Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 13, 2015

Really? A Dog Park I'd Visit?

Posted at 09:23AM - Comments: (8)

I just found the ideal dog park. It’s in Grass Valley, California, in a gorgeous public park called Condon Park.

It’s large, and set in a forested setting, with tall pines overhead, and the footing is thick with pine needles.

It has two separate areas, with a smaller section (but still quite good-sized) reserved for “small and shy” dogs. I love that the folks who set it up did not specify small dogs only. What do you do when you have a dog who needs to really run and romp and get tired, but isn’t reliable off-leash yet . . . who could benefit from some socializing, but isn’t yet ready to be accosted by large, high-energy buddies?

There are multiple entrances, each with a double-gated “airlock.” But the park planners have improved on the norm by including signs that encourage people to use one of the other entrances if there is a crowd by the first one they approach. And there is also signage that instructs people to remove their dogs’ leashes in the airlock area before turning them loose in the large area (which prevents owners from getting caught in the middle of a rambunctious group of dogs who are trying to greet the incoming dog, and prevents the dog whose leash is not yet released from being hindered from running or defending himself from the onslaught of even fun-loving, well-meaning playmates).

The entrance of each area includes a paved sidewalk that extends well into each of the two play areas – something that was being taken advantage of by a guy I saw who was there in a wheelchair with a big Lab-mix. In my home-town dog park, at this time of year, and there is no paved path into the play area at all; the entrance is quite muddy. The sidewalk, by the way, extends all the way in both play areas to a concrete patio-type area where fresh water is provided; there are several big bowls and a faucet with a hose to fill them with. The water was cleaner (and the dogs were cleaner) than in the parks I’ve seen where the water is provided in a gravel (or dirt/mud) area.

There are multiple benches for people to sit on, and organizers had sought out donations to help support their installation and maintenance; signage on the benches thanks the donors and advertised their services where appropriate. There are also agility-type obstacles scattered about for people to explore with their dogs – fun! I counted at least six dispensers for poop-pick-up bags, and as many barrels for disposing poop. There were also several poop pickup tools in various spots.

At the main entrance, there is a bulletin board with an area where anyone can post signs about lost dogs or dog-related services, and a locked area under glass where the organizers can post official notices that couldn’t be ripped down or altered. A large sign with clear, firm, and reasonable park rules appears there. There is more signage acknowledging the major community sponsors of the park.

When I first approached the park with Otto, I thought at first no one was present, because it was so quiet, and because the park is so large that I didn’t see several groups of dogs playing at the far end of the park. When we entered, there wasn’t an immediate rush of over-amped, anxious dogs racing over to rudely greet Otto; the dogs there were playing energetically, but when they approached, it was with casual interest, not with the kind of drive that makes you think of a mob with pitchforks and torches. It was clear to me that the pack’s mood was a result of the relaxed, calm atmosphere.

I don’t take dogs, any dogs, to the dog park in my town. It’s just not a pleasant place to take a dog. And in my former home town, there is a lovely park, but it’s so overrun, and so heavily populated by dogs who seem to LIVE there (they are there for so many hours a day, and so many days of the week), that they are quite belligerent and territorial. I’ve seen and photographed many dog fights (and human fights!) there that were caused by too much out-of-control, hyper energy – too few rules with zero community enforcement, and too many bullies (canine and human). It’s the kind of place where the loudest voices bully owners into making bad decisions for their dogs, for example, as the scared adolescent dog is running in a blind panic, being chased by three or four larger, intense dogs, the kind of person who says, “Don’t be overprotective, dogs have to work it out! Your dog needs to learn to defend himself!” Blech.

But this park? I would bring any nice dog there, anytime. Kudos, Grass Valley.

Comments (8)

I wish there was a good legal dog park. I have noticed the same at ours. It has a large dog area, small dog area and general shy dog. Sophies gone running saying hi to all people but the dogs are too much for my 20 lb dog shy girl. She loves people.

There's a park that's not technically off leash. People do let their dog off leash there, Sophie loves it and dogs are more like her, they play sometimes but mostly chase squirrels at the other park.

Posted by: Cheryl A. | February 19, 2015 9:14 PM    Report this comment

I agree with the comments above and do not go to the dog parks. I have seen the "pack mentality" with dogs running roughshod over smaller/shyer dogs, with owners/onlookers not paying the least amount of attention to the situation. I tend to seek out walking areas where there are few dogs so that my shy two can have their "long walks" in peace.

Posted by: AB in AR | February 19, 2015 12:35 PM    Report this comment

I don't like dog parks. I work with my golden retriever to have an obedient, well behaved dog that gets along well with others. It seems that many dog owners at dog parks don't do the same. I have seen the pack behavior in regular users and feel that they can be dangerous for my dog. It just isn't worth the risk, we have other activities that socialize safely.

Posted by: Msnap | February 18, 2015 8:57 PM    Report this comment

Like people, some dogs just don't like to deal with crowds - my 18 month old, rescue GSD, who's been with me for a little over a year, is one such dog. She plays and socializes with her friends, just like I do. Every veterinarian and dog trainer I've worked with has cautioned against them - I'm inclined to agree with them. Why force the issue?

Posted by: Em | February 17, 2015 4:27 PM    Report this comment

A word of caution! My Cavachon loved our dog park. I brought him everyday. He had a 110 lb German Shepherd sister and an 80 lb Rottweiller cousin at home. They adored him and he adored both of them. He had no fear of other dogs. At the park, he played with the Goldens and Shepherds and Labs, and all the dogs, large and small.......until.......

On two separate occasions my little boy was attacked by other dogs. Both were herding breeds. And, of course, their owners made excused for their dog's behavior! He began to develop a fear of other dogs. We stopped going to dog parks. I now make play dates for him with dogs I KNOW are friendly. The "regulars" at the park were appalled when he was attacked, and the attacking dogs were removed from the park. But I won't take any more chances with dog parks! My little rescue had a hard start in life. And I won't risk his safety on assurances from people who have aggressive dogs and lots of excuses. So, I caution all of you. I'm not alone in this type of problem. I WISH dog parks were safe, but reckless owners are everywhere. Beware!

Posted by: Opinion02122 | February 17, 2015 12:17 PM    Report this comment

What a wonderful place to take your dog. I'd love it too. I don't take my dog to dog parks because of all the things you describe. Also, because I'm an average dog owner, and although I can read my dog's body language very well, am not as as good or quick in reading other dogs' in the same way. I feel I don't have the necessary skills to go to the average dog park. Still, I wish I could.

Posted by: Alice R. | February 17, 2015 10:45 AM    Report this comment

Now that we have 20 years or so of dog park history, how about an article that addresses what the best ones have in common, and how they came to be so good? Most of the writing I've seen stresses the hazards, and how individual owners can and must protect their dogs. That's important, but surely there is a way to consolidate information so that each community needing a dog social nexus does not have to reinvent the wheel, can avoid major hazards, secure funding and support, etc. Also, beyond the crude safety features (airlock entrances, secure fences, sensible rules, enough space) how about addressing some of the more subtle issues that only arise in GOOD parks -- like dogs resource guarding favorite spaces, and pack behavior in frequent and regular users.

Posted by: LaurieR | February 17, 2015 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Were the gates truly small dog safe? The dog parks (and other fenced parks) in our area have a wide enough space between the gate edge and the fence pole that small dogs can fit through. I have seen a scared dog go through both gates of the "airlock" at a dead run. I would lost a bet that the dog could even fit through the opening by squeezing through and never thought it could do it running.

Posted by: Furrykids | February 17, 2015 9:02 AM    Report this comment

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