Ask the Experts: Dog Parks Woes

By Claudia Kawczynska, September 2017

For more than 20 years, Bark’s Claudia Kawczynska has been treat-belt-deep in the world of dog parks, otherwise known as off-leash areas, or OLAs—not just the fun stuff, but also the messy and contentious issues that sometimes surface around them. In fact, it was her Berkeley-based OLA activism that spurred the creation of this magazine. Naturally, she’s always interested in hearing how OLAs work (or don’t) in communities across the nation. Recently, a reader wrote in for some advice on a troublesome issue at his local OLA, and Claudia responded. We’d love to hear your ideas as well. Send them to editor@thebark.com.

From Tom McWhorter, Yuba City, Calif.— I have two awesome Black Lab/ mixed-breed dogs and am also a volunteer filling the role of board president for Off the Leash Dog Park, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that was formed 10-plus years ago. Our OLA provides 3.5 acres for four-legged furry family members to roam freely with their people.

Since there are humans involved, problems with interactions do crop up. For example, one of our rules states that aggressive dogs will be removed from the park by the owner. What do you do when a dog is a repeat offender and the owner is neither addressing the problem nor observing the rule? Good dogs and their owners are avoiding the park because of these repeated episodes, and I cannot be there during all hours. The previous board did not have any policy to handle this stuff and I’m tired of feeling ineffective. How do other parks handle these situations, legally or otherwise?

Claudia replies— Thanks so much for writing to us with your dilemma, though I’m sorry you are experiencing this very human problem. Your board should definitely have a policy about this, because there’s only so much that can be done in terms of self-policing.

I take it that this rule is posted on signs at the park; if not, then that would be a first step to take. Another is to tell those involved that the park can be closed by the authorities if these kinds of incidences occur, so their “bad” can affect everyone. You should also check the agreement with whatever entity owns the land, since it may stipulate something regarding this issue.

As a more entertaining option, consider having a local positive reinforcement dog trainer come out to the park and offer a training session on mediating dog/dog interactions or a lesson in how to read a dog’s body language.

Finally, I know it’s dicey to call in the authorities, but it might be helpful to have a dog-friendly and sympathetic animal-control or police officer come out and have a few words with this person. It could work wonders.

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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