Nothing polarizes dog owners more than Dog Parks. To some it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. A place that allows urban dwellers to let their dogs run free, off leash, to romp with other dogs. To others it is a place that should be avoided like the plaque. There are many stories of dog getting injured when rough play escalated into a full blown dog fight.
It is unfortunate that there has been some disastrous results from what is a great idea. The more unfortunate part is that most problems (and disasters) could have been avoided by attentive dog owners. I would like to add my two cents to the dog park debate by recounting an article posted on Mother Nature Network. Fulls article is here!
15 Things Humans Do Wrong at Dog Parks.
- Not picking up after a dog. This should be an automatic response for all dog owners. Unfortunately there are still some who refuse to do this. No one wants to walk or stand surrounded by dog poop. Worst still there are a lot of diseases and parasites living in dog waste. Your play time at the park could be a health hazard because of the dog poop left by some inconsiderate dog owner.
- Not exercising a dog before taking her into a park. I am not sure if I agree with this one. The theory is that “a dog that has been inside or alone for hours has pent-up energy, and bringing her into an extremely stimulating environment such as a park with other dogs is like holding a match really close to a stick of dynamite and hoping the fuse doesn’t catch fire. Your dog might mean well but be overly exuberant with a dog that doesn’t appreciate it (resulting in a fight). Or, your dog might mean well but be so excited about running around that other dogs start to chase her and she suddenly turns into the prey object for other dogs (resulting in a fight).” I understand the theory, however, I can not get past the belief that dog parks are the best place for your dog to get exercise. I think the potential for a fight can be minimized by some of the other points on this list.
- Bringing dogs with rude greeting skills. “Introductions are important and make a difference in how dogs will get along. Allowing your dog to go charging up to a dog that has just entered the park is rude. The new dog is possibly on edge, examining its environment and level of safety, so your dog running full speed to that new dog could be asking for an instant fight. Allowing your dog to mount another dog in a dominance display is also rude. Allowing your dog to continue sniffing another dog that is clearly uncomfortable with being sniffed is, again, rude. It’s up to us humans to help dogs make polite introductions to each other.” I agree with this. It is very important for a dog owner to be able to understand a dog’s body language and to be able to redirect their dog if it is not being “polite” or if it encounters a “rude” dog.
- Leaving prong collars and harnesses on dogs while playing. “Though it may seem logical to leave a prong collar, choke chain, gentle leader or harness on a dog — after all, that’s where you attach the leash, right? — it’s a bad idea. The neck and shoulders are where most dogs aim their nips and nibbles during play. Having metal contraptions where another dog is roughly shoving its mouth is inviting broken teeth, broken jaws, broken paws and legs, and potentially a huge dog fight if another panicked dog can’t detach itself from your dog’s neck. A simple nylon or leather collar that can be quickly removed is safe.” This all makes sense to me.
- Keeping dogs on leashes inside an off-leash area. “… a dog on leash is essentially a tripping hazard, especially if the leashed dog begins to play. A firm tug on a wrapped up lead could mean, if not a broken leg, a panicked dog whose first experience of a dog park is one of fear and anxiety. In addition, dogs on leash can feel more insecure because they know they can’t escape if they need to, so they can actually trigger fights that might not otherwise have happened.” Once again I agree with this.
- Bringing a female in heat or pregnant female. Okay really this should be very obvious.
- Bringing puppies less than 12 weeks old or dogs with incomplete vaccinations. Again this should be obvious. Why would you want to expose your unprotected dog to the potential health hazards of a dog park?
- Small dogs in same play area as large dogs. “Small dogs can often be viewed as prey by large dogs. It is not unreasonable for a Rottweiler to look at a Yorkshire terrier like it’s a squirrel. The squeaking barks and speedy movements of a panicked small dog can also be enough to switch on the prey drive in a large dog and disaster happens.” Fortunately some dog parks have separate areas for large and small dogs. Unfortunately not everyone follows the rules. One of the reasons I stopped taking our dog Moe to dog parks was that he did “attack” a small dog that a thoughtless owner brought into the area designed for large dogs. He is not a viscous dog however for some reason he decided this small dog was a squeaky toy and kept picking it up. We were lucky that the little dog was not seriously hurt. I was so rattled by the experience I became afraid to take Moe back to the park.
- Picking up and carrying a small dog. “It is extremely understandable to want to pick up your small dog if a situation starts to escalate. It’s so innate in us, it’s nearly impossible to fight that instinct. We pick stuff up to protect it. But from a dog’s point of view, when things go upwards quickly it’s because that thing is fleeing, which means “chase!” The act of small dogs being lifted up triggers a treeing instinct in many dogs, moving them right into prey drive and exciting them into jumping on you to get at the small dog. In a dog park, where all dogs are extra stimulated and excited, picking up a small, panicked dog could be enough to get you knocked over or possibly even bitten.” Frankly I feel a little vindicated by this point. For some reason the “treeing” instinct is very strong in Moe. He does not like seeing another dog picked up or carried. He will automatically lunge and nip at the dog, a very frightening behavior in a 100lb dog. Until I read this article, I did not understand this behavior and wondered what was wrong with Moe.
- Bringing in a dog that lacks recall skills. “Recall is about more than having your dog come when called. It’s also about having a dog that is constantly attuned to you and ready to obey no matter what, even in the midst of a game of chase. Recall is about being able to disengage your dog from an activity that is escalating and having her return to you until tempers calm down.” I am guilty of this. Despite three training courses Moe’s recall remains weak. He will come to me when called as long as nothing else is distracting him. Not good behavior in a dog park.
- Allowing dogs to bully other dogs. “You might think it’s cute when your dog is bouncing all over another dog, but it’s not. Learn when play gestures are cute and engaging — and socially appropriate to dogs — and when they’re just flat out obnoxious and rude. A play bow from a little distance away is cute. A tag-and-run request for play is cute. But constantly nipping at another dog’s neck and pouncing him to try to get a game of wrestle going is obnoxious. Especially when the dog on the receiving end isn’t comfortable with it. If your dog is getting too rough or rude with a dog that is not liking it, it’s time to call your dog over and have her leave that dog alone. If you don’t, you’re asking for a fight between the dogs, or getting yelled at by the owner of the poor dog being bullied.” This is where understanding dog body language can keep you and your dog out of trouble. It is far better to prevent a fight then to have to try and stop one.
- Letting the dogs ‘work it out.’ “So many people at dog parks think that if they leave the dogs alone, they’ll get through whatever social drama is happening. Dogs can be good at working things out, but dogs meeting for the first time in a stimulating environment are not on the best path to being able to work out differences.” Once again it’s up to you to watch the behaviors and to step in to stop any potential problem before anything happens.
- Bringing dogs that have resource-guarding problems. “Dogs who don’t like to share toys, or who like to steal toys and hoard them, are not going to have fun in a dog park. Not only that, but that kind of dog is also a potential danger to other dogs that want to play with toys and don’t take her cues to back off.”
- Chatting with other humans rather than supervising the dogs. See 15.
- Spending more time looking at a smartphone screen than at the dogs . Points 14 and 15 can be lumped together. The bottom line is your dog needs to be supervised. You need to watch their behavior and the behavior of the other dogs in the park to ensure playing does not escalate into fighting. Also as the article points out “Dogs know when you’re mentally disengaged and they can often take advantage of that — breaking rules because they know they can. Don’t make other dog owners have to manage your dog for you because you’re texting or tweeting or posting a picture of your cute dog to Instagram.”
- Bringing young children. This is one I want to add. It’s a bad idea. The squeals and quick movements of kids can switch on a dog’s prey instinct. Kids can also grab strange dogs’ ears, tails or pet them in ways the dog doesn’t like. A small child could be injured in a collision with a running dog. I myself have been almost knocked off my feet when bowled into by a pack of running dogs. All in all the potential for disaster is just not worth the risk. The absolutely worst behavior I observed at a dog park involved kids. I watched horrified as a young woman brought two young boys, I’m guessing 5 or 6 years old, into the large dog area of a local park. She settled the boys on a bench and then proceeded to bring out food for them to eat. I don’t really know what the food was. I was to stunned to absorb that detail. I called Moe and as quickly as I could left the park. I did not want to be present when one of the large dogs playing in the park decided they wanted some food.
Bottom line dog parks are a good idea and can be a great place for your dog as long as we humans follow some rules and stay attuned to the dogs and their behavior.