Why a DOG PARK education is worse than no education at all

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This past week I have been going to a lake to swim Mama Beetz. I am focused on her since she has a little injury right now, but if it is early morning or dusk, I might bring one of my other dogs along that really enjoys swimming. I never as in never ever, bring all of my dogs together unless we are 100 miles from no place, it is a lot of management, time, and effort to keep everyone focused on whatever we are doing, so I bring manageable numbers.

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Our local lakes have always had a fair amount of summer activity, but there are days and times when they aren’t quite as busy, and I shoot for those times. I always try to take the path of less resistance, for my dogs well-being and safety as well as my own. I try to leave the house relaxed and return relaxed.

This past week has been a reminder to me of how much I appreciate people who put time and effort into their dogs, respect others space, and have an understanding that the world is not just for their dogs hedonistic pleasure, but rather for everyone to enjoy, unmolested by others. I have shared space with a few awesome people and their well trained dogs this past week, that has been a joy for sure.

But the amount of people I have come across in the past week that lack any level of dog owner etiquette while in public with their dog is jaw dropping. But what should be alarming is that they seem to all have been going to school at ‘the dog park’, and share the same bad behaviors, on both ends of the leash.

There are signs in the environment that always make me leave and find a new piece of shoreline, or at the very least, put my dogs in my car and watch to see how things will play out.

  • When a car arrives with a dog hanging out the window, barking frenetically, and music blasting.
    • When this happens, 100% of the time, the dog has been ramping up in arousal all the way to the destination, and then is let out of the car off leash, to run around and blow off steam before they hit the lake or a trail, and the person and dog don’t care whose space they run into, at all.
  • When a group of people are standing and talking about how great the ‘dog park meet up’ was the night before, and their 6 dogs are running up and down the shoreline, through other peoples spaces, kids sitting in the water playing, picnics, and other people with dogs playing fetch, and they see nothing wrong with this.
    • The world isn’t a dog park, and truly, almost 100% of the time, people resent dogs running through their space uninvited, especially around their babies, young children, and their own personal dogs space.
  • The dog that is tracking your dogs movement from across the parking lot, so you keep a watchful eye to see where their person is headed, and then you realize their person is sitting down and looking out at the lake. No leash, no person.
    • When a person doesn’t care enough to watch their dog, decision making becomes your responsibility. The dog park mentality is ‘let them work it out’. Responsible mentality is, keep your dog safe first and foremost, and if the other dog was never invited, then you have decisions to make.
  • While your dog is swimming out and retrieving and someone else allows their dog to jump in and ‘swim chase’ your dog to try to ‘get them’ or the toy. “Oh he chases fetching dogs at the dog park all of the time, BEST exercise ever”.
    • Ummm, fuck off and get your dog right now.
  • When a dog is running and spinning on the shoreline, and is hyper aroused just by being there, and has a muzzle on, but no leash, that is a huge ‘orange blinking light’ that all is really wrong. Then you hear the growl, frenetic barking, and lunge, and the subsequent “I’m glad his muzzle was on we are teaching him to not bite while we are in public places, he is doing so well at the dog park”
    • Let me throw up in my mouth just a little bit first and then say, nothing right is happening with this scenario at all, other than rehearsing super bad human and dog behavior, and putting everyone at risk. This is when I have been calling it and just coming home.
  • When a dog launches out of the back of a truck on arrival and heads for the lake, with no sense of purpose or direction, just amped up frenetic energy, and you hear the dogs name being called over and over and over, with no recognition from the dog.
    • Your car had better be close.
  • When someone is walking their dog through the parking lot/ boat launch area, off leash and letting them jump into other peoples open car doors, kayaks, canoes, back of trailers, sniffing picnic gear, bark at the guy trying to put his boat in, and basically taking their dog on a shopping trip.
    • There are clearly no rules, no boundaries, no respect for others space. And, the BIG and, why would you walk your off leash dog through a parking / boat launch area?
  • When over and over, multiple dogs names are called and no dog responds.
    • Leave, just leave.
  • When someone says “my dog goes to a dog park everyday, he is super well socialized” as he is peeing on your car tires and then jumping up on your car to stare your dogs down.
    • Not sure who lied to this person and told them that their dog was super well socialized, but there is comfort and power in numbers, and dog park people support each others own beliefs in their armchair behavioral assessments of each others dogs. Reality is a hard one once you leave the safety of the gang.
  • Then there is the walking ‘shit show’, multiple people, multiple dogs, barking, jostling about, of course off leash, darting in and out of cars coming and going from the trail head parking area, going into others spaces, and you hear “oh it’s okay, they settle in after about a mile”
    • So everyone else has to ‘take it’ in the meantime, and a group of wound up dogs ends up on a public trail in the front country as if it were a dog park. Hmmmm

All of this, every scenario is dog park mentality. And the problem, since forever, that I have with dog parks is that it teaches bad human and dog behavior, that then pours out into other environments. The complete lack of understanding of their dog, but mostly the environment around them, and respect for others space is profound, and not in a good way.

If you go to a dog park, you for sure can defend your actions, why not, but you cannot deny the amount of poor behavior and suck education that happens in these places.

I have written about dog parks for sixteen years, I have visited the countries first dog park, I sit in dog parks and take videos of dogs in motion to study movement and group behavior, and I am never disappointed in the total lack of human understanding that abounds within those areas.

I know if you are reading and have gotten this far that I am preaching to the choir, but as always –

  • be kind
  • be a good and knowledgeable dog owner
  • be respectful of others space when out and about
  • practice polite public manners
  • have your dog on leash unless it is a leash free area, but even then only off leash if your dog is 100% under voice control
  • if your dog is over their comfort level or arousal threshold, choose a different environment that is better suited for them
  • AND, don’t put others at risk

Nancy

29 comments

  1. As Always, Nancy,
    Another great article! Thanks for the considerate reminders, for everyone that uses public spaces, to think about and ponder over; hopefully taking mental notes, in the event, they have been clueless, in the past.

    1. Oooh good rant! I will say this though: you can’t blame it on dog parks. There are idiots (with dogs) everywhere and they were there before there were dog parks. 20 years ago when I lived in the big city I helped get our first dog parks started. In our well-educated, liberal-bubble, community where you might actually see your neighbors again, the dog park was pretty darn civilized, and if someone did something stupid, peer pressure steered them right. Now I live in the country/edge of the far suburbs and it’s a lot more like you describe. People seem to have more of a “Free country, I can do whatever I want and it’s none of your business” attitude. Just my observation where I’ve lived. (Oh, yeah and I had to take all the bumper stickers off my car when we moved, because trucks kept trying to run me off the road.)

  2. I would be
    so
    so
    SO EMBARASSED if my dog went running into other people’s space and did all the things you describe. My cheeks are burning just thinking about it. I can see myself grimacing and grabbing her and dragging her to the car while apologizing profusely and then driving away and never coming back for fear someone would remember me. I simply cannot imagine how people unabashedly let their dogs do that stuff without any shame. I would be DYING of shame. That’s plenty of incentive for me to never let my dog do crap like that.
    Wanna know why I sometimes go to the dog park? ‘Cause there’s literally never anyone there. 😉 Not at 7:00 AM anyway. Nice big fenced space all to myself. If there’s other people there then I won’t go.

      1. Fortunate in that respect, yes. Unfortunate in that if I wanted to do agility (or any other dog sport,) which I do, I would have to drive two hours each way for classes. Not really doable for me at this exact moment. Less dogs = less crowded parks, but also, apparently, no dog sports.

  3. The dog park world is a little bit of a mirror of the social media world. Everyone is thoughtlessly running amuck.

  4. Great post. My township is currently polling whether or not our community should have a dog park. I did take the survey, saying that I thought the dog park was a good idea and also said that I would not use it. I told my husband I hoped the dog park was approved so all the idiots (read dog owners who do not have a clue) would go there, leaving the rest of the township for those of us who get it. Perhaps that is not so good for their dogs, but I honestly prefer that to their loose, uncontrolled dogs messing with my licensed, leashed, controlled girl.

  5. I once was lost (happy yellow lab) but now am found (Australian Shepherd who has no use for dogs). Thank you for showing me the light, Nancy.

  6. I will never bring my dog to the dog park because I hear of too many horror stories – I rather take my pup to an open field an when there’s no one around or where I know she will be safe is when she’ll go off leash…

  7. I hope that one day you will come visit Marymoor Park on the east side of Seattle. We are truly spoiled. My experiences in other dog parks have been neutral to negative, but this place mostly does a decent job of weeding out badly behaved people and dogs.

    In other news, after a year with us my dog has just recently started peeing on other peoples tires. It is absolutely mortifying. We’re working on it!

    1. I hear of parks here and there that are super well managed – but I guess it is the spill over into other areas with dog park mentality that is becoming overwhelming and unpleasant. Perhaps I shall have to come your way one day!!!

      1. Well, I meant to gently suggest that at some parks, “dog park mentality” might not necessarily be something irresponsible or inconsiderate, and so if it spills over into other areas it’s not necessarily a bad thing . For instance in my park, if there is a potential or actual altercation between dogs, the prevailing expectation is that owners will prioritize safety of dogs and people. Not just stand there and let the dogs work it out. So that’s our dog park mentality. I really appreciate this. No way am I going to going to put up with someone giving me shit for *not* letting the dogs work it out. People at our park get bystander-crowd-escorted to the exit if they don’t control their dogs when they behave badly. So in this sense I very much hope that our mentality does spill over to other areas!

        I get it that we are probably the exception rather than the norm. I do feel extremely lucky. 🙂

  8. Of course yes yes yes and sadly it is getting harder and harder to find outside spaces without those idiots in them. I am like you, always thrilled to spend time around peeps and their dogs that “get it” and are of course nodding yes as they read this. Our lovely swimming spot was blessedly empty today but only because of the wind and skeeters and that I took time off work to get there. Love ya sista!

  9. Excellent article.
    I only ever walk my dogs (off our property) one at a time — ever since I walks Princess and Pearl together as half grown (large) puppies and they both got a fright. One ran around me clockwise and the other anticlockwise and tipped me up. I only narrowly escaped knocking my teeth our on a shop front 😦
    But now I find just walking with one dog in our special time together — so much more pleasurable that with more dogs. I can walk where and how THAT dog likes 🙂 I don’t walk ever in crowded off-leash dog parks. They are stressful for the dogs and can undo a lot of careful socialisation. (Never mind stressful for me and any other responsible owners!)

  10. Luckily here , we do NOT have those small enclosed areas as ‘off-leash dog parks’. We have some beaches identified as “Off-leash dog friendly’. Most people walk/play with their own dogs at a distance We have another area, a swamp in wet weather, but otherwise a lovely grassy area with a few tees (well melaleucas) on several acres where people take their dogs for off-leash exercise. I’ve never seen any of these used as places to let your dogs play with the rowdy ‘street crowd’.

    1. we have over 300 acres designated as off leash areas, plus two mountain ranges with thousands of miles of trails, and yet … the entire city, all lake areas, all city parks are used as off leash dog parks …

      1. I never go to dog parks. where I go is to an incredible Minister of Forestry and Natural Resource area where we can walk off leash – it is enormous. Lots of idiots there too but not as bad as a dog park. Because of them, the tree farm may be closed to the public which would be a sad day. I spent an entire Sunday along with two friends, picking up the dog poo that people hadn’t picked up over the winter. My dog, Teddy, literally grew up at the tree farm. Her and her buddy Java have had intensive and extensive training on trail etiquette. Lots of hand signals for what to do and lots of checking in with me constantly. We call them fly bys! Plus solid recalls or fast downs if necessary. I never go to the dog parks primarily because my vet told me to avoid them at all costs because of the great likelihood of injury and illness to my girls.

      2. That is amazing! I would be in seventh heaven in your area! 300 acres of off leash areas that is incredible. I walk 7 to 10 km a day in the bush but usually the same trail because we are limited here. You would never have to retrace your steps and could pick a new trail every day. I love it.

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