Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Word On Dog Parks

Do you know when is the best time to take your dog to a dog park? When the weather is bad. Here is why.

Dog parks can be a great place for your dog to socialize and have fun. They are fenced in, so you don't have to worry about your dog taking off and getting hurt. They have rules to make them a safe hangout for you dog.

Dog parks are a great idea. But like with all great ideas, reality sometimes fails to live up to the intention.

There are rules but there isn't anybody there to reinforce them.

There is a rule that only friendly dogs should be allowed in the park. However, different people might have a different idea what constitutes a friendly dog. I see it in the park all the time. And sometimes blood is drawn. And even if things don't get that far, you can see the tension among the dogs, and nobody is really having that much fun.

Risk of trouble increases with increased volume. The more dogs there are in the enclosed space, the higher the odds that a couple of them just won't be able to get along.

There is a rule that no toys or food are allowed in a dog park. And yet some people do bring those. And again, it is just asking for trouble.

Normally there is also a rule that the owners should not remain in one place for extended periods of time. This is to prevent dogs getting territorial about the area they 'broke a camp' in. Though in our park, to my surprise, they installed benches for people to sit on. So they sit on them. And guess where most of the squabbles happen?

There also also many people who believe that bringing their dog to the park means they set the dog loose, and since the area is fenced in, there is no need to pay attention to the dog. That doesn't work out that great even for people with extremely friendly dogs. The dogs quickly learn that once they get through that gate, they are on their own and they don't need to pay any attention to their owner either. I often see an owner chasing their dog around the park for half an hour trying to catch him so they can go home.

More importantly though, how can they make sure their dog is safe himself, or not bullying another, if they are not paying any attention? Catching early signs of tension between two dogs allows you to remove your dog from the situation before it turns bad. Or at least you will be there to break them apart when the trouble already starts.

I even saw owners standing right there and yet making no attempt to do anything about it when their dog got into a fight. Sadly, this applies mostly to the owners of the dogs who start the whole thing.

But even in the ideal world of perfectly friendly dogs and perfectly responsible owners, you still want to keep the connection with your dog while in the park. The foundation of your bond is that your dog should always remember that he's there with you. That doesn't mean that your dog shouldn't get to play with the other dogs. After all, that's why you're there. But he should keep a mental note of your presence and respond to your prompts.

When I take my dog to the park, I let him greet and play with the other dogs, but always keep an eye on him. He knows to respond to me when I call him. I might call my dog to me, give him a few pets and send him off to play again. When I want to go home, I just announce that we're going home and my dog goes with me. When I see that he's not comfortable with the situation he's in, I call him and we walk off to a different area of the park. I believe he has more fun this way than if he was on his own, and more importantly, it keeps him out of trouble.

So why the best time to take your dog to the park is when the weather is bad?

On a nice day everybody is drawn from their homes and everybody figures they should take their dog to the dog park. Which on its own is a fine idea. So everybody is heading off to the park, people who take their dog out only on sunny Sundays,  people with dogs who are not really socialized at all. The park is packed and the odds that at least one trouble-maker will be present at any given time are quite high.

If your dog is confident and well socialized, and if you pay close attention to what is going on, you should be able to avoid problems even on a day like that. I do find though, that if there is tension between other dogs it eventually transfers to most of them and they don't have as much fun as they would have otherwise.

The beauty of a nasty weather is that only the most dedicated people will show up. There are only a few dogs in the park, but the atmosphere is completely different. All dogs are relaxed, they play until they drop and nothing ever goes wrong.

While the lower volume of dogs  might certainly help, I believe that the main reason why things are so much different on a day when the weather is bad is that the people and the dogs who go out no matter what are different. The dogs are getting lot of regular exercise and are socialized regularly. The owners that are so dedicated to exercising their dogs show the same degree of dedication with their training also.

And that's what dog ownership is all about. Dedication. Remember, you don't own a dog only on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Jana

A Word On Socialization
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6 comments

  1. Dear Melinda. Thank you for reading! If you have any dog park stories or experiences, I would be happy to publish them.

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  2. This article should be mandatory reading for anyone entering a dog park with their pup.
    We have given up on dog parks for the simple reason people don't pay attention to their dogs...and the humans think it is socialization time for them. No sense of responsibility. Oh well...these people are probably doing the same things with their two-legged kids.

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  3. Hi! Thank you for reading, glad you enjoyed the article.

    It is sometimes criminal, the things people do or don't do. We do go to the dog park, but to keep my dog safe I do the watching for everybody there ;-)

    There were times when the situation in the park was bad enough that we left.

    Usually though, with the size of our park, it is possible to stay away from trouble.

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  4. Thanks for discussing this important issue Jana. Parks aren't always happy tail wags. I have seen more than a few injuries that required surgery, and I believe they are often a source of spreading disease.

    We don't go anymore. The same goes with pet friendly shows and exhibits. The expo we just got back from was full of dogs trying to establish dominance, and many dogs had to be escorted out. It was overwhelming enough for me as a person standing high above the chaos on my two legs, I can't imagine the sensory overload the dogs must have felt. Or maybe that's the introvert in me...

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  5. I hear you. (I'm an introvert too btw). My experience is that bad weather or hard to access or remote areas are the best. Only die-hard owners show up there and their dogs are social and friendly. It is a very strong pattern.

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