January 9, 2010

Dog Parks - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

There are good and bad dog parks out there. The dog park we go to from time to time is one of the better ones. There are 8 acres of wide open space. There is a smaller pen for small dogs, there are signs when you enter that instruct you to remove the dog’s leash in the entry pen prior to entering the play yard and there are plastic bags provided to help influence you to pick up after your dogs. Pretty basic instructions, yet I am continually amazed at how many people do not follow these simple directions.
Many people have the misconceived notion that if they leave the leash on the dog they will have "control" over the situation. I’ve heard a man say "my dog doesn’t really get along with other dogs", so he put him in the very uncomfortable position of being on leash while all the other dogs are running circles around him. Why would you bring a dog to the dog park who doesn’t like other dogs? One of the last times I was there, a man was walking a Rottweiler on leash to the center of the park. As I watched from a distance I could see the dog stiffening more and more. The dog continued to receive a leash correction from the owner every time he would pull towards another dog to play mistaking it for aggressive behavior. I could not watch anymore as I knew what was about to happen, so I approached the owner and offered him my suggestion of releasing the dog. He said he was just "easing the dog into a new situation" and reluctantly listened to me. The dog went on to play very nicely with the other dogs. It is these kinds of situations that set the stage for dog fights. Most dogs unless genetically predisposed or trained to, would rather be friendly or ignore other dogs rather than engage in a squabble. When a dog is confined to a leash, it knows it has limited boundaries to work within. If it feels threatened, the dog will react in a fight or flight response. If the dog can not flee due to the leash, it is likely to turn to fight mode within a matter of seconds.
On the other hand...dog parks can provide a great place to exercise, socialize and play fun games with your dog(s) and meet other dog lovers in your neighborhood. I suggest visiting your local dog park for the first time without your dog to simply observe the setting. Watch how the people are monitoring their dogs. Are they all clustered by the entrance while the dogs are a mile away or are the people spread out interacting with the dogs? Are kids using the agility equipment intended for the dogs? If a fight breaks out, how is it handled?
I prefer to go when only a few people are there. You know when it is 20 degrees and snowing your are sharing the park with true dog people who have at least a little knowledge about dog-to-dog interactions.

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I train dogs using positive reinforcement training to modify unwanted behaviors.  I step outside the traditional training box and use therapeutic-grade essential oils to assist in my behavior modification regime when it comes to dogs plagued with fear and anxiety as well as aggression.  My philosophy is to heal the dog's mind, body and spirit, not just to rid the dog of unacceptable behaviors.  I specialize in shelter dog rehab, reactive rover, and fearful fidos.