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Dog Parks: Love ’Em or Hate ’Em?
Forget the dog fights, it’s the people to watch out for
My dogs, Desoto, Jolie and Shelby, play in their yard with friends Zeus and Percy.

I love the idea of dog parks in theory. Who wouldn't want to see their dogs bounding across fields of grass with new canine buddies? Years ago, when we lived in New Orleans, we took our dogs to a model airplane field that was surrounded by woods and required something akin to a secret password to find. Consequently, very few people went there and we all became a tight-knit group. Everyone looked out for each other's dogs and made sure their dogs played nicely with others. It was wonderful and I looked forward to it nearly every night after work.

Fast forward a few years and our relocation to the Chicago suburbs. The closest dog park I could find required a $150 annual permit since we lived out of the county. It cost $25 for each additional dog after that. Down South, our dog park romps were free! But the shock of the sticker price was nothing compared to the behavior I witnessed on behalf of both dogs and their owners.

Early on, I was warned to keep an eye out for the woman who had two Belgian Sheepdogs who had a tendency to nip at the heels of other dogs, and that had caused some dog fights when the nippees didn’t appreciate being herded. I asked why she was still allowed to bring her dogs to the park and all I got were shrugs and a description of her vehicle make and color so I knew not to enter the park if she was there.

Another time, I took my 10-year-old Catahoula to that same dog park and he was having a great time trotting along the trails with a pack of other dogs. At one point, a large mixed breed started chest bumping him in an attempt to play. Desoto wasn’t in the mood, so I asked the mix’s owner to call her dog away from him. She was so busy blabbering to other people that I had to ask four times before she actually heard me. Her response? “Oh, he’s only playing!” Yeah, and my dog doesn’t want to play! So when does a solicitation to play become bullying? I finally left the park in a huff because the lady didn’t seem to care about the other dogs there, only her own.

The last straw was when one of my Dalmatians, Jolie, was standing--not running, not chasing, not moving--in a field when a big Chow raced up to her and bit her on the leg. As the Chow ran away and my poor girl yipped and ran to me, the Chow’s owners merely said, “Huh, that’s weird. They’ve been fine together before.” No apology, no inquiry as to whether she was okay, and certainly no offer to pay for her trip to the vet to get stitches and meds. Plus, I had to scratch her from two agility shows, losing nearly $150 in entry fees. The worst part of it was her behavior when she saw other dogs running toward her. She barked loudly and growled. Jolie had always been friendly with all dogs; now this bite incident had traumatized her and I would have to work hard to build up her trust in other dogs again.
 
Professional dog trainers, such as Eric Goebelbecker in his recent blog post, often warn their clients about dog parks. There were times when I just wanted to scream at people to keep a closer eye on their dogs or recognize that their dog was not appropriate for the park environment.  For some folks, they were more interested in socializing with the people than supervising their dog’s interactions. That left the more responsible dog owners policing all the dogs and being put in the awkward position of disciplining dogs who were not their own, which led to more people fights than dog fights.

In talking with other dog training professionals, I am not alone in my concern over dog park safety. But I dislike telling my clients not to take their dogs to them period.

What are your thoughts on dog parks? Do you and your dog enjoy going to them? Why or why not?

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Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

SpotOnK9Sports.com
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Submitted by Virginia | June 21 2010 |

I think dog parks offer some of the same benefits and drawbacks as playgrounds do for children - it's a great place to get out of the house, burn off energy, and socialize with a group that you didn't hand-pick. But like playgrounds, everyone at a dog park is there with different expectations, different comfort levels, and pay different levels of attention to what is going on.

In my experience, the pet parents make all the difference for the dog park experience.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 22 2010 |

As the president of a dogpark non-profit in KC,Mo., I am obviously a dogpark fan. However, like anything in life, expectations of a perfect experience everytime are not realistic. The two instances where my dog's needed stitches after a visit don't even come close to outweighing the hundreds of visits where everyone had a great time. The key is to simply take a 'defensive but not nervous' approach, where you both make sure your dogs are behaving and similarly make sure that another dog (unfailingly being ignored by it's owner) isn't about to start something with your dog. Anyone who is knowledgable about dog behavior and body language can almost always prevent incidents before they happen (and dogparks are a GREAT place to learn about both). And if you insist that your dogs look to you for guidance (and therefore, properly, take the 'alpha' position), as you should, you have to also play the leader role in that it is your job to keep them safe. If some other dog is being a jerk to them, you have to step in, or they will take it upon themselves to 'tell' the other dog that they are being a jerk, which can lead to either 'communication' (non-wounding) bites (which will often freak people out, somewhat unnecessarily) or a real fight.

And as said in other comments, the key is the owners there at the time of your visit. The main issue, IMO, is the 'pack leaderless' furry folk that have no one supervising their behavior at the time, or simply run their households and don't care if their owner is telling them not to do something. These dogs often exhibit doggie anti-social behavior, either because they were poorly socialized or have no authority figure thorough zero or half-hearted training. Other issues are timid, fearful dogs, who are the biggest candidates to get hurt or hurt others in an overreaction, and 'insecure dominant' (yes, I just made that up :) dogs, that try to dominante much larger/stronger dogs, and are much too slow to submit when the are 'corrected', often by getting rolled. Dogs will often come in with an inflated sense of themselves, as they are used to either bossing their furry siblings or owners, which will not fly when put in a larger population that bases dominance on more 'real' traits. If your dog is trying to mount much larger or stronger dogs, or continuing to exhibit a high tail/stiff posture in relation to a similarly dominant, but much larger, stronger dog, your dog is the issue. If it gets rolled, it is simply dogs doing what they would do in the wild- 'putting them in their place'. Many owners don't get this, and see it as an 'attack', when their dog was essentially giving every other legitimately more dominant dog the finger by insisting on taking an unrealistic dominance position. Interestingly, these dogs generally get the picture quite quickly, and assume (happily) their true place in the order. And dominance corrections may look scary, but rarely result in real harm.

Another major issue is owners that refuse to acknowledge that their dog is causing issues. Bullying, excessive excitement, and overly defensive reactions are often dismissed as 'just playing', 'just having fun', or 'well, your dog shouldn't have provoked that'. Many people are very ignorant of basic dog behavior/manners, which combined with inattentiveness leads to most problems.

But in the end, even the most dysfunctional collection of dogs usually more or less works out with no real harm to anyone, because dogs ARE social animals, and truly seem hard wired to only resort to hurting one another as a last resort. For that reason, dog parks DO work- many folks who visit a few times, have consistently bad experiences, and then never come back should look in the mirror for the cause. They often either bring dogs that have been poorly socialized, or come with a nervous, defensive state of mind, which is absolutely picked up on by their dogs.

And leashes are a bad idea- if your dog can't be trusted without a leash, it doesn't belong in a dogpark. Do some training or socialization work, then come back and try again.

One thing that we are trying to do beyond just helping to provide for doggie/owner fun is to use the large number of (generally) high quality dog owners concentrated at our dogpark to help doggie welfare groups. I think this is a big untapped potential help to rescues, shelters, etc., as dp's are obviously popular, and many users are the kind of folks that care about helping out, as well as being open to being multiple dog households.

Submitted by Lostandfound | June 25 2010 |

I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. Excellent post - educational and to the point. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and expertise!

Submitted by Laura | November 4 2013 |

Thank you Anonymous! I wish you would have posted your name. I am a denizen of KC and regularly enjoy the Liberty Memorial dog park and more recently the Shawnee Mission Dog Park. I first started taking my dog who was NOT reliable off leash, but would always come to me if in a fenced enclosure. He just loved a good long exploring run if there was no fence to stop him. I would agree with what you say about owners. We have dog parked across the country and rarely have any problems. Sometimes there are grumpy dogs or owners, but usually everyone is really chilled out. This was the first I read that people actually are against dog parks...and then the high fee parks too...wow. People sure can make something simple very complicated. Anyway, thank you for your Anonymous work with KC's awesome dog parks.

Submitted by CrazyBeagleLady | June 22 2010 |

I made a sour comment about dog parks to the Emergency Room Vet while I was there with a sick Beagle. His response was, "Hey, don't talk bad about dog parks - we love them here at the ER. If it weren't for dog parks, we wouldn't have so much business!"

I do take my 3 girls periodically to dog parks, but am careful to go only very early in the morning. I've found that "bad dog owners" usually don't like getting up very early just for their dog's pleasure.

Submitted by Monica McLaughlin | July 20 2010 |

I have spent many many many hours over the last 2 years in dog parks in NYC. During this time I have cleaned for many, many, many of those hours. My big complaint about dog parks is that my standards of cleanliness are so much higher than your average dog run users standards. What this means is that I tend to clean the run all the time.

Most dog run users will not consider picking up a poop they did not see coming out of their own dog's butt and prefer to hang out in the near vicinity of just such matter before they will pick it up. The fact is that significant numbers of dog owners will fail to notice when their dog goes every single time. It takes only seconds, and I don't care what anyone says, no one can keep an eye on their dog non stop. When they are running around, they don't just go once either. If you have more than one dog, it just is not physically possible to watch them all the time. It makes logical sense, that if you use a dog run, you should pick up all stray poop. That stray poop could be yours and even if it is not, it could make your dog (or you) sick.

Of course, there are those who do pick up stray poop. Every park needs these regular poop picker uppers or the run gets really nasty. It is very nice to go to the run after one or more of these poop picker uppers have been there.

And then there is the urine. Quarts and gallons of it aredeposited in practically the same spots. Many people just don't mind the smell or the fact that their dogs walk and run on it. I do mind. So there I am with the hose, hosing down all that urine.

I much prefer to go to a play date in a doggy day care where as soon as a dog poops or pees, out comes a human with a mop. It is awesome.

Submitted by Kathrine Konetz... | June 21 2010 |

I am like the author, in that I love the idea of the dog park in theory. In practice, however, I think I'm in the "Hate" camp. After having a similar experience where a Boxer rolled my little terrier and separated the growth plate in his knee several years ago, I decided that was it. The comparison to a child's playground is apt, as many of us think of our dogs as our children, and we know there are many ways to raise a politeful and respectful child/dog. Unfortunately, for too many people that comparison is moot--dog parks are used as a way to let loose the tornado at the end of the leash and damn the consequences. The physical injuries caused are bad enough, but the mental trauma lasts a very long time and I just won't expose my dogs to that anymore. It's too bad because my dogs are very friendly to dogs and people alike, but it only takes one thug to ruin it for everyone. Of course the owners are to blame, but with little recourse in the event of an altercation, I choose to err on the side of caution and stay away.

Submitted by Trish Scelfo | June 21 2010 |

I'm not a fan of dog parks. I see too many unruly, unsupervised and unvaccinated dogs there. I just don't think they are safe. There are controlled dog activities in my area, such as those offered at Pup N Iron, www.pupniron.com, that I feel good about taking my dogs to. They have a blast, and I know they won't get hurt.

Submitted by Carrie | June 21 2010 |

Like the author the thought of dog parks thrills me. However, I too have seen dogs whose parents don't supervise them and seem to think it is ok for their dog to behave however it pleases. As if they owner no longer has to be a part of the dogs activity or monitor the dog. It is like a human park where some kids parents are very much involved in what their children to and others are clueless. I am luck I have Monday off so we go to the park after most people are at work. I am not sure what they answer is but it saddens me to think dogs are not getting to enjoy parks because some people don't make good pet owners.

Submitted by dogcop | June 21 2010 |

Dog parks are a good idea if you know all of the participants/dog parents and they pay strict attention to their dogs and the rules.

Having seen too many canine brawls and injuries at some of the larger parks, I have decided to only allow my dogs to play with my friends dogs at closely guarded secret locations where dogs can really enjoy being dogs without all of the conflicts and craziness of irresponsible "pet" owners.

Fortunately, I have farmer friends who own 200 acre fields with streams and ponds. Dog Paradise

Submitted by Ruby C. | June 21 2010 |

Having recently traveled cross-country during which we visited 5 dog parks in 4 states, I have to say I am in the pro dog park camp. The dog parks we visited were very different - from small and urban to endless and rural. All were free, some were looked after by the county/city and others were managed by private organizations. Fortunately, we had great experiences at every park we went to. My dog had a great time running around and making new friends (and most importantly burning energy from being in the car all day) and we met some very nice people. That being said, I agree that responsible dog owners are what make a dog park good or bad. It is unfortunate that one bad dog/owner can ruin the experience and possibly hurt/traumatize your dog. Best case you can either convince the owner to take their misbehaving dog out of the park or talk to the park manager and have the person banned. Unfortunately sometimes your only option is removing your dog even though he is not the trouble maker. You can also post a park review on websites like dogparkusa.com or bringfido.com - I used these sites extensively to decide which parks to visit. Thanks BARK for addressing this issue, I know there are varying opinions and hopefully more responsible dog owners will have their voices heard to make dog parks enjoyable for everyone.

Submitted by Jessica | June 21 2010 |

I think in theory dog parks are a good idea if everyone are responsible people and dog owner, but in practice it doesn't work. I took my two dogs to a park and another dog was mounting her I kept pulling him off asking everyone if this was there dog and no one would claim him. Then after a while someone called him and left. Needless to say one of my dogs did not have a good time. There are too many stories of "playing gone wrong" not to mention you don't know if the other dogs in the park have fleas or have any internal parasites. It can be a hot spot for picking any of these things up. So I pass on dog parks and just meet up with friends dogs I know.

Submitted by Kelly | June 21 2010 |

With my dogs I have had more trouble with people than dogs. My two cavaliers get chased by children wanting to pick them up-while their parents ignore them! Not that the adults are any better; Once while pointedly ignoring my jobs desperate efforts to be picked up (she was in no danger just needy) a woman walked right beside me and picked her up and proceeded to lecture me about being a bad dog owner. Then stRted to walk off with my dog! I am in the dislike catagorey for dog parks.

Submitted by Annette Holbrook | June 21 2010 |

My husband and I reformatted our dog training club about 3 years ago to allow private membership and use of our facility (12 acres) as a dog park. We love the idea of dogs being allowed to socialize, but after visiting a number of public parks, we were frustrated by the hit or miss aspect of the experience. One day would be a great group of "regulars' and another day a random group of people who wanted the dog park to "wear the dog out", but were not willing to engage or supervise their dogs. All the dogs in our club are evaluated prior to membership. This doesn't mean we only take the docile, perfectly well-behaved dogs, we have a variety of personalities and breeds, but the owners all have to exhibit their ability to monitor and adjust their dog's behavior. The fact that the members and the dogs get to know each other means when the occasional grumblies occur, everyone can and will step in and help put things back in a jovial spirit. Park rules are adhered to because everyone knows it benefits the group as a whole. We also have a Schutzhund club that meets here twice a week, the regular club members are welcome to watch and ask questions, which they do! We love the ability to work with training clients in our park and around a varied group of people and dogs.
Annette Holbrook
www.wolfbrook.com

Submitted by Linda C | June 28 2010 |

Wolfbrook, what a lovely name.

Submitted by Piedog | June 21 2010 |

My two dogs love going to dogparks, and the opportunity to run unleashed gives them more exercise than I can walking them on leash. I stopped taking one of my dogs to the dogpark when she began showing aggression. We've had a lot of good experiences, and a few bad ones, as well, with other dogs that are difficult.

For now, I'm going to keep going to the offleash parks. But I'm prepared to pull my dogs out if there's an emergency, and always keep my leashes with me, to get them under control if needed.

Submitted by Cheryl | June 21 2010 |

I agree with much of what you've said. People can be very irresponsible at the dog park; however, the benefits outweigh the risks for my dog and me.

I don't have a large yard, agility equipment, multiple dogs or livestock. My dog, a herder without sheep, needs a place to run. The dog beach is an excellent place to play with my dog. He also gets to play with other dogs, which he enjoys. It's not always perfect. Sometimes it's too crowded. Sometimes people don't watch their dogs or bring dogs that really shouldn't be off-leash around other dogs. Sometimes people aren't intervening when their dogs are being "rude" or don't watch their dogs at all. If I don't feel comfortable about anything - my dog's state of mind, the other owners, or the other dogs - I leave. I also am on top of my dog wherever he goes. I also try to remember to bring citronella spray with me in case of emergency.

I wouldn't bring an aggressive, timid, or small dog to a dog park, though. I'd add "intact" to that list, but I wouldn't have an "intact" dog because I'm not interested in showing or breeding dogs.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 22 2010 |

I have been a commercial dog walker for 15 years and I've been using local dog parks for a large part of that time. I find that many owners and commercial walkers are more interested in socializing with each other than with keeping track of their dogs.

I have had to become a bit of a "policeman" in my dog parks. I have studied dog behaviour and training methods for over 30 years and can usually judge when a dog is getting out of control. I will give the owner a heads up and explain what the dogs are doing but most owners and commercical walkers seem quite oblivious to doggy body language and behaviour.

I've found it best to deal with the "problem" dogs directly and leave the park with my charges if a really out of control dog arrives.

Submitted by Carole Ann Borges | June 22 2010 |

Oh, dear. I understand the author's point of view, but some people really don't want their dogs to be dogs. In our park there have been some tense moments, some rough play that needs to be stopped, but no one is ignoring this kind of behavior, and the people who are regulars there have told owners not to bring aggressive dogs back or told to leave. My tiny Karma sometimes gets rolled, gently nipped on the legs, grabbed by the ruff and basically looks like she's getting mauled by her best friends. She loves it, and, if she doesn't, she comes running to me.

Some timid owners insist on keeping their dogs on a leash in the park. This just makes them defensive if another dogs comes along. They know they are at a disadvantage in case there really is an attack. Dogs on leashes in parks tend to snarl and be scared when other dogs approach them, this can create a smell of fear that will actually attract more aggresive dogs. Some people think canine socialization should consist only of a quick sniff and a jolly wag of tail. Dogs in parks are more pack-like and tend to behave more independently than they do at home. Just like with kids, some parents can be over protective.

I've seen gentle dogs I know quite well accused of "attacking" when they really were just playing. Seeing dogs brought into the park straining on leashes to play while their overly-concerned owners shoo every friendly mutt that comes up to them away, makes me feel sad. Sure, asking someone to keep their dog away from yours can have merit, but it can also be downright silly.

If your dog doesn't want to play. If it consistently runs away from other dogs or snarls and barks at every approach, why take it to a park? Not all dogs are extroverts, some like people just want to be left alone, and they just don't enjoy playing in a pack at all. There's nothing wrong with that. Every good owner should know their dog. Taking an overly timid, unsocialized dog to a park is asking for trouble.

I think your best bet is to find a park where the canine inhabitants and their owners have the same concept of play that you do. Most parks are safe, and nothing, no long walks or owner companionship, can ever take the place of a good hard wrestle and run with an off leash pack. Like the author of this article I wouldn't go to one that's not, but it's important to read up on dog behavior and to observe the way dogs play off leash before you decide you have landed in one that is dangerous with people who don't give a darn about their dogs.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 15 2011 |

Oh yes, you're the "they're just playing" person who isn't paying attention to what's really going on. And it's your dog who's grabbed my dog's face and won't let go. My dog isn't aggressive or dominant and while he hates what your dog is doing, he won't bite back -- he's running to get away but he can't get very far because your bully is clamped on. When my guy stops, your dog rolls him and bites again. When I go to get my dog -- you, of course, dog expert and pet handler that you are, can't get your dog because you're busy chatting with the other owners -- I leash him to leave and you look up and condescendingly say "they're just playing."

You're an idiot.

Submitted by Dawn | February 21 2013 |

And YOU'RE the wonderful know-it-all "expert" who makes the park so much fun for the rest of us who DO have an idea of dog behavior AND how to deal with people. The "you're an idiot" attitude is guaranteed to make the humans at the park want to comply with all your "expertise", isn't it? And I absolutely agree with the previous poster, who offered the idea that it's best to search out a group of dogs and owners who have similar ideas about what is and is not appropriate play. We have three dogs - a Pug, an American Bulldog/Lab mix and a Rottweiler, we've been going to our local park at least 3 and usually 5 or 6 days per week, and we'll definitely continue. And I'd like to add that I've seen countless spats at the park, and helped break up more than a few, and 9 times out of 10, the "dog fight" is FAR less serious than the hysterical people fight that inevitably follows it.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 22 2010 |

I have been working as a commercial dog walker in a major city for the last 15 years. Dog parks really became popular here about 10 years ago and I use a couple of them every day.

I'm finding that there's a shocking ignorance about dog behaviour on the part of dog owners and commercial walkers. There's also a growing tendency to socialize with the other people there and ignore what their dogs are doing.

I'm finding myself adopting the "policeman" role a lot. I'll cheerfully go over and correct a dog that is getting out of control while telling the person in charge (supposedly) of the dog what's going on.

I also find that people are reluctant to use the leash. If one of my guys is getting out of hand and not responding to me I'll go over and give them a leash "time out" instead of yelling their name over and over and over again.

Everyone who brings a dog to the park should be responsible for and informed about that dog. That will greatly reduce all the problems happening at the parks.

I will continue to try to educate while using the dog park.

Submitted by Poppy's Mama | June 24 2010 |

I absolutely love having a dog park in town. It opened a year ago after several years of 'should we or should we not do this' debates. It's been a big success. Being a college town, there are many rental properties and not many yards for pets. Having the dog park has been great for socialization and exercise. I'll agree with several of the other posts- the owners are more often a problem than the dogs are. Some people just don't understand enough about dog behavior. Or, more likely, there's just differing opinions on what's going on and how it should be dealt with. Overall, I love seeing my dogs run and play and make new friends. It absolutely makes my day!

Submitted by Bluebonnet's Mom | June 25 2010 |

I think most of the problems at dog parks are the owner's. Dogs are just like little children. They are going to get into "spats". It is how the owner chooses to deal with that "spat" that is the issue. Responsible dog owners who discipline their dogs for being bad are to be commended. Then there is always the lady who sits on the bench and does nothing because her dog can do no wrong. These are the people who cause dog parks to get a bad reputation. Then you have the idiots who constantly leave the gate open. Then there are those who think the dog park is a day care center for their kids.

Just like a public park for children, you are never going to find the perfect place that makes everyone happy.

My dog loves going to the dog park and has made many friends. It has helped her socialization skills tremendously. I am a responsible dog owner. I watch my dog at all times when in the dog park. I discipline her when she is bad. I do my best to keep her away from the dogs that cause trouble. I pick up after her. I choose to spend my time at the dog park seeking out other responsible dog owners. Bluebonnet enjoys spending time with their dogs.

I will continue to take my dog to the dog park and I will continue to be a responsible dog owner.

Submitted by Kayla's Mom | June 25 2010 |

I apologize in advance for offending anybody, as that isn't my intention AT ALL.

I am NOT a fan of dog parks, so I wouldn't take my pit mix (or any dog) to a dog park. Any dog can all of the sudden bite or attack another dog (or human) when it never has before. Why would we want to risk our dogs safety and our own personal safety with dogs that we know absolutely nothing about? Our dog parks here have had many issues with unruly dogs. Dogs are going to be dogs. A person may think that their dog is the most well-trained and sweetest dog ever and have never caused any problems. But, something may trigger that dog to bite/attack. We just don't know.

We also don't know about the dog's counterpart--the humans. The humans may be the worse creatures to deal with at dog parks. They go there to socialize with one another and ignore their dogs. If it isn't another human they are talking to, it is the cell phone glued to their ear or texting.

Why not doggie daycare? Doggie daycares are a much more controlled environement where trainers/behaviorists constantly monitor the dogs. Dogs are usually seperated into play groups according to size and personality. Dog parks are nothing but a free for all. That scares me. Granted, not every doggie daycare is perfect, but all you need to do is talk to the people, take tours, and research!

Why not schedule playdates with dogs you know and know their owners? That makes much more sense than dog parks.

We see MANY dogs injured (some VERY seriously) at my vet clinic due to incidences at dog parks. When I see that, I don't want to see my girl up on that exam table due to injuries that I could have prevented by keeping her away from one of those horrible dog parks.

To me, dog parks are a HUGE petri dish full of unknowns. Unknown dog behaviors, unknown unaltered dogs, unknown health conditions, unknown owner responsibility (or lack therof), unknown, unknown, unknown!! I do NOT want my dog going in a dog park healthy, then coming home with worms or something worse. That is just me. I care about my dog, and throwing her into a fenced in area with a group of unknowns isn't worth it.

Submitted by Callie's mom | July 16 2010 |

I am in complete agreement with Kayla's mom. Doggie daycare and playdates or even interaction with dogs in the neighborhood are the way to go. My German Shepherd dog was attacked in a dog park by 3 dogs at the same time. One owner didn't even notice that her dog was attacking my dog. Her reaction once we got her attention was that her dog was "just like that." We have not been back to a dog park since.
While many dogs have a great time at the parks, it only takes one misbehaving dog and/or one bad owner to ruin it for the other dogs or to injure another dog or human. In our case, it was 3 misbehaving dogs and 1 bad owner.

Submitted by Clyde's Mom | June 25 2010 |

Clyde has been attacked several times at the dogpark. He is an alpha male (neutered) and un-neutered alpha males find him a challenge in dog pack hierarchy. having said that, we will continue to go to the dog park. he enjoys it; I enjoy it; and we just stay away from the irresponsible owners who don't monitor their dogs or discipline them. we are lucky enough to have a dog park with 2 large dog sections, so we can move our dogs if there is a problem dog owner. notice the phrasing - it's the owner who is the problem... not the dog. dogs do what dogs do - they are animals. it is up to us to be responsible for them. I tell people if there were a bully with a bad mom at a child's playground how would you address it? it's the same thing except the bully has very big teeth.

Submitted by SJones | June 29 2010 |

My dogs Batman and Pepperann love the dog parks here where we live in the Bay Area. We go to a section of the Bay Area called Piedmont where there is a beautiful park for pets, and they are allowed to play off leash. Mine love to play with other dogs and so ar I have had no problems with negletful owners. Everybody is concerned that their pets are having a good time and we almost have to drag our pets away when it's time to go. My pets are exausted when we arrive home after an hour or so in the park and I am too. But we do it because living in the city can be a hard place for pets to get excercise when almost every park has signs posted saying No Dogs Allowed! Oakland in particular which has not been hospitable to dogs is becoming more pet friendly as many people are coming here to live with their pets. So, I'm all for the dog parks since our pets need a place to socialize and excercise too.

Submitted by Jeanbe | June 29 2010 |

My dogs, a Scottie and a poodle mix, use to go to a dog park here in Phoenix. However, after years of doing this I find that the owners don't watch or care if their dog attacks another.

We now go to a supervised doggie daycare once a week with a staff that knows the dogs and knows how to control them. They have a large outdoor area and indoor area. It's the only way I'll socialize my dogs these days.

Submitted by Lorrie Shaw | June 30 2010 |

Great topic. I wholeheartedly agree!

Submitted by Linda - Top Dog... | July 3 2010 |

Just like anything else, good and bad examples abound. My experience has been that some of the smaller, neighborhood parks are better organized and well-supervised by the dog owners who live right nearby and who have a vested interest in keeping their dog park clean, safe and a pleasant place to gather. That being said, there are still far too many owners whose primary goal is people-to-people socialization and not supervision of his/her hounds. As a professional pet-sitter, I cringe when clients ask me if I will take their pups to a dog park. My response is generally no, and then I explain all the horrid experiences I've witnessed. I agree with the posster below-- there are just too many unknowns and too many clueless owners to risk the safety and health of my own dogs or those of my clients.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 15 2011 |

I AGREE

Submitted by Marie | July 8 2010 |

My dog and I used to go to 2 of the local dog parks in the area but after repeated negative experiences we barley ever go anymore and if we do its at off hours where there will not be many dogs at the park.
There is a reason that dog parks post rules for saftey reasons. My dog is obscessed with balls and I wish owners would realize that bringing in toys, treats etc can bring out the negative in any dog. Over time my dog had picked up bad manners from others realizing that if he growls that he will get his way. Other dogs also seem to think they can get right up in others faces and grab the ball/toy whatever out of another dogs mouth, my shephard mix had that experience when a jack russel attatcked him trying to steal the ball. The result a $420 vet bill because the jack ripped a chunk of skin and muscle off my shephards shoulder.
If owners followed the rules of the off leash dog park they would be much more positive for dogs and their owners.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 9 2010 |

The key is that the regulars have to police the bad owners. The park I go to has a solid core of regulars, and we have no problem telling a bad owner to leave. There are always at least two or three of us at the park at the same time, so the bad owners are not dealing with just one person that they can try to ignore. We're polite but firm, and it works.

At this park, the little dog side is empty 95% of the time, so sometimes we just tell the bad owner to go over to that area. They get to let their dog run around, but it's made clear that their 'bad dog' is not welcome in the side with the other 'good dogs'.

I used to have a dog that was not a great dog park candidate. She did not recognize the cues from other dogs that didn't want to play with her. She would get in their faces and annoy them, and just didn't take "NO, I don't want to play with you" for an answer. So she got snapped at, pinned, and cornered. Never hurt, but I knew it would happen eventually, so I banned myself into the empty 'little dog' side with her. Sad for both of us, but it was the obvious thing to do. There were a handful of dogs that did like her, and their owners would bring her friends over to play. Very nice of them!

Submitted by Anonymous | July 10 2010 |

I agree that good and bad examples abound! My dog pants wildly when we approach his favorite parks, and I try to keep him away from the dogs whose owners I know are more of a "problem" than the dogs are... specifically, the ones who go to the park and spend an hour on their cell phone, or chat with their pals not paying any attention to what their dog is doing. Sadly, one local town came down really hard on a park, restricting a lot of freedom because dogs were leaving the dog area and running into nearby "human-only" areas. If you watched to see what the dog owners were doing, they couldn't tell you where their dog had been for the last 15 minutes.

Submitted by Lauren | July 10 2010 |

I too am frustrated with the dog parks, and the lack of them where I live. We have two very well behaved labs who love to be off leash (and are way better) rather than on. I just brought them to a park today to let them run and play in a dusty, dirty and boring fenced in "dog park', because that is all we have. The other two dogs that were there would not let them get near the water dish! When the one continued to annoy my dog and he gave a little growl I had to get a mouthful from the owner. "oohh, your dog seems aggressive, has he ever bit anyone?....." In an attempt to keep the peace, I replied "no, he hasn't, he just doesn't like your dog, and that's okay." We then left the park. Had she been paying any attention she would have realized that her dog's behavior was that of the aggressor. Guarding the water dish, constantly bumping into my dog even after his warnings. I had to continuously call my dog away incase he just had enough bullying and actually did feel the need to get aggressive. There has got to be a better way. Dog parks are like playgrounds. You need to watch your children and make sure their behavior is appropriate. If not, it is time for you to go.

Submitted by Cheryl | July 10 2010 |

My dog is particularly vocal (herder) and will bark and growl during play or when another dog is being particularly rough or annoying. I've never heard the "aggressive" comment, but I've heard, "O.K. sweetie, he doesn't want to play with you." Yes, your dog is annoying him. My dog was trying to ignore your dog before he just couldn't take it anymore.

Submitted by Cheryl | July 10 2010 |

I already commented with my thoughts, but I thought I'd add this link about a toy chihuahua killed by a "husky" at the Montrose Dog beach in Chicago. I have a feeling it was actually a wolf mix, but that conversation is for another day.

http://www.uptownupdate.com/2010/06/help-needed-from-folks-at-dog-beach....

Submitted by RBX | July 13 2010 |

Overall we've had very good experiences with our three dogs at the dog parks near our old house in Georgia (Gwinnett County - Ronald Reagan Park was a particular favorite), but we haven't tried many here in Charleston (though it is a very dog-friendly city). The ones near us are too heavily wooded, and I've heard stories of dogs' getting bitten by snakes at the local dog parks. Given that in SC we have every species of poisonous snake that lives in the US, we have to be extra careful about snakes.

Anyhow, our bad dog park experiences, like many others', have revolved around bad dog owners. At one dog park we frequented in Georgia, there was a large dog area and a small dog area (15 lbs. and under), but a lot of people brought their tiny dogs into the large dog area and then complained that the dogs were playing too rough. Also, someone once brought their husky puppy who kept flipping the water bowl, and one of the other dog owners kept freaking out about it and started yelling at the husky's owner. I mean, he's a puppy, puppies do that sometimes, and he's not hurting anyone. Sure, it's annoying, but there are better things to get upset about.

The worst offense I ever saw (and unfortunately I've heard others relay similar stories) was when someone (without a dog) brought their small child into the dog park to "socialize" her child with dogs. The poor child was terrified from the moment she walked in there, and one dog ran right up to her and licked her face. The little girl started screaming, and the mother freaked out and started yelling at the dogs. The whole thing was just a recipe for disaster. The park regulars gave that mother a real talking-to, which was actually quite amusing to witness. I'm sure she'll think twice before doing that again. I really don't know what goes through people's heads sometimes.

The dog park is usually pretty amusing because our three dogs run the gamut of "social skills"-- one is super friendly towards people and dogs (Finlay), one is scared of people he doesn't know but loves other dogs (Seamus), and one is lukewarm about people and dogs he doesn't know (Connor). While the others play, Connor usually likes to sniff around the perimeter of the park for a while, then sniff other dogs, then sit by us, but when he gets going with his big old sniffer, he salivates a LOT. His excess saliva will foam up and drip from his mouth, and it looks like he's foaming at the mouth. We often have to field questions about it, but we're (obviously) not offended. No, Connor does not have rabies, and he is up-to-date on all his vaccinations. When other dog owners see how laid back we are about it (and that we're wiping it away with napkins and he's not freaking out), they don't care and find it amusing.

Submitted by Jane | July 16 2010 |

Dog parks are a good idea... in theory. However, after three bad experiences, I'm not willing to risk my dog's physical or emotional health by continuing to bring her into an environment where many of the dogs are unsupervised and uncorrected when they misbehave. After the third attack, I had a changed dog on my hands and had to work very hard at resocializing her to remove the fear and agression that she was displaying. Fortunately, I found an excellent doggie daycare and believe strongly that this is a much better alternative to dog parks. In daycare, the dogs are supervised by professionals and are grouped by size and personality.
Maybe if there was supervision at all times in attendance at the dog parks to remove bad owners and misbehaving dogs, then it would be better. However, without that, I think dog parks are too big of a risk of disaster.

Submitted by Siren | July 17 2010 |

I feel though incidents aren't at an epidemic level, its not worth the risk. I took my dogs to the parks a couple of times and after having a few small incidents, no blood, I decided to stop risking my dogs' lives just for the sake of play time. I instead talked to neighbors, made friends. One of my neighbors has two dogs, I'd take my dogs to play with his. It was in his yard, it was far more controlled. Just him and I and our dogs. He was a good friend, someone I trusted. And until I moved, we had no problems. If I was still there, probably still wouldn't have problems. Another thing, as a pit bull owner, I see too many pit bulls at these parks. No matter how friendly your pit is, if another dog starts a fight, you can bet your pit will finish it, and be the one getting put down or deemed dangerous. I didn't bring my pit to parks, but I saw some there. I obviously love the dogs, I own one, but too many pit bull, and other dog aggressive breed owners think just because their dogs likes to play with other dogs an incident will never happen. It will and your awesome puppy will be deemed a "vicious monster" by the news anchors. I suggest you make good friends with a very small group of dog owners and plan puppy play dates at your own homes, the beach, etc. And skip the dog parks all together.

Not to mention, working closely with the vet industry, you don't know how many dogs have been exposed to parasites and illnesses they otherwise never would have been, after playing at dog parks that were not cleaned up frequently and/or the other patrons didn't have their dogs properly vetted.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 15 2011 |

AS A RESPONSIBLE PIT OWNER I HAVE DEALT WITH A LOT OF NON RESPONSIBILE DOG OWNERS AT THE DOG PARK WHO SIT AROUND AND GOSSIP AND DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO THERE DOGS BAD BEHAVIOR. 1 WOMAN BROUGHT HER CHIWAWA THAT WASN'T NEUTERED ONTO THE BIG DOG SIDE AND HE HAD THAT NAPOLEON SYNDROME THINK THAT HE COULD BEAT A 80lbs PITBULL. THE PARK SECURITY CAME AND ASKED HER TO TAKE HER DOG TO THE SMALL DOG SIDE WICH SHE REFUSED AND SAID THE SIGN SAYS 30lbs ARE BIGGER CAN GO TO THE BIG DOG SIDE.1 SHE DIDN'T CARE HER DOG WAS STARTING WITH THESE BIG DOGS AND THAT HER DOG WOULD BE KILLED IF THOSE DOGS GOT A HOLD OF HIM WICH SHE KEPT LETTING THE DOG START TROUBLE AND THEN RUN BACK AND JUMP IN HER LAP FOR SAFTEY. SO MY DOG COULD GO ON THE SMALL SIDE CAUSE HE WAS 80lbs AND NOW HE CAN'T GO ON THE SIDE WHERE HE USUALLY GO CAUSE OF THIS WOMAN AND HER LITTLE BIG MOUTH MUTE ARE AT. THEN SHE HAD THE NERVES AND SAY TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE SMALL SIDE. SHE DID THAT SO SHE COULD SIT AROUND AND GOSSIP WITH HER FRIENDS!!!.
IMA STOP GOING UP THERE CAUSE STUPID PEOOPLE LIKE THIS WHO PUT DOG IN HARMS WAY AND LOOKING FOR A LAW SUITE AND GET MY DOG PUT DOWN CAUSE THEY R STUPID!!!.

Submitted by harriet | August 13 2011 |

my dog goes to dog park 6 days a week, like so many other dogs at my park. i could never give her the same kind of fun and exercise that she gets at the park. we love going.

Submitted by lexi | July 11 2012 |

i use to love dog parks till yesterday when my dog had got done playing with a collie they had left and we where about 2 leave in a bit..well on are way to leaving there was a white GSD that came to the fence hair bristled and was snarling at my dog i had asked my dog 2 back away an not think about it when she wanted 2 go back 2 greeting the dog, i had then asked the man to wait while i leash my dog and remove her from the park and while my friend went to grab the leash mazey went to get her leash on well the man ignored me let his dog go in and sense my dog can be slow she was walkin over to my friend the GSD ran up to her puffed up her chest with hair bristled and nipped at my dog in the face well my dog was not gonna have it went after the other dog in self defense and ended up sinking a tooth in the dog though it wasent bleeding at all badly and the dog didnt seem bothered in fact was still snarling at my dog while my dog sat by me no hair sticking up and infact was avoiding eye contact with the dog and the man....well needless 2 say the dogs owner sent me a vet bill saying i had to pay for the vet cleaning out the wound and wen i went down 2 the station to claim what had happend they agreed my dog wasent at fault and that the dog park law was that ur relilable for ur own dog and that its an enter at ur own risk kinda thing well this angered the man an he says my mutt destroyed his purebred which very much angered me and seriously a lil mark like that will heal up in no time and wont even notice it! now he wants to sue me for more then i have an destroy my dog!!!

Submitted by Amanda D. | February 10 2013 |

I don't take my dog to dog parks due to the fact of people bringing aggressive dogs there. I used to work at a veterinary hospital and you could imagine how many people brought their dog's in because of an injury. Dog parks are not safe. Some owners know their dog is not friendly yet they still bring their dogs to areas where they shouldn't. Please stop bringing aggressive dogs to dog parks or around people for that matter.

Submitted by Becca | July 2 2013 |

So let me ask you all this: If there were dog parks that were monitored by staff, just like dog day cares are, would that possibly make those who are weary of dog parks more willing to take their dogs to parks again?

I'm looking at different types of public dog parks and I've yet see anything like this in place.
What other things could improve public dog parks?
I've seen some with :
Attentive owners with behavioral issues
Dog clean ups

But I haven't heard much about other issues

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