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Karen B. London
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Culture of Dog Parks
A change is in order

Dog parks have always been controversial, but they’ve also always provided opportunities for dogs to run and play off leash in wide-open spaces. It’s hard to deny the cliché that dog parks create both the best of times and the worst of times. To me, the overall issue is that the culture of dog parks is a work in progress and I have strong feelings about the direction I’d like that progress to take.

If I had my choice, there would be big changes in the overall behavioral norms for people at dog parks. Specifically, I would love to see a world of dog parks in which:

1. People would always be attentive to their dogs, watching them and monitoring them.

2. People would know when and how to intervene in dog-dog interactions and they would do so. This would require that people understand dog body language and behavior in general, and know their own dog’s limits and comfort zones specifically.

3. Only people and dogs who are social, friendly, and capable of handling a huge range of interactions would attend. In other words, it would not be considered reasonable to bring dogs with aggression issues to the park in order to “socialize” them.

4. People would set their dogs up for success at the dog park. For example, if a dog is fine around other dogs with a ball but acts possessive around the disc, then people would only bring a ball and save the disc play for places with no other dogs.

5. It would be standard practice to train dogs to respond to cues that are useful at the dog park. That is, dogs would reliably sit, stay, come, and leave it in response to cues from their guardians.

6. People would interact with their dogs, playing with them and enjoying time together along with allowing their dogs to play with other dogs. I’d like it to become taboo to come to the dog park to hang out with human friends while ignoring the dogs.

At your local dog park, are people behaving in ways that are conducive to positive experiences for both people and dogs or are some changes in order?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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