Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dog Parks

We feel that dog parks are typically a poor idea for any dogs as a general rule (this doesn't mean we would ever condemn you for using them though!). As someone who has studied animal behaviors and displays for my entire life, i cringe when i watch dogs at dog parks. So many owners not paying attention to the slightest body posturing, bullying, humping, pooping, etc. Certain breeds are just more prone to being dominant to other dogs as well as low dog tolerance and flat out dog aggression. You can have a dog never exhibit an ounce of dog dominance or aggression....until the day another dog grabs ahold of it at the local dog park. It can also just be learned from the other dogs and the 'pack' environment dog parks usually create.

The most obvious reason, to me, for them being a less than amazing idea is how easy it is for larger dogs (of any breed or any background) to injure a smaller breed of dog, or a puppy (even in easy play). Most people say "these things happen" and "don't worry", but then you receive a vet bill totaling thousands of dollars, or a law suit, or the dog warden's visit. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a society where we can take people at their word. We also live in a society where, if you own a pitbull (or any of the other BSL-[breed specific legislation] targeted breeds), you are automatically expected to go above and beyond the precautions of the average dog owner. Is this a fair obstacle we must hurdle? Of course not, but it's simply the way things are in the world of BSL.

Another much more common reason, is the laziness of other dog owners. If someone cannot watch their own dog's behavior, do you think they're going to be cleaning up after their dog? Not likely. The list of diseases transmitted via the simple sniff or step into a pile of waste is scary. You have no way of knowing for certain if these dogs in question have had all vaccines. Some dog parks want proof of certain vaccinations these days, and that is an awesome approach, but not fool-proof. This whole area is the one that I find most scary, as well as most unappealing, and just gross.

A third point to touch on is just setting your dog up for failure. I have known many dogs who never react after a first altercation or attack from another dog.I have also known dogs who have been completely ruined after an early serious altercation in their lives. It can have an adverse reaction in a dog's life, and can always make a dog anticipate the worst. This can in turn, CREATE fights that are stated by your own dog now thanks to that first ever highly negative reaction.

Every breed of dog has a specific genetic makeup. Each breed has certain temperament traits that have defined them for centuries. However, the genetic gene pool for "pit bulls" (american staffordshire terriers, staffordshire bull terriers, american pit bull terriers, and every single mix thereof) has been so watered down by unscrupulous breeding with no care to standard, that it has created dogs who lull you into a false sense of security with their behaviors towards canine friends. It has also made people who have adopted pit bull mixes for 10-20 years feel as if every single pit bull will be just like those 2 or 3 dogs they got lucky with. That is just that though.....a lucky streak on their part.

After being a life long akita owner, and adopting my first pit bull 7 years ago already, I once established that I would never be a dog park frequenter. At first this was an idea that really upset me, until I actually visited my first dog park. All I had to do was sit there and simply watch everyone else for a few hours. It was enough to provide a panic attack and make me feel blessed to have never been a regular at one. ;)

Things like doggie play dates with a small group of familiar dogs, or even only one other dog, are amazing alternatives to dog parks. Then you and someone you trust can handle every issue and situation that could arise. You can easily stop dogs when needed or break up any scuffles. You can also feel safe knowing no diseases will be transmitted if it's someone you have known for quite some time and feel totally confident in trusting. The keyword to me for doggie play dates, is TRUST. Make sure this is with someone you can trust, or an environment you can easily control if you need to be the one in charge.

Another fantastic option is a run/jog or a hike with canine friends and their owners, where all dogs are leashed. This enables positive interactions as well as the highest level of control. Dogs can easily focus on the other scents and sights in these ventures too, and not focus so seriously on another dog. See our Pit Bull PowWow outings.

The last thing I want to finish with is this: It will not kill your dog to never make doggie friends outside his or her house. Pit bulls and many breeds similar to them in temperament care about one thing above all else....YOU and interacting with you. All of the dog parks, play dates, and canine travels in the world cannot hold a candle to the joy little Fido gets from hanging out with you. So get outside and interactive with him/her, take in this gorgeous late spring weather, and most importantly bring a leash to guarantee the safety of pooches around you (especially your own pooch)!

Written by: Nikki Stixx


  1. there can be a lot of bullying! my pup got bullied a lot. I take my PB's down there early in the morning to run around. we are the only ones in there. TOO many owners use it for THEM to socialize and DO NOT pay attention to their dogs! It was a really poor atmosphere. My fiance' and I were there one day when there were about 5 dogs in the park. A dog was walking around with his hair up on his back. His owner was not paying a bit of attention to her dog. He ended up attacking one of my dogs. we grabbed both dogs to get them apart and she STILL didnt pay a bit of attention. very sad. the dogs were fine and Ted ended up with a puncture wound. So, it is much safer going in the day time alone!

  2. Thank you for writing this - and for not condemming anyone who goes to dog parks! I did a post on Dog Park Dos and Don'ts awhile back( and actually since writing it, we've all but stopped going. Our current foster dog has some anxiety issues and we realized that the dog park is NOT the place for him. I think a lot of it depends on the dog, you have to know your dog and be able to read his/her body language very well. Some dogs just aren't "dog park dogs" and like you said, that's OK!

  3. I've actually found that having my dogs on leash around other dogs tends to make them more aggressive. When my pittie meets another dog off leash (we live in a rural place), they tend to just smell and go about their business. But there is a lot of posturing and maybe territory protecting that the leash brings out. Not sure. When we lived in the city we used to visit dog parks a lot when we had one dog, but when we moved to two it was too much to keep track of, making sure things didn't get out of hand. So we started walking them to parts of town where a lot was overgrown etc and let our two dogs play off leash there. Now we live in a rural area and both dogs are off leash unless we go for a walk. Everyone's happy!

  4. Really agree with you about dog parks. I think what convinced me to never go back was when it dawned on me what a confusing, disturbing experience it is for my dog. Sure, she gets excited and runs around a lot, but that doesn't equal healthy or happy, necessarily. It's confusing for her because once we step into that fenced area, there's very little human-owner-pack-leader influence. The dogs are essentially on their own, without leaders, without a pack, without any rules. It's a terrible situation! The original mistake was humans thinking that dogs can be stuck into a "playground" like human children. Not the same needs at all!

  5. This is a great post! I'm glad to have it to share with clients. I imagine there are some dogs who really enjoy dog parks, but many dogs are just not that gregarious. Even if nothing really upsetting happens, the mild stress of being around that many other dogs with no good way to manage that stress could change dogs' minds about other dogs in general. Far better to have smaller, managed play sessions with compatible doggie friends.

  6. As mentioned in the other post, I think we're done with our local dog park too. Some great times with our dog (prior to getting our second dog, who wouldn't play at all anyway), but then some not so good experiences too. Some of them were bad experiences for the humans! One on my first visits there, there was this large bulldog looking pup, with a metal basket muzzle, and he was strong as heck. Loved to interact with the putting his full weight and strength into pushing into you and knocking you over. Then he'd go and hump some other dog, and do it all again. No owner correction AT ALL. I was pretty angry.

    Nevermind that on some instances, my dog didn't get along with some other dog, and I had to take him out of there.

    Might I recommend, if you want to socialize your dog (and this is not a bad thing to do! it helps, I think) is a supervised day camp sort of thing. It costs money, but it helped our first dog get a little braver and less anxious around other dogs. He started out pretty antisocial.

    We got to PetSmart, they have a great program, and they separate dogs into "high active" and "low active" groups. My dog hates bouncy dogs in his business, he's more low key, he's always in a group with smaller dogs his size and temperament.

    Unfortunately, with two dogs now, it costs us up to $44 for an all day session now... :(

    I also think inviting known good dogs to play together is good. Once we've secured our back yard (new fence getting put in) we might start reaching out to some friends and neighbors to do play sessions. Like, I know that my dog LOOOOVES to play with small to medium girl dogs. He's ecstatic to interact and play with them. So keeping it to girl dogs only will keep his experience a good one.

  7. PS - if a town does dog parks *right*, they do more than one fenced in area. In the FL town my MiL lives in, they have a small, medium, AND large dog enclosure! We went with my inlaws and their two dogs, and the little dogs all got along famously, with no one to intimidate them or injure them.

    I'd like to convince our town to do a small-dog only don't need as much space, either.

  8. LOVE this post! It is also worth mentioning that many people do not have a realistic view of what behaviors are "Playful" versus "Stressed" or even aggressive. Many owners assume that since they are used to seeing a behavior pattern in their dog, that it is "Normal", and seem to care nothing of the effect it can have on every other dog around them.

  9. It is sadly true that too many of the people do not pay attention to what their dogs are doing.

  10. Some dogs just aren't, and never will be, dog park dogs. I have a Pit Bull and 2 Pit mixes and I would NEVER take any of them to a dog park (fortunately, with a large, very well-fenced yard I don't have to). Pit Bulls can be aggressive toward other animals and I know if a yappy, unleashed little dog bothered one of my dogs and a fight ensued...MY dog would be the one blamed. For those who think their little unleashed dogs never instigate fights---think again.

  11. We feel that dog parks are typically a poor idea for any dogs as a ...

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