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DOG PARKS. A Politically Incorrect View
I love dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, compliant dogs and dogs that don't give a hoot about pleasing anyone but themselves all share a place in my heart.
I love walking dogs in parks. Whether hiking a wilderness area in the high Sonoran Desert or enjoying an impromptu conversation with a child, going with a canine simply makes the trip better.
Yet, I am against Dog Parks. I am not in favor of fenced urban grasslands where numbers of strange dogs are brought to frolic in unleashed bliss. This is especially true when people are oblivious to their dogs' actions, in particular, and totally clueless about canine behavior, in general. With few exceptions, owners of both pet and working dogs should avoid Dog Parks like the plague.
I have yet to see a Dog Park that posts a sign: "No one under 21 weeks admitted." No puppy belongs at a Dog Park. A pup's immune system is immature and cannot physiologically be expected to repel a full frontal assault. Bringing a pup into a Dog Park is playing Russian roulette with its life. Yes, socialization is important. But, you can't train a dog that is either severely brain damaged or dead.
Even when your pup is older, or if you have a dog that is fully immunized, going to a Dog Park is very risky business. Who in the park is shedding Parvo virus or leaving giardia infested stools? Which dog was just exposed to kennel cough? Want to share fleas or ear mites? Is that a hot spot or ringworm on the pooch walking by?
Dog Parks actively facilitate the exchange of contagious diseases and parasites.
Dogs learn from other dogs. Are you willing to have your dog mimic these behaviors? In an ideal world, only highly social dogs with stable temperaments that are under voice control of their handlers would be found at Dog Parks. The world is not ideal.
To me, utilizing a Dog Park for socialization makes as much sense as using a stick of dynamite to light a cigar. Not only will you not get what you want, you may get results you couldn't imagine - even in your worst nightmare. And, you may have a big cleanup after the smoke clears, plus a scar or two.
If any trainer advises you to take a shy dog to the Dog Park and let it learn to play - get another trainer. If any trainer tells you to take an aggressive dog to the Dog Park where it will meet dogs that are even more aggressive to put it in its place - stop payment on your check. If any trainer suggests you take a fearful dog to a Dog Park for total immersion with strange dogs, new people and a variety of situations - cover your ears. And, should a trainer say that you have a really nice dog with good temperament and balanced drives - keep it that way. Don't risk training or socializing at the local Dog Park.
A Dog Park is not the appropriate venue for your canine companion to either learn obedience commands or practice socialization skills. That must take place under controlled conditions.
Many control issues come into play the minute you open the Dog Park gate. Even if your dog is Lassie and fully obedient at all times, things inside a Dog Park are not under your control.
You cannot control who comes through the gate. Despite posted rules and regulations, you cannot direct the behavior of other dog owners. You may ask others to watch their dog more closely, but what if they don't? And, what if they take offense at your request?
Size of Dogs
Many Dog Parks are divided into two specific areas: one for dogs over 50 pounds and one for smaller pets. Ever seen a forty-nine pound dog shake a MinPin? When there is one owner for both a toy poodle and a Great Dane, which area will they use? Will you be happy with that owner's choice?
You enter the Dog Park with an aging pet and find several mud slicks. Will your dog be able to maintain adequate footing with puppies jumping up or other dogs playing chase? Slick footing is dangerous for pups' joint development, as well as for senior dogs.
To Treat or Not To Treat
I watched a man bring packages of "mystery" meat into a local Dog Park, offering hunks the size of my fist to any dog close enough to take them. There were eight dogs present and only one pet owner succeeded in getting to their dog before it ate at least some of the meat. I prayed the man was a generous butcher and not mentally unbalanced or cruel.
A friend watched a woman place the contents of two bags of dog bones into a huge pile and then call ALL the dogs in the Dog Park to come for "treat time." Isn't that a new and interesting way to test dominance, aggression and food guarding?
One man's meat is another man's poison. Some dogs share food; other's fight for possession. What risks are you willing to take?
The only authority you have is the ability to take your dog and leave the Dog Park. But what happens if your exit is blocked by any of the first four on my list?
Setting the Stage
Each outing with your pet should be pre-planned. Not only does this mean taking the necessities, such as fresh water and a leash, it also means having a training plan and setting goals. Perhaps your visit to the park will be aimed at walking on a different surface. Maybe a trip to the tennis court is really a better opportunity to try off-leash obedience in a fenced area.
Setting the stage means deciding what steps you will take to make certain you and your dog reach a specific training goal. The more controlled your environment and the better prepared you are, the less likely you are to need remediation. It is much easier to set your dog up for training success than it is to try and fix a problem that you never saw coming.
A Dog Park cannot meet my criteria as a safe place for dogs to play or learn. There are too many risk factors working against a good training or socialization plan.
Can you dig it?
A neighbor takes her high-energy miniature poodle to the Dog Park so that it may use those facilities, rather than her yard, for digging. As the dog dug its umpteenth hole, a woman approached my neighbor and politely asked her to remove the dog and replace the dirt. My neighbor said: "I won't leave and you can't make me." As the woman turned to avoid escalating the confrontation, she fell - - in one of the freshly dug holes - - and broke her ankle. My neighbor paid her medical bills and sent flowers, too.
Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?
A good friend took her Shiloh Shepherd to the local Dog Park early on a Monday morning. The usual weekend crowd was absent and several senior citizens were visiting with their pets. My friend took her dog off leash and slowly walked to the back of the park where she'd spotted an empty bench. As she sat down, she noticed her dog - - OUTSIDE the fence and immediately commanded DOWN-STAY. Then, my gal-pal proceeded to climb the fence and help others call their dogs. Someone failed to secure the gate and it was the owners who were securely INSIDE the Dog Park, while their pets were running free.
Truth is stranger than fiction
I haven't told you about the 160-pound Mastiff rescue brought to the Dog Park by new owner on his way home from the shelter. What about the 3 Dobermans that were dropped off at the Dog Park while their owner drove down the block to pick up his girlfriend after work?
Exceptions to the Rule
Friends would accuse me of undue prejudice if I failed to mention times when a Dog Park may work:
Set you and your dog up for training success, not failure. Be smart. Be safe. Be in control.
Shirley Greene can be reached @: firstname.lastname@example.org