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Are Dog Parks Worth the Risk?

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asal   

Interesting article, and I suspect from the horror stories Ive heard at times.  Pretty much on the mark.

 

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Recently, a woman took her dog to the dog park for some fun and exercise. She envisioned him frolicking with other dogs and coming home happy and tired. Instead, the poor dog came away needing surgery to save his life, along with more than 10 puncture wounds. I saw the photos; suffice it to say they were both sickening and heart-wrenching. Just a few days later, another woman posted on Facebook about an encounter at the same dog park. Her dog had been attacked, had suffered serious damage to a limb, and needed to be rushed to the vet. The owner of the other dog refused to acknowledge that her dog had done anything wrong, and fled the scene.

Fortunately, both of these dogs will recover—physically, at least. As anyone who has ever suffered a bodily assault knows, the toll goes far beyond physical injury. The extent of emotional damage to any dog who has been attacked depends on the seriousness of the attack and on the temperament of the individual dog. For some dogs this type of encounter can, understandably, result in a fear of other dogs. And as any trainer worth her salt knows, that can translate to fear-based reactivity, which most people call aggression.

Does every encounter at a dog park result in physical or emotional damage to dogs? Of course not. But you might be surprised at how many dogs are having no fun at all, despite what their owners might think. When I was putting together my seminar Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play (click the link for the DVD), I needed lots of video of dogs playing. One of the places I spent time at was our local dog park. I filmed hours and hours of various breeds and sizes of dogs playing together. Although I was already aware that some dogs enjoyed playing more than others and that some encounters were definitely not positive, when I reviewed the footage in slow motion, I was shocked. Sure, there were examples of safe, non-threatening play. But there was also a myriad of instances in which dogs were practically traumatized as their owners stood by, totally unaware. One example comes instantly to mind: Within seconds of a man and his medium-sized mixed breed dog entering the park, the dog was rushed by other dogs who wanted to inspect him, as is typical in any canine group. But one of the greeters clearly scared the newcomer, who then lunged and snapped. The owner gave his dog a verbal warning for that defensive action and kept walking deeper into the park. Another dog approached and this time, with his tail tucked, the dog snapped and lunged more intently. The owner grabbed him by the collar and chastised him. Over the next five minutes, the dog had four more encounters that resulted in his being punished by the owner, each time more harshly. It would have been clear to anyone versed in canine body language that the dog was afraid, and was becoming more and more reactive because he was on the defense. It was difficult to stand there filming, and I considered aborting to go and speak with him. Just then, a woman who was a regular there approached and struck up a conversation with the man. Thankfully, she was able to convince him that his dog was scared and to leave the park. I’m sad to say that this was far from being the only negative encounter I filmed. More importantly, this sort of thing happens daily at dog parks across the world.

By now you’re probably thinking, Gee Nicole, how do you really feel? The thing is, I’ve seen the flip side as well. I’ve watched a group of ladies who meet at the park most mornings with their dogs. They’re savvy about canine body language, and although they enjoy socializing with each other as their dogs play, they constantly monitor the action. If play begins to become too heated, they create a time out by calling their dogs to them for a short break before releasing them to play again. In this way, they prevent arousal from escalating into aggression. The dogs all know each other and for the most part get along well. I have absolutely no problem with this type of scenario. Unfortunately, it’s far from being the norm. The typical scene at a dog park includes a random assortment of dogs whose owners range from being absolutely ignorant about dog behavior to being well informed, with most of the population falling somewhere in the middle. And why not? They’re not dog professionals, but loving owners who simply want their dogs to get some exercise and have a good time. In most cases, they’re not aware of the subtle or not-so-subtle signals that could indicate danger, or even that dangers exist. Comments like, “Ah, they’re dogs, they’ll work it out,” and “Oh, he’s fine” abound. It’s strange if you think about it: if you were the parent of a young child, would you send him in blindly to play with a group of kids that possibly included bullies and criminals? Wouldn’t you at the very least stand there and observe the play for a few minutes before allowing him to join the fray? If you did allow the child to participate, would you not keep an eye on him and leave if you felt there was a potential threat? And yet, at the dog park, the majority of owners never do those things.

In the best of all worlds, there would be mandatory education for dog park attendees as well as a knowledgeable staff member or volunteer at every park to monitor the action and to stop dogs who are known to be aggressive from entering in the first place. Perhaps a membership model would make this possible. Unfortunately, that is not the reality. And so, it falls to we owners to be advocates and protectors for our dogs. That means if you absolutely insist on taking your dog to a dog park, that you scan the environment before entering, that you monitor your dog’s play even while chatting with other owners, and that you intervene even to the point of leaving if necessary when you feel something is not right, even if that means facing social ostracism. Personally, I prefer play dates with known quantities rather than a park full of potential aggressors who might do serious physical or emotional damage to my dogs. If I do take mine into the dog park to run around, it’s during off hours when the park is empty. You might find this over the top or even paranoid. That’s okay. If you heard all of the stories I’ve heard over the years and seen all of the damage I’ve seen, you might think twice about whether dog parks are worth the risk.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs & more at www.nicolewilde.com. Don’t want to miss any blog posts? Subscribe at the top of the page. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter."

 

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My personal opinion ...... no they aren’t worth the risk , not after my dog was attacked twice on two seperate occasions.

People think that because it’s a fenced off dog area , that gives them permission to socialise with other dog owners and ignore  the fact that their  dog is being aggressive towards another dog. And when it’s pointed out that their dog needs to be under effective control they couldn’t have cared less.

 

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I've had mostly good experiences with dogs parks and the occasional problems haven't been serious.  It varies greatly, depending on the park, your dog, and time of day.  Those who have had serious problems speak louder.  No reason to give up on dog parks entirely.

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Snook   

I think dog parks can be okay if you have one where you can meet up with the same dogs each time, they're known to get along with each other, the owners are dog savvy and observant, and you leave if unknown dogs turn up. Other than that, I'm not keen on them and will never use them again with any dogs I may have in the future. 

 

I was one of those owners who know nothing about dog behaviour and didn't realise that my dog was showing signs of discomfort and was feeling unsafe, because on the surface he appeared very tolerant and he always looked to me like he was smiling with that wide staffy cross mouth of his. It took months for him to reach the point of displaying fear aggression, which was when I finally caught on that there was a problem, and then it all spiralled down hill from there. While all of that is totally on me and my ignorance, there were also times when even I could see that another dog was a problem, and the owners would rarely ever do anything about it when asked. 

 

The big eye opener for me about dog parks was after we'd spent a long time working closely with a trainer to rehabilitate my dog's fear aggression and I'd learned a huge amount about dog behaviour and body language, both from the trainer and from lots of books and videos. We'd reached a point where we started to do counter conditioning in a safe area outside of a reasonably busy dog park (not an area where dogs pass to go in and out of the park), as it allowed us to get very close to dogs when mine was comfortable enough to do so, but with the safety of the fence between them. I saw so many disasters waiting to happen during these times.. terrified dogs being chased and trying to hide under seats, dogs charging up to other dogs and immediately starting fights, a man who brought in a dog who resource guards it's ball only to then start throwing the ball with other dogs around and creating a heap of scuffles and fights over the ball etc etc. I spoke to a lot of owners during these training sessions, as they were usually curious about what we were doing on the other side of the fence, and was told about multiple incidents of different dogs being attacked to the point of needing vet treatment, at times when I hadn't been there. There were times when it was working well but I think there was only one day when there were no problems, and that was a day when there were only a few dogs at the park.

 

Too many people either have no idea about dogs (just like I once had no idea), think it's okay for dogs to behave badly and that they'll sort it out for themselves, or know their dog is aggressive or causes trouble and don't care because they think they have just as much right as everyone else to use the space. 

Edited by Snook
Typo
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Depending on the actual users .... and infrastructure .

Friends living in a similar area in the city use the same park  ..it's fantastic ! 
I have been quite a few times ... with a core group of regulars .(most not friends outside of the dog park) Dogs get on well , have their own 'BFFs' and owners  txt each other as to who's going to be there, and when ...that sort of thing.There are others who keep to  themselves , which is fair enough ..and there is a fenced off area for either dogs who might not get on ..or dogs who want protection :)
On my walks, there are other dog parks where the same type of thing happens ,same groups of dogs/owners  -all having a ball. 

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Depending on the actual users .... and infrastructure .

Friends living in a similar area in the city use the same park  ..it's fantastic ! 
I have been quite a few times ... with a core group of regulars .(most not friends outside of the dog park) Dogs get on well , have their own 'BFFs' and owners  txt each other as to who's going to be there, and when ...that sort of thing.There are others who keep to  themselves , which is fair enough ..and there is a fenced off area for either dogs who might not get on ..or dogs who want protection :)Some onwers bring chuckits etc ..and everyone shares  sticks & balls , frisbees (and treats if allowed) 
it all seems a bit like a doggy heaven sometimes   LOL
On my walks, there are other dog parks where the same type of thing happens ,same groups of dogs/owners  -all having a ball. 

Edited by persephone

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RuralPug   

Dog parks are a bit like loaded dice if you haven't (a) sussed them out beforehand to see if responsible dog owners are using them or if idiots frequent them (b) if your own dogs haven't been properly trained in recall and other good doggy manners and (c) if you can't read dog body language.

It can work well if you meet other like minded people who run their well socialised dogs in the same park at the same regular times. That way you can back each other up if a bogan enters with a problem dog.

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Guest   
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One near me just had a massive fight caused by a supposedly friendly dog. Cue vet bills and stress all round. 

Yeah, nah. Not worth the risk. Not sorry.

 

What is even so good about them, anyway? Smaller than any yard bar a balcony, got nothing in them but sand and logs (oh, and snakes, apparently. Awesome.). Just play with your dog off leash at home or....

RUN FAST ENOUGH THAT YOUR DOG DOESN’T NOTICE THEY’RE ON LEASH.

Caps because the amount of people who expect their dogs to plod along like a senior citizen with their legs bound is just sad to see. :( 

 

 

I will go to the dog park - alone, purely for the purpose of getting poop bags for when I walk bubs other places (hey, my tax dollars pay for those! Lol).

 

But no, no, just no, I’d gouge my eyes out before letting bub set paw in one.

 

Now, a “normal” park with a designated off leash time period, where you can meet up with other owners who will actually engage with their dogs, that’s a whole other story. That is something which can benefit you and your dog. 

 

The dog parks are, here at least, for the people who just want to stick their head in their phone and hope that the fence will keep their dog safe. Not people I want around my little one! 

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Oh, worth mentioning, there are actually a lot of parents who take children to dog parks, not children with dogs, just the children, because “they can’t escape that way. Normal playgrounds don’t have fences.”. 

 

Yet another group of people I don’t care to meet!

 

 

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dididog   

I live in the inner city with a small yard. My english pointer has a good recall but not to the point I trust him in unfenced parks in the city and the only fenced areas that dogs are allowed off leash near me are... dog parks.

 

My pointer is extremely dog social and pretty oblivious to aggression so is generally not phased. You can lower the risk by getting to know the park users, picking a time it's not busy, and being extremely pro active. I follow my dog and make sure I can recall him or within arms reach to intervene. I might talk to other users but always have eyes on my dog. I closely observe the body language of all dogs and generally keep him close when a new dog enters to suss them out. I won't hesitate to leash up and leave the second I get a bad feeling about a dog rather than leaving anything to chance. I intervene and leash up for a time out the moment my dog is being rude or is being bothered by another rude dog to allow tensions to settle. And I'm not afraid to tell someone when their dog's behaviour is inappropriate for the dog park. 

 

My dog is large and not likely to react to confrontation so I am rarely confronted with a situation where he may be at risk but I can see why with a smaller dog the risk might not be worth it. For me it gives my dog the freedom to run off leash safely and play with other dogs which he enjoys but it is not the main way I exercise him (we go maybe once a week or fortnight).

 

My other dog I never took to dog parks, just normal parks or beaches that had off leash areas. She has been attacked so many times by other dogs that she is not a fan of being approached by strange dogs and for my own peace of mind is now only walked on leash. I kind of prefer the fenced in dog parks because its easier to have a full handle of your situation. I can see everyone there and keep an eye on the entrance and have as much control as possible over the situation which is a lot harder to do in an expansive off leash park. 

 

I do wish they had a ranger pop in more often to some of our local parks and warn people off  bringing their dogs. It sucks that some people don't see how inconsiderate it is to bring aggressive dogs to the dog park where they are one of the few places city dog owners exclusively have to utilise. The last time I tried a new park I saw one such owner, brought a massive GSD on an e collar that was on edge and hackles up the entire time it was there and constantly lunging and snarling at any dog that even looked at it funny. It was ultimately not following up on its confrontations because it was getting yelled at and nailed with the collar but if the other dogs had not been so submissive it could have easily boiled over. I leashed up before it enterred because it was snarling on the other side of the fence and left the second it was away from the gate, I don't bother hoping for the best anymore, I always assume the worst as losing out on some park time is not worth losing my dogs lovely disposition to other dogs or his safety.

Edited by dididog
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For awhile I lived near a members only dog park (payment required).  13acres, big old trees, two large ponds, aggressive dogs banned.  It was lovely.  Some dogs played, some just ran, or wondered.  A lot of regulars, who planned meetups with other regulars.

The fenced quarter acre sand lot is no comparison, and definitely not worth it

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BDJ   

I am extremely lucky as have 2 unfenced 'dog park' areas near me.  One is about 2 acres, several large grass areas with pockets of old gums scattered around.  The other follows a water way (sometimes 20m wide beside it, other areas opening up to 80-100 m wide.  Not sure how long, I have walked 2km and not found the end).   And, I have dogs with good recalls, so can let them run/wander without worrying they will tick off.   These are great - if I come across a dog that is too full on or pushy we simply move to another area.  Touch wood I have not experienced an aggressive dog there - I am guessing because its unfenced they don't go there as they can't control it.

 

I did go to one of the smaller fenced dog parks once - didn't like it.  The ground was hard/stoney, too many dogs chucked in together getting in each others space.  Even if that was my only choice I don't think I would go there.

 

A friend of mine has a dog with a dicky recall (works perfectly when he can 'hear' his owner, but strangely suffers from periodical deafness :laugh:).  Once a week they travel to the other side of Adelaide where there is a fenced dog park which is a full oval - its huge and is lovely grass.  A perfect solution for them

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3 hours ago, sandgrubber said:

For awhile I lived near a members only dog park (payment required).  13acres, big old trees, two large ponds, aggressive dogs banned.  It was lovely.  Some dogs played, some just ran, or wondered.  A lot of regulars, who planned meetups with other regulars.

The fenced quarter acre sand lot is no comparison, and definitely not worth it

Sandgrubber, that sounds incredible!! how would one go about finding places like these? Ring the councils?

i haven’t seen anything pertaining to this in their online info.

I wonder if there’s any way to lease a dog park, like if a bunch of people wanted a get together for their dogs? 

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Kirislin   

Not worth the risk to me. I have 2 frail elderly Whippets and  2 tiny Italian Greyhounds. It doesn’t matter how well behaved they are, it only takes one out of control dog with a stupid irresponsible owner to come bargearsing up to mine and attack.  And there’s more and more of things like this happening.

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19 minutes ago, Kirislin said:

Not worth the risk to me. I have 2 frail elderly Whippets and  2 tiny Italian Greyhounds. It doesn’t matter how well behaved they are, it only takes one out of control dog with a stupid irresponsible owner to come bargearsing up to mine and attack.  And there’s more and more of things like this happening.

eek.. no , not with your crew!

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Tassie   
16 hours ago, CharbearsMa said:

....

Now, a “normal” park with a designated off leash time period, where you can meet up with other owners who will actually engage with their dogs, that’s a whole other story. That is something which can benefit you and your dog. 

...

 

So while that sounds idyllic, all it does in most cases is to limit the times and areas where people who want or need to walk their dogs safely on leash, can actually do so.    People think it's OK to have their dogs off leash whether they have a recall or not .. they're busy chatting to their friends or gazing at their phone, and have no idea about respecting the rights of owners of leashed dogs  .. if they even hear the requests to call their dogs back, they're just as likely not to do it, or worse still, abuse the owner of the leashed dog for causing a problem.  Oh, and they have zero sense of time or place … so for them off leash time is all the time, and off leash section is apparently everywhere.

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6 hours ago, CharbearsMa said:

Sandgrubber, that sounds incredible!! how would one go about finding places like these? Ring the councils?

i haven’t seen anything pertaining to this in their online info.

I wonder if there’s any way to lease a dog park, like if a bunch of people wanted a get together for their dogs? 

Unfortunately, in Gainesville, Florida.  I have not seen the like elsewhere.

It was fabulous, and quite safe.

One well known regular was an elderly, totally blind Boston terrier who had been coming for years.  She did two circuits around the fence line, unattended each time she came.  

Edited by sandgrubber
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poochmad   

We’ve gone to dog parks a couple of times, but I’m not keen with some of the morons who go to let their dog run loose while they sit there and don’t pay attention.

 

we’ve been lucky in that people tend to be honest if their dog is aggressive or not.

 

the other reason I avoid them is because we have witnessed people with aggressive dogs who always say: he/she never behaves like that or my pet favourite: they will sort it out, when it’s your dog getting attacked. Er no, they won’t, I’ll just end up with a dog that’s harassed and stressed or a dog fight will occur.

 

Snakes are prevalent as well. So we stick to walking.

Edited by poochmad
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1 hour ago, sandgrubber said:

Unfortunately, in Gainesville, Florida.  I have not seen the like elsewhere.

It was fabulous, and quite safe.

One well known regular was an elderly, totally blind Boston terrier who had been coming for years.  She did two circuits around the fence line, unattended each time she came.  

Oh, damn :( yeah, it can be a good life for a dog in lots of communities overseas! I loved shopping in Florida and wondering why there was a barking sound in the shoe department, got the (pleasant) shock of my life when I saw dogs with their owners in the store!! :) 

 

i think we’ve been used to large backyards for too long to have properly accommodated dogs in public. I read one paper about building dog parks, the need for them was only really acknowledged 15 years ago or something. Americans and those in the UK with their apartments/small gardens are ahead of us in this regard, I’m afraid 

:(

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