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Dog Parks

by on January 10, 2012

The Dog Park: a Dangerous Dog Party

By: Gail I. Clark, Ph.D.

The vision that inspired the construction of dog parks was to provide dog owners with a safe, fenced area, for well-behaved, social dogs to run, play, and socialize together. In reality, the dog park is a dangerous dog party and a haven for the untrained, unsocialized dog to release pent up energy and wear out so that they behave better at home. Often these out of control, unsocialized fur balls of energy can be aggressive to both dogs and people. While aggressive or dangerous dogs may not be welcome in the park, most dog parks are not supervised or regulated to prohibit undesirable dogs from entering. The only supervision at the dog parks is the dog owner who may not have a lot of experience or knowledge about dog behavior and body language and are often too busy socializing with each other or talking on their cell phones to pay attention to the dogs.

Generally, there aren’t capacity limits at the dog park, so a space that is often no larger than a third of a football field may have 1 to 75, loose, untrained dogs, ranging in size from Chihuahua to Great Dane, running, chasing, and body slamming each other. Turning untrained, unsocialized dogs loose in a small area to play doggie football or socialize on their own is like turning a bunch of preschool kids loose on a playground without any supervision, rules, or boundaries. The overcrowded, unsupervised dog party is the perfect environment for a huge K9 brawl.

The Dog Park Social System.
Dog parks may seem like a true fun party for your dog and a great way to socialize, but in actuality, many dogs are learning inappropriate social and play behaviors. The dog park attendants, often lacking proper social etiquette, mob and intimidate the dog at the entrance of the park. Imagine going to a big party and being the last one to arrive and everyone comes to the door, looks you up and down, from front to rear, sniffs you all over to see who you are and where you have been. If your dog or puppy doesn’t become frightened at being mobbed at the entrance, he is, at the least, learning an improper socialization style. There is always a bully on the playground and when the puppy gets bowled over by the bully or during a group romp, he becomes either afraid of other dogs, or worse, the new bully on the playground, negating any socialization benefits.

Other risks.
Aside from the danger of dogs getting injured in fights at the dog park, the doggie football style games of racing around, jumping, sharp turns, short stops, and body slamming can cause serious injury and expensive repair. The close contact games also provide a great breeding ground for bacteria and the spread of disease, whereas, limiting your dog to playing with just a few of his healthy, close friends in a clean backyard greatly reduces health risks.

Other options to the Dog Park.
Don’t go to dog parks unless you can choose and regulate your dog’s playmates. Set up play dates in your own backyard with a friend’s dog or plan to meet at the dog park during an off time so just your dogs are playing. Supervise the play and start with short sessions initially, because just like kids, dogs play hard and get dog tired and irritable. Irritability often leads to reactionary snaps that can snowball into a full-fledged dogfight if the play gets too rough, even among the best of friends. Intervene before the play gets out of control. If a third dog shows up to play, introduce them one at a time and make sure all of the personalities are compatible. Ideally, all of the dog owners have good control over their dogs in case the dogs need to be stopped or called back if the play gets out of hand.

Dog park parties, where your dog gets to run and rump with his own kind are a great idea and can be safe and a lot of fun when you exercise caution by supervising the games and friends that play with your dog.

2 Comments
  1. Wow, you must have some wild dog parks in your area. Where we’re in danger is walking around the neighborhood and running into owners who have aggressive dogs and either don’t understand it or deny what’s going on. If it wasn’t illegal to do so in Mass I’d be carrying the equivalent of a cattle prod as self-defense. As it is, I carry a kubaton.

    There is a free dog park in Derry, NH which we sometimes use during the good weather. It has two sections and our little guy is way too much for the other little guys. He plays with the Great Danes and Bull Mastiffs and they roll around on the ground with him with great joy as well as gently batting at him or lumbering after him while he zips around.

    No mugging the new dog at the door. Dogs come and go. Most of the folks there know each other and their dogs know each other. Every body is social with each other and they’re on top of dog behaviors in an instant. Perhaps because it is ‘small down’ life there’s more of a sense of comfort and intimacy? In the summer they have kiddie pools the dogs can lie in to cool off and owners take turns dumping out dirty water and adding fresh – as well as keeping the drinking water clean

    No doubt about it, the dogs can be exposed to things like kennel cough, but that can happen at a private play group as well. In fact, our little guy has a sports asthma type of condition that can look like kennel cough if he plays too hard.

    We do have a doggie day care we send our little guy to in Haverhill (all under one “woof”) once or twice a week that is run by a professional staff. All dogs that go there are vetted before being able to attend regularly. It is day care Monday through Friday and a indoor dog park on the weekend. Again, all dogs have to be vetted by the owners and while the dog owners are there, professional staff is also watching closely.

    Both day care and dog park require a fee and the dog park has a clean up requirement that includes urine since it is indoors – they provide the mops and cleansing solutions for the dog owners on the dog park days. Our little man was spooky there at first (he’s not at the open air park) but now he has known playmates and friends.

    It is a good thing to pay attention to where one goes to a dog park. If I saw what you’re describing I’d collect the little guy and leave dodge. I also observe before I go in so I get a feeling for who is there and what is happening. A dog owner really needs to pay attention to the interaction and watch what is going on. So far, I’ve not seen what you’re describing at all. If I did, I would not take our little guy (who is around 28 pounds of solid muscle and bone and who thinks he’s a Mastiff) if there were bullies in the mix. Then again, I was a trainer back when Fred Flintstone was a pup, so I can scope out things pretty fast and deal with them rapidly.

    I’m glad you posted this. However, I don’t think all dog parks are a dangerous place. It depends on the folks who go there and how dedicated they are to making it a positive experience for all the dogs.

    • We’re still working at putting this site up on WordPress.com. Right now it is active at http://www.k9shrink.com and is being hosted by Google Sites. This is kind of an experimental area here at jondr.com. I am Jon and I am doing the web work for Gail (the K9 Shrink). I’m really glad you’re following this; let us know what you think of the site as well as the content. I’ll not respond to your comment, I’ll leave that for Gail.

      I (Jon) actually don’t use any local dog parks here in Fort Collins. I may try one someday if I feel the need. When I’m on the road at dog shows and obedience trials I often use the dog parks there. For example, we’ve used parks in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Garden City, Kansas; Scottsbluff, Nebraska; Rapid City, South Dakota; and others. Most dog parks now are split into two areas, usually divided by size of dogs but sometimes they want more aggressive dogs separated. I’ve only once had a problem and that was in the general area in Albuquerque. The problem dog was a little Boston Terrier who was boldly picking fights with larger dogs (who were bewildered by this). We did pack up and leave immediately. There are a bunch of us who travel and most of us use the dog parks.

      Gail used to have a places that had doggie daycare. She wants to spend time training and consulting, not running such a business. Those places can be really great. I had my dogs attending daily for awhile, until I retired and could spend my days with them.

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