Monday, September 9, 2013

Dog Parks: Friend or Foe?

You know, I've always loved dog parks.  There was something awesome about seeing a bunch of dogs get together, run around off-leash, and have a great time.  But it seems like everytime I go, with or without my furry four legged friends, a fight breaks out.  And more often than not, the fight was predictable.  The tension had been building for a while, but owners, either unknowingly or not, ignored the signs, resulting in trouble. I hope, by writing this, people will better be able to determine if a dog park is right for them and their furry friend, and how to prevent issues before they begin, thus creating a happy, healthy environment for dogs and people alike to enjoy.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration before bringing fido to a dog park.

Three Shar Pei siblings and their min
pin friend enjoying the local dog park.
Is your dog a dog park kind of dog?  Does he enjoy the company of other dogs and humans?  Is he friendly, healthy, and well behaved?  And, most importantly, is he up to date on all of his shots?  If you answered NO to ANY of the questions, its best to keep your dog home for the happiness and healthiness of him and those he would be interacting with.  If your dog is UNDER four months, he will not have had all of the shots necessary to allow him to play safely with other dogs.  If he is OVER four months, check records to make sure he is, in fact, up
to date.  NEVER bring a female who is in heat to a dog park.  It can cause fights and lead to unwanted pregnancy. In fact, it is recommended that your animal be spayed or neutered.  By having unaltered animals at dog parks, it can cause issues such as same sex dominance, unwanted pregnancies, unnecessary confrontation and conflict as dog's vie for dominance or for a mate.

Before bringing your dog into the park, be sure to observe the behaviour of the other dogs already in there.  Just because you're following all the rules doesn't necessarily mean everyone else is.  Learn to read basic dog body language.  A wagging tail is not always friendly, and bearing teeth isn't always aggression.   The chart at the left shows many different postures of a dog.  On the far left are good body postures that you want to see at a dog park, friendly, happy, playful dogs who are enjoying themselves and having a good time.  The first two in the middle, calm and alert, are also good, these dogs may be a bit more reserved, or just taking in the all the action going on around them. If you see dominant or aggressive posturing, you should reconsider bringing your pup in.  Dominant dogs often indicate trouble as they feel the need to control the play, which can result in fights.  If a dog is aggressive, he has no business being in a dog park, but often times, it happens none the less.  Do what is best for you and your pet.   If you see anxious and nervous, or frightened posturing,  reconsider as well as these dogs may lash out at others. If your dog exhibits these behaviors, he may not be a dog park dog and it may be too much for him.  Try coming back when there's less commotion or work on dog on dog socialization when there's less stress, maybe one on one with a well known dog.  Eventually, you may be able to work up to a dog park again.   Submissive behavior, however, is normal.  As long as the submissive dog isn't being bullied and he and his playmates are switching rolls, it's okay.  It's all part of the games dogs play with each other.  Should you EVER feel uncomfortable, even the slightest bit, leave without hesitation, better to be safe than sorry.

Keep your dog ON LEASH until you're in the off-leash area.  Most times, there is a double gate.  You'll walk in the first gate with your dog, take his leash off, open the second gate into the off leash area. Make sure to securely close all gates when entering and exiting.  It is a bad idea to keep your dog on leash in an off-leash dog park.  It can create leash reactiveness on your end (meaning your dog lashes out at others because he feels confined and trapped) and can make your dog a target for others because he is still on leash, unable to escape, thus very very vulnerable.

Happy, healthy pups enjoying a good game of chase. 
Don't bring more dogs than you can handle.  This means you should MAYBE have two dogs per handler.  It is hard to watch one dog let alone two or three with so many others running around.  Plus, you only have two hands.  You can't grab three dogs with two hands! Also, if you bring dogs that are not your own, you may not have full control over them, putting both the dogs you brought and others at risk. NEVER, EVER EVER EVER EVER leave your dog unattended.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Keep your eyes on your pooch at all times.  ANYTHING could happen in a split second.  If you see behavior from other dogs that you are uncomfortable with, leave.  Do not put yourself or your dog at risk.  That goes for your pooch as well.  If he becomes unruly or too rough at any time, remove him immediately.  Just because your dog plays rough, does not mean that everyone else's does.  It's not fair to subjugate others to your dogs bullying ways, or is it fair to allow your pooch to be bullied. Keep your eyes on your dog, and remove him at first sign of trouble.  In mind with keeping eyes on your pooch, pick up his poo!  Just because its a dog park doesn't mean you can leave dog poo all over the place.  No one wants to step in that!  And, if there's another pile next to your pooches, pick it up too!  Be a good dog park goer.  You'd be angry if you stepped in poop, so help prevent the next person from doing so by cleaning up.

Also, please remember this is a DOG park.  For dogs to come and play and run freely.  If at all possible, DO NOT bring your children.  If you must, supervise them very closely, like no more than arms length away.  It irks me to see parents with little children running around the dog park.  I can't tell you how many times, the back of my legs have been slammed into by pooches playing and I've ended up flat on my back.  I don't want to imagine what that would do to a small child.  Plus, my dogs are the kind of dogs that don't look where they're going when they run, so I always fear they'll be the ones to knock over kids...  Also, keep in mind, it is a dog park with many dogs you don't know.  It's best to leave fido's favorite toy and snacks at home.  Some dogs don't share well with others and bringing snacks and toys can cause issues.

Rukka, one of our fosters, looking happy, satisfied,
and tired after a good day at the dog park.
Dog parks are great when they work as their supposed to.  Happy, healthy, friendly dogs, romping around, having a great time as their owners look on, often laughing at their pups antics.   When owners fail to read the signs of a toxic environment, or thrust an animal who is not a dog park dog in, things often get ugly.  More often than not, this is due to ignorance, not sheer disregard.  If more owners would take the time to educate themselves in dog body language and be realistic about their animal and his comfort levels before taking their pooch to the park, dog parks would be a much better, happier place.  So please, before you take fido to romp with his friends, evaluate him to make sure HE will enjoy it and is ready, and make sure the dog park is a good, friendly environment before going in.  Most of all, remember, dog parks are lots of fun, and a great way to expend energy, but they are no substitute for daily walks and exercise.

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