 15th – June 30th).

In Schaffhausen, the leash obligation also applies to the immediate vicinity of the forest.

Obwalden and Nidwalden

In Obwalden and Nidwalden, dogs must be kept on a leash in so-called quiet zones, or wildlife sanctuaries, from December 1st and 15th to April 30th, which in some areas even extends into the summer months.

In Nidwalden, dogs must be kept on a leash in the Lauelenegg-Nätschen, Arven-Scheligsee and Scheidegg wildlife sanctuaries until June 15th and in the Trübsee/Alpelen sanctuary from November 1st to May 15th.

In Obwalden, leashes are compulsory in the areas of Schlierengrat, Nüwenalpwald, Schattenberg, Rosalp/Gerlisalp/Gemsgrube, Bärengraben, Teufimatt and Ross-/Dälenboden until July 15th.

Ticino and Glarus

Those hoping to take their dogs on an off-leash run in and around a forest in the cantons of Ticino and Glarus are, however, out of luck. The two cantons do not allow dogs to be let off the leash near and in forests at any time.

This rule doesn’t apply to hunting and working dogs. The latter is not to be confused with working breeds.

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Eslewhere...

In stark contrast to Ticino and Glarus are the following cantons which have no official leash law on walking dogs in and near forests: Basel-City, Bern, Graubünden, Jura, Schwyz, Thurgau, Uri, Valais, and Zug.

These cantons do, however, ask that dog owners and walkers keep their dogs on a leash to preserve nature and the wildlife habitat whenever common sense dictates, i.e., if your dog has a strong prey drive, bad recall, or during breeding season.

You may also come across signposts in these cantons indicating that certain areas require your dog to be leashed.

What happens if I let my dog off the leash during breeding season?

If you fail to comply with the canton’d official laws, you will be liable to pay a fine regardless of whether your dog was poaching or hunting.

If your dog harms another animal, such as biting a deer, you will be liable to pay any damage caused by your pet.

If your dog is repeatedly caught poaching or hunting in areas rich in wildlife, or repeatedly caught off the leash during breeding season, you may also be punished for negligent animal cruelty.

Can my dog be shot if caught poaching and hunting?

If your dog is caught poaching or hunting, note that almost all Swiss cantons allow – by law – the hunting warden or any other person to shoot it.

In the cantons Zurich, Aargau, Nidwalden, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, St. Gallen, Solothurn, Thurgau, and Uri, an owner whose dog was caught poaching or hunting numerous times must be given a written warning prior to the dog being shot by the warden.

In the cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Innerrhoden, Basel-City, Bern, Geneva, Glarus, Graubünden, Jura, Lucerne, Valais and Zug, a prior warning is not necessary. However, some of these cantons do cite that the warden or any other party which has seen the dog should try and capture it first before attempting to shoot it.

The situation is even more dire in the cantons of Basel-Country, Freiburg, Lucerne, Obwalden, Vaud, and Ticino. These cantons will allow wardens to kill stray dogs if they cannot for some reason catch the animal or warn the owner.

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