Hazards of Dog Parks, Revisited

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Just a few years ago, I lived in a densely populated city in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was , by and large, dependent on  dog parks for my dogs’ off-leash exercise. You know how when you see something all the time, you become accustomed to its quirks, to the point where you don’t see them so much? That’s how I was about dog parks a few years ago . . .  but not now. Today I’m lucky enough to live in a small town that is literally surrounded with public open spaces, wildlife areas where dogs can be walked off-leash.

Recently, I spent the better part of a morning at a large, nice dog park in the town where I used to live. I wanted to get some new stock photos for WDJ’s files; it’s been literally years since I did this at a dog park. Perhaps because I have been absent a few years, some of the things I saw shocked me! Such as:

How most of the people who brought their dogs to the park stood in one spot, not far from the entrance, and talked with each other (or on their cell phones!), mostly ignoring their dogs. How few people walked with their dogs to the far corners of the park.

How much poop there was that was lying around, un-picked up.

How many of the dogs were wearing all sorts of gear that is unsafe for playing in groups, including pinch collars, choke chains, and harnesses. (It’s all too easy for a dog to grab another dog by the collar or harness, and get his teeth or jaw stuck in the other dog’s gear, leading to panic and injury – or even death by strangulation, if the panicked dogs cannot be freed quickly enough.)

How many “bully dogs” there were. (I’m not talking about “bully breeds” – pit bulls, bulldogs, and the like. I’m talking about dogs who seem to enjoy picking on and harassing other dogs. There is a big difference between a dog who likes rough play and a bully. The most significant one is that the bully won’t ever be caught rolling on his back or playing the “submissive” dog role. Many dogs who like to play rough but are NOT bullies will voluntarily take their turns at the bottom of a wrestling match.)

How the most aggressive dog I saw was owned by the most aggressive human I saw. When a scuffle broke out between two other dogs, this one man’s dog dove in and attacked one of the dogs who was involved in the original skirmish. Given that the new aggressor was a mastiff, his owner had to literally throw himself on the dog’s body – twice – in order to pull the giant dog off his much-smaller victim. (Shortly afterward, a woman who watched this whole scene from outside the park called to the mastiff owner to put his dog on a leash. However, he, at least, if not his dog, was still quite “amped up,” and he started yelling at her to mind her own business, with a few curse words thrown in for emphasis. When she said it WAS her business, as she wanted to enter with her dog but didn’t feel his dog was safe or under control without a leash, he cursed at her some more. And even though the pack was populated by a number of people and their dogs, no one else either came to the woman’s defense – even though she was right, the dog should have been put on a leash following the fight – nor attempted to calm the obviously upset, out-of-control mastiff owner.)

Dog parks can be fantastic resources for people with well-socialized dogs who have energy to burn and need space — and other well-socialized dogs – to play with. But they are not without drawbacks.

Do you still use dog parks for exercising your dogs? How do you feel about them?

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