At the Dog Park
Dog parks are where you'll find hordes of happy dogs. Dogs playing with their canine friends, dogs racing through the grass, just happy to have a chance to really stretch their legs, and even dogs taking a swim if they're lucky enough to have a park with water available.
Pet owners and their dogs obviously love the dog parks, but they can cause controversy at times. Dog parks are great to have around - if they're used in a responsible manner.
The Benefits of Dog Parks
Dog parks let dogs socialize with other dogs and get some exercise while they're at it. Dogs that are well-socialized tend to show less aggression and are more relaxed. Plus fresh air and exercise are key to keeping your dog healthy. You know the old saying, "A tired dog is a happy dog!".
But dog parks don't just benefit the dogs themselves. Pet owners will tell you that it's a great place to meet other "pet people" and to develop friendships and bonds. It also helps people to get outside and encourages them to get some exercise with their dogs. Plus watching the dogs play together is fun! Well-exercised dogs also tend to be better pets and more easily handled since they're more relaxed.
Communities also benefit from dog parks. Well-exercised dogs are unlikely to nuisance bark, as some dogs do when they're bored and have no stimulation. Having a designated dog park also helps to encourage pet owners to use it, thus reducing or minimizing conflicts with other recreational park users. Finally, a dog park gives pet owners an opportunity to meet each other over a common interest. Getting to know your neighbors helps to build a sense of community, which in turn encourages pet owners to pick up after their dogs and keep their community clean.
Complaints About Dog Parks
In some municipalities, dog parks have actually been closed down due to clashes between the users of the park and other people, such as neighbors or families concerned with what they see. Some of the common complaints have to do with an abuse of the park rules. These include:
- Pet owners don't pick up after their dogs. No one likes to step in a pile of doggy-doo. Even if it's a small fraction of the park users who don't pick up after their dogs, the problem can balloon if they do it often enough.
- Dogs aren't kept under control. Even in leash-free zones, dogs should always be kept under control. When they're allowed to run without rules, they can cause conflict with other dogs at the park as well as with people (including people who are just passing through the park).
- Clashes between park users. Sometimes a larger park will be divided into a section that's designated as a "dog park". The rest of the park is for regular recreational users including families, cyclists, walkers, picnickers, etc.. If dogs using the dog park area aren't kept to that area, they could run into the other section of the park and terrorize the other users (even friendly dogs can scare people - not everyone is comfortable around dogs). Dogs and children especially are a contentious issue since many children do not know how to approach strange dogs. Likewise, some dogs will chase children if they run.
- Bad incidents such as aggression. If a pet owner brings their aggressive dog to the dog park and it results in injury (or even death) to another dog, there's sure to be an outcry - and not necessarily just from the other pet owners, but from surrounding neighbors and other regular park users who are concerned that an aggressive dog might attack them or their children.
Trouble at the Dog Park
Dog Park Etiquette
Dog parks are a privilege. Having one close by can be a great joy for pet owners - but keeping the park means following the rules! Rules for the park are typically posted at the entrance to the parks or in prominent locations. In addition to following the posted rules, remember to:
- Always keep dogs under control. Even when they are off-leash, they must respond to your voice commands.
- Carry a leash, even in off-leash parks. Keep it handy just in case you need to use it.
- Don't allow digging. Lots of dogs love to dig, but a public park is not the right place! Holes can trip up other people or pets and cause injury. If you see your dog digging, stop him and fill in the hole.
- Do not bring aggressive dogs to the park. It doesn't matter if they're people-aggressive or animal-aggressive... aggressive dogs do not belong at the dog park! There's simply too much interaction going on that can turn into trouble when an aggressive dog is present.
- Re-consider bringing intact dogs to the dog park. Other dogs react to intact dogs (dogs that haven't been spayed or neutered) in a different way. Aggression can result.
- Don't bring female dogs in heat. Enough said!
- Dog parks aren't appropriate for young puppies. A puppy's immune system isn't fully developed yet, and neither are their socialization skills.
- Only bring as many dogs as you can control. At one of our local dog parks there's a woman who brings eight dogs! The dogs run wild and jump at other dogs and people, and she struggles to control them, apologizing profusely to everyone as she tries to round them up. There's so much going on at a dog park that pet owners should only bring as many dogs as they can reasonably manage.
- Keep your dog within your sight. You should always be able to see your dog and what he's doing. Don't expect other pet owners to watch him for you.
- Make sure your pet is up-to-date on his shots. With so many other dogs in the same area you'll want to make sure your pet is protected.
- Leave immediately if your dog starts to behave aggressively at the park. Recall your dog right away, put him on leash, and calmly walk away.
- Leave toys at home. They can cause a dog's possessive or territorial instincts to kick in.
- Don't allow your dog to harass other pets (or people). Some dogs play more roughly than others, and people have different "comfort levels" with dogs. Even people with pets aren't always comfortable with strange dogs! If you see another dog or person is clearly uncomfortable with your dog's play, recall your dog and redirect his attention elsewhere.
- Always pick up after your dog. Even if the park rules don't explicitly say so, always clean up after your dog. If you see someone else has not, consider picking it up as well and disposing of it. Keeping the park clean is beneficial to everyone.