Dog Park Blues

Having recently adopted a young, active dog, I fully appreciate the opportunity our local dog park provides for her to run in a safe, enclosed area and play with other dogs. Of course, not all dogs are good candidates for the park, and I am hyper-vigilant about supervising Sierra. Her play style is generally well accepted by other dogs, and if she seems to be getting overbearing, I intervene. (The photo shows her playing with a 150-lb. newfie, and the two of them were having a ball.) Most of the other dog owners are vigilant as well, although some…not so much.

There are those owners who either aren’t watching their dogs at all, preferring to chat on their cell phones or socialize with others. And then there are the ones whose dogs repeatedly get into skirmishes with other dogs. One man in particular has distinguished himself in this category in the short two weeks Sierra and I have been visiting the park. Every time his dog gets into it, he just says, “Oh, sorry” to the offended owner. Yesterday, after his dog got snarky with Sierra and she inadvertently got her teeth on my arm as I was grabbing Sierra away, he left. (That might have had something to do with my shared opinion regarding his dog’s behavior.) Another owner told me his dog gets into fights constantly. So why bring the dog to the park to let him practice the behavior and put others at risk?

What really upset me, though, was the girl who stood just outside the chain link fence with her large male pit bull. The dog was wearing two huge pinch collars. Sierra, who has deemed herself Park Greeter, ran over to say hello through the fence. The pit started whining, his back legs began pawing the dirt, and just as I called out to the girl, he exploded. A second later, as I calmly maneuvered Sierra away, the girl jerked the pinch collar and at the same time sprayed something from a canister (most likely citronella or air) in the dog’s face and yelled at him. After redirecting Sierra to go play with some other dogs, I went back and chatted with the girl. I asked whether she was trying to get her dog used to other dogs, which of course I knew she was. I explained about association and how the jerking and spraying might actually be making things worse. I gave her some ideas, and instead of selling my own services, I offered to give her the name of a friend who specializes in training pit bulls—this was a huge, crop-eared, muscle-bound pit, and sometimes owners like to have someone who specializes in their breed. “But I already spent so much money with (insert name of international franchise here).” That’s unfortunate, but would you keep using a medication that didn’t work just because it had been expensive? We chatted a bit more and I ended up giving her my business card as well. She left soon after.

Two women who’d seen me talking with the girl told me she’s there often, using the same techniques I’d seen. One volunteered that what the girl really needed to do was exercise the dog to the point that he was really tired, then put a muzzle on him and bring him into the park. The other woman agreed. Obviously, they watch the same television show. I wasn’t inclined to get into another conversation about behavior.

There are trainers who are vehemently against dog parks. I’m not one of them. The park affords the opportunity for my dog to run, and she needs it, as do many of the dogs there. This particular park has separate areas for small and large dogs, and a double-gated entry system for each area. For the most part, the dogs who go there are friendly, and the owners are responsible. As for the others, sometimes a friendly chat leads to a chance to do some education, and that’s not a bad thing, either.

8 Responses to Dog Park Blues

  1. I must admit, I wish we had better parks where I live and train. For the most part, you can find the good parks where people pay attention at the right time of day. However, we have such a problem with people who don’t pick up that even the right time of day can be dangerous.

    I love watching my pug and pug mix wrestle, running in the grass and tackling each other. During this time of year, though, the disease runs rampant (we have one of the worse Parvo outbreaks in the country).

    I love the photo, and it encourages me to continue looking for that good park.

  2. Jaqi Bunn says:

    In the UK we don’t have dog parks and I have to admit I’m glad because we have enough problems over here with uneducated owners!

    I try to do the next best thing here though with supervised walk clubs, where I take groups of owners & dogs through public parks and teach them about offlead behaviours. We often see other dogs displaying unbalanced social behaviours and this is the ideal opportunity to not only educate but handle the problem of the loose dog if necessary.

  3. Good post! I am a cautious user of our dog park which is set up similarly. I monitor who is in the park. I don’t go in if there are small children (toddlers), if there many dogs, and if there are small dogs (on the wrong side of the fence) that Ellie doesn’t know. Because I’m a clicker trainer with my treat bag, I’m pretty popular with the dogs, but I close the bag and let the other dogs that I’m not open for business with them unless their person okays a treat. Ellie’s park friends have been a positive influence for her, given her high level of energy. She’s learned a lot from those doggie friends, things I can’t really teach her.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Well it sounds like at least your dog park has double gated entry, separate areas for small or old dogs, the ones in San Francisco or so out dated. The three we have are dirty, not all have double gated entry, there’s bad watering holes, no grass, no shade, no separate areas. And two out of three don’t have parking and they are the size of my back yard. Can you believe this city has more dogs than children. Every playground in the city has been renovated what about our dog parks. It’s been years since we had even seen a parks person step foot inside one. There are so many playgrounds I go passed everyday that are EMPTY. I stopped counting at 44 playgrounds, don’t know how many are really in this 7 by 7 mile city but it’s got to A LOT. Makes no sense when you think about the amount of dogs opposed to children here. To bad dog owners aren’t as feisty as Mothers.

  5. That’s one of my pet peeves…owners who don’t watch their dogs while at the dog park. Luckily most of the people that go to my neighborhood park are attentive, although there are a few that think going to the dog park means they can take their dog off leash and then just socaialize the rest of the time.

    I’m very protective of my dog and have on occasion had to block some other dogs who were starting to play too rough with her. I generally don’t get upset at the dogs, but more so their owners who aren’t being responsible and monitoring their dogs actions.

    When Penny starts to get a bit too rambunctious, I’ll take her off to the side or carry her…which she doesn’t like at all because according to Penny, “only babies get carried at the park”. I guess I could see how that could be embarassing…to be carried by your “daddy” in front of all of your friends. 😀

  6. […] 8. Socialize them so they are comfortable around humans and canines. (Socializing should not be done in a dog park.) […]

  7. Lori says:

    Good post. Unfortunately my dog does not like dog parks. She has personal space issues and doesn’t like when other dogs get in her face. I keep taking her to dog parks in the hopes to get her used to other dogs not on a leash. She also has leash aggression and goes nuts when she sees another dog on a walk. At least she’s calmer in a dog park then on a leash. Hopefully one day she’ll relax.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Lori,
      If your dog doesn’t like it when other dogs get in her face, the dog park is not the best place for her. In fact, it is likely to make her behavior worse, as there are many pushy, and even aggressive dogs in dog parks. You would be much better off working with a trainer in a controlled environment to get your dog used to other dogs in a gradual manner. You know, that blog was written a while back and since then I really have come to feel that there are so few dogs who really do belong in and benefit from dog parks. It’s probably time for an update!
      Take care,

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