Dog Parks: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly

Here in Peachland, we’re fortunate to have access to 3 beaches designated for dogs including one fenced area with ‘off leash’ privileges (south of the Princeton boat launch).  This means dogs can legally be off leash as long as their guardian can maintain control of their loose dog.  These spaces should be safe for dogs and humans but it isn’t always the case as you may of experienced.  Let me explain dog parks as I see them: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

The Good: If you’ve visited a dog park you know how great it can be to see your dog interact with other dogs and enjoy the lake to cool off on those hot Peachland summer days; it’s fabulous!

The Bad: As much as dog parks can offer great experiences for dogs and guardians, you’re taking an inherited risk when you visit an uncontrolled space such as a dog park.  This is because the park is open to all dogs of any size, temperament and experience.  Furthermore, the guardians of those dogs may have little to no control of their dog; they may possess limited knowledge on dog behavior and how they interpret that knowledge can vary.

The Ugly:  When scuffles between dogs do erupt, humans can get ugly and verbal altercations can result making the whole experience very unpleasant.  Again, you don’t have control of who attends the dog park.

When you are considering visiting a dog park, you have to decide if you are willing to accept the risk.  Do not expect others to take responsibility even though, in your opinion it would be the right thing to do.  And aside from the issue of responsibility, what can’t be undone in the event of an altercation is the physical and/or psychological damage done to your dog that could potentially last a lifetime.  A behavior problem due to interactions gone wrong is a large part of my dog training business.

So how can your dog (and you) have a positive experience in the dog park?  Here are a few tips to heed.

1.     They are public spaces so accept the risk or don’t participate.  If you enter, you are assuming that risk.

2.     Before you enter the park, observe and decide if you want to proceed.  Watch the dog-to-dog interactions and guardian-dog interactions.

•      Is one dog asserting itself on another? Is there a ‘bully’ in the park? Do the dogs’ look relaxed and moving about or is one dog stalking others incessantly trying to mount them. Is there one dog that seems over stimulated and out of control?

•      Are the guardians watching their dogs/interacting with their dog or sitting and talking with others or on the phone oblivious to their dog’s behavior?  Do they have control of their dog?

Ultimately, if you see human or dog behavior you’re not comfortable with, reconsider entering the park.

And what about you and your dog?

•       Do YOU have control of your dog? Does your dog respond to you when off leash in this highly stimulating environment?

•       Does your dog look relaxed in the park or is he/she clinging to you?  Is he/she responding reasonably to other dogs investigating him/her or lunging and snapping and looking upset with a tail tucked and ears back?

•      Is your dog mounting other dogs relentlessly?

•       Does your dog get possessive of balls and toys and respond negatively when approached by another dog?

•      Is your dog unneutered and stalking females and challenging the males?

The dog park is for social dogs to move freely off leash, safely.  They can provide positive experiences but they will not guarantee you or your dog a safe experience and it’s your responsibility as your dog’s guardian, to provide positive and safe experiences for them.

If you’re not willing to accept the responsibility and risk of dog parks, don’t go.  If you do visit, take responsibility for your dog’s actions, have a great recall on your dog (control) or be prepared to get you dog and move them away from any situation that is a problem.    Lets share the space responsibility and keep our dogs safe at the same time.

By Catherine Adams

Peachland columnist

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