Dog Parks. No controversy there, right, about the good, the bad and the ugly of them? However, the pros and cons of dog parks are usually discussed inside the dog world, not in a national news outlet like the New York Times. But the Times jumped into the fray, with an article provocatively titled The Dog Park is Bad Actually.
The article points out problems that can be found in dog parks, problems that many of us are well aware of: They are lousy places to “socialize” young puppies, they may contain dogs who are not necessarily aggressive (although that too is possible), but are playground bullies who terrorize other dogs like some nasty kids on a playground, they have the potential of spreading disease, there is usually no separation between small and large dogs, which can cause injuries or dogs being frightened (see “playground bullies” above) and can contain owners wh0 are oblivious to important social signals between dogs that signal discomfort, downright fear and/or hard-eyed aggression.
Here’s a concluding sentence from the article:
“Ultimately you’re the only one who can determine if the risks outweigh the benefits of dog parks, but there is no shame in not surrendering your dog to what has become the quintessential urban dog experience: running with dozens of strangers in a small, smelly pen as people stand by, looking at their phones or gossiping. Make the time you have with your dog meaningful and enriching; after all, your dog wants to spend time with you, too.”
Soon after, Bark Magazine came out with a counter to these arguments titled Dog Parks Can Be Great Places for Offleash Activity. Here’s part of what they have to say, after agreeing that parks could be better monitored and that yes, some parks have problems:
But we take issue of the tone and heavy-handedness of this article—the main takeaway is that dog parks are teaming with dog fights, careless owners and rife with disease! That has not been our experience. In fact, despite at times the presence of an irresponsible owner and unruly dog, most off-leash areas we’ve frequented for three decades are relatively incident free.
I’m curious about your experiences. Full disclosure is that I have few objective opinions, because I, and my colleagues, only see clients whose dogs have either created problems at a dog park or suffered from them. No one ever came to me because their dog loved going to the dog park and never had any problems at one. Of course, I’ve been to many in Wisconsin (with clients) and have indeed seen lots of healthy play and behavior, as well as cases of problematic dogs and oblivious owners. I can say that 1) I’m not a fan of small ones, especially with a single entry gate that allow entering dogs to be swamped, 2) I have strong feelings about how they should be designed (large, double entries, rules that keep people from playing by the gates, owner education efforts to name a few, 3 There are lots of dogs I’d never take to a park (Maggie would crumble into pieces at one), and 4) The dog parks I visited with Luke and Lassie around San Francisco (Bark’s home field), when I lived there to do my Animal Planet show, were full of some of the best behaved dogs I’ve seen. I should also mention that I am very lucky: I live in the country with large, fenced areas for my dogs to play, and nearby areas where a well-trained dog can be safely off leash. I know of many people who love dog parks, and have had nothing but good experiences there. And you? I’m all ears.
MEANWHILE, back in Africa: So much to say, so many photographs. The photo’s today are from the beginning of our trip. We went to the Giraffe Center on our first day in Nairobi, which protects and breeds the endangered Rothchild’s Giraffe. There are only about 1,600 left in the wild, and the center has re-introduced up to 40 giraffes into wildlife parks. Giraffe are hands down one of my favorite African animals. Watching them glide across the plains, seemingly frictionless, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Besides supporting their conservation efforts, visitors get to hand feed the giraffes. Some are docile, others enjoy bashing your head with their own (their primary method of fighting). Along with being in complete and total animal rapture, I loved that we were treated like rational adults who would (or would not) listen to the keepers who warned us about certain animals. But mostly, I loved having their massive heads–the size of our torsos–floating down toward us, followed by their long, purple tongues curling around the treats we fed them. Here’s me and good friend Donna feeding an adult female. (Do you love the “Do not climb up the wall’ sign?)
Next we visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, as known as the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Injured and orphaned elephant babies come to them from all over East Africa, where each individual is rescued, medically treated and then raised up to an age in which it can be integrated into a wild herd. The trust has raised 260 orphaned elephants, and has an extensive conservation program of field veterinary care and anti-poaching efforts. The babies are never alone (their keepers sleep with them at night), they are taken out several times a day on walks into the bush, and are given mud baths in front of visitors whose entry fees help support the work of the trust. It’s an amazing enterprise, and something we were honored to support. For an extra fee visitors can adopt an elephant, and I adopted Zawadi. Click on on her photo to watch an amazing video of her rescue, and her battle with what appears to be epileptic seizures. If watching her story doesn’t make you all gooey, I don’t know what will.
Here’s an overview of the visitor area when some of the babies are starting to get their milk. The elephants are brought back from a walk in the bush with keepers, and then fed their morning milk and given mud baths in front of visitors.
The babies clearly love their mud baths!
At night the elephants stay in individual stalls, each with their own keeper sleeping with them. The dedication of the keepers is truly something else, not to mention the work involved in introducing individuals back into wild herds. (They do months of parallel walking alongside herds they know to be accommodating, almost like introducing two dogs to each other.) I don’t know how many efforts are successful over all–I imagine that it’s inevitable that some don’t work out. But their record is impressive. If you get to Nairobi, I hope you can stop in to support their efforts. (Of course, you don’t have to visit to support their work!)
The next day we drove to the Samburu National Park, a park full of rare and endangered species that is rarely visited. We stayed at Larson’s Tented Camp and I wish we could have stayed a week. Here’s the view from our tent at sunrise:
I absolutely loved this camp. The setting was gorgeous, we were surrounded by wildlife (you had to padlock the zippers on your tent to keep out the vervets and baboons) and the staff members were kind and generous. As I did at each place we stayed, I stayed back from one game drive and spent some quiet hours by myself, just me and the vervets, the birds and the river. I also had a lovely time speaking with a staff member about his life, his family and what it was like to work in one of the tent camps.
I showed this photo last week, but repeat it here in context, when it was just me and the vervets at Larson’s camp. I watched this female and her babe for over a half hour. At one point her baby did something she didn’t like, and she took it by the shoulders and shook it. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.
Here’s what else happened while everyone else was gone–the vervets pretty much took over the dining room:
The photo below shows one of my favorite African animals, one who you can only see in the dry areas of Kenya, Somali and Ethiopia. Gerenuks are also known as the “giraffe gazelles”, for obvious reasons once you look at their long necks and feeding methods. They are adapted to feed on leaves lower than giraffes usually eat, but higher than other ungulates. They’ll stand like this for long periods of time snacking on leaves. They are so well adapted to dry areas that they can go long periods without drinking, and in some cases, barely drink water at all. What I especially love about this photo is that we only got it because our van (which included me, Jim, good friend Donna, and Jim’s son Zach and partner Sarah, as well as the best driver/guide in the universe, Eric) agreed to sit and wait. Gerenuks are relatively flighty, and it took a good 15 minutes for them to relax enough to begin to feed. Kudos to our van and driver for agreeing to wait!
Another rare animal we got to appreciate was the Grevy’s Zebra, the zebra that I’ve argued was created by a graphic designer. They too are adapted to dry areas, and like the Reticulated giraffe (who also live in Samburu), are highly endangered. There are believed to be only 2,000 Grevy’s Zebra left in the universe.
Here’s a Common (and very pregnant!), or Plains Zebra for comparison:
And the elephants! There were large, healthy herds of elephants at Samburu. Here’s a momma with her one or two month old baby, with what is probably one of her older daughters beside her. We were charmed over and over again by the elephants, as well as being put into our place by a matriach who charged our van, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. We felt badly that we had disturbed her (our van was fine but she became agitated when another van pulled up along side), and obediently followed Eric’s instructions to stay motionless and silent. She came within a few inches of our van, peered at us for a moment (we weren’t just still and quiet; I think we had all stopped breathing) and slowly turned away.
And I haven’t even mentioned the birds yet! Ah well, more photos in the weeks to come. Please forgive me if you get sick of them. It’s just too much damn fun to post them!
Gosh that looks like an amazing trip, Trisha. Keep the pictures and descriptions coming!
When I got my first dogs decades ago there were no dog parks, so it was necessary to do extensive training and proofing before I could let the dogs run free with their canine friends. Consequently, most off-leash dogs we met were well-trained and well-mannered.
Today, many people seem to see dog parks as a substitute for dog training. Some think that exposing their pooch to other semi-trained dogs will magically impart good behavior. Others just want to tire out their dog or hang out with friends, with no concern how their dog behaves around other dogs.
Illustrative story: As we were leaving a dog park a young couple was walking up with a huge bully breed. Apparently this dog was new to them, and I overheard the woman expressing concern about how this massive dog would do at the dog park. The man responded, “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Um . . .
I used to love taking our two current dogs to a small, muddy dog park downtown. A highly compatible group of people and dogs met every evening. The dogs grew to trust each other completely and played joyfully, running and wrestling in a vigorous but low-stress manner. It was quite lovely.
Unfortunately life intruded and after a year or two the group was unable to meet regularly. Different dogs entered the picture and the social dynamics never meshed as nicely. We often left early when tensions started rising. Frequently people brought dogs who were clearly unsuited to close interaction in a small park. We stopped going there.
We tried another, much larger dog park in town. At this park people were much less attentive to their dogs, barely looking up from their phones while large packs of dogs who barely knew each other raced around, tension palpably rising.
My last visit to that park ended when our mild-mannered, 8-year old, 35-pound fluffball tried to convince a Rottweiler to play with her (play bow, bouncing in circles, etc.). The Rottweiler pinned her to the ground, and the Rottweiler’s owner accused my dog of acting aggressively. As I was collecting our dogs to leave, the Rottweiler again ran over and pinned down my dog. No physical injuries but not fun.
So it has been a while since we have visited a dog park . . .
Ah, sad to read, but thanks for the input.
We’re fortunate to have a number of off leash parks nearby. These range in size from not much bigger than a football field to 15 acres. Ranger was a dog park dog. He loved spending time with his doggy pals and had the canine social skills to do it well. In fact several times I got to observe him teaching good canine manners to other dogs. One exuberant adolescent Lab kept tearing over to the gate in a very straight line to greet incoming dogs. This often resulted in snarking between the Lab and whatever new dog. After observing this for awhile Ranger began running with the Lab and pressing him into a nice curved approach. It didn’t take the Lab long to figure out that when he approached in a curve he got a successful meet and greet rather than into a snarky meeting.
Another time someone brought their nervous dog to the park and basically dumped them turning the dog loose in the park and then going back to sit in their truck. This dog was clearly overwhelmed and had no idea how to play in a pack of other dogs. Ranger actually began by humping this nervous dog which really surprised me since it was a very atypical behavior for Ranger. It was interesting though that after Ranger had done this the nervous dog was his devoted follower and his behavior was much more relaxed. Ranger had established himself as this dog’s mentor and protector and I watched him introduce the dog to many of Ranger’s most solid and socially adept pals.
I can provide endless stories since Ranger was at the park nearly every day for several years. I would never in a million years have taken Finna to a dog park. That would have been a recipe for disaster. D’Artagnan had his first dog park experience last week. He did well. I was interested to see how many other dogs were intimidated by him even though he was very appropriate. D’Art never initiated contact of any sort and offered lots very clear play bows before trying to get a game of race and chase going. He did eventually get one Lab pup (I’d guess around 8 months old) to run with him and an older Lab mix engaged him with some mild bump and tooth joust. Then a whole bunch more dogs arrived and I decided there were too many for him to have to cope with.
I think I’ve got enough dog park experience to be a good judge of the mix of dogs, identify the dogs that might be trouble, and recognize appropriate play. Too many people who bring their dogs to the park can’t say the same and I think that’s where off leash parks get a bad name.
Please, keep sharing the Africa photos and stories they’re wonderful!
Gerarda Collins says
I never go to dog parks with my Cavaliers. I had a bad experience in another town years ago where my guys went for the high ground: a picnic table. There was a pit bull mix who was mot being watched by his owners and would go after other dogs, including a Neapolitan Mastiff show dog. Who knows why they would bring him to a dog Park! Same thing when we brought one of our girls to bark hour at a NJ Shore bar – headed for high ground. They just don’t like it.
As for Africa, been on safari twice and would love to go back. I do remember those devilish monkeys. While everyone was napping after lunch, I decided to sit outside and watch their antics with my camera. I wish there was a way to post a picture of Kelly, the giraffe, and me. I had food in my mouth which she happily took. Let me know how I could share with you.
Jen Koberstein says
I have to say that I am not a fan of dog parks. My dog is a 130 pound mix who is fantastic with other dogs. But I have had anxiety anytime I am at the dog park because of the behavior of other dogs. There are consistently dogs there who display body language that makes me uncomfortable. Most of the time their owners seem unaware. I created my own dog park with three friends and a large yard. No more dog parks for us.
The Africa photos are amazing – thanks for sharing
I am French and we don’t have dog parks here. I guess that their being a good thing depends on a lot of things.
What I can say though is that I have seen lots of footage of dogs interacting in American dog parks and those freaked me out. I am aware of the fact that there is probably no point in filming people going for long walks with their dogs in big parks with lots of trees, hills, etc. (which is what dog parks should be about). But those clips I have seen showed lots of people and dogs in small spaces, with nobody getting a move on. This is just about the worst scenario as far as potential arousal and fights are concerned.
I used to live near Paris and I walked my dogs in one of the 2 huge Parisian parks 20+ hours a week. Some people just gathered round to have a smoke and/or chitchat and stayed in the same place for ages – fights always broke out. We never ran into any kind of trouble because we hardly ever stopped walking (except for play sessions with nice dogs) and so did the well-socialized dogs we would meet. All in all, this was great for us.
The other thing that worries me about the way dog parks are being assessed by Mark Bekoff for instance (and he is a favorite author of mine) is that it might well be that some dogs are indeed happy to go there… to bully other dogs, and I’ve seen a lot of footage of that. Most handlers don’t have a clue as to what dog language is about, and even if they do, they still seem to think that canine etiquette generally includes intimidation and free-for-alls.
How is it that we still – hopefully – think that politeness is necessary in human societies for them to work relatively seamlessly (hmmm, not so sure looking at my friends’ kids but anyway) but we find it normal that our dogs should behave in the most offensive way, terrorizing one another? In my opinion, expecting animals to have social rules that are only based on rough behavior is showing them a total lack of respect. Dogs are smart creatures and we shouldn’t underestimate them. Would those people who let their dogs hopelessly harrass other mutts (or those who don’t stand up for theirs) act the same if this was about kids? I believe (hope?) the answer is no.
I do think that it’s a very good thing for dogs to play together – I am shocked to hear some trainers say that dogs should only be interested in humans and that they shouldn’t be allowed to interact with other dogs. But I agree 100% with Ian Dunbar when he suggests we help our dogs build “core social groups” that they can safely have fun and socialize with. After all, as Trish King says, I certainly wouldn’t want to get thrown into a huge cocktail party where everybody is drunk. And this is pretty much what a lot of dog parks seem to be about.
I’ve only been to one dog park, and it was a year ago with my young male Doberman. We were traveling, and he really needed some off-leash time. The dog park was in Asheville, NC, was decent-sized, and had separate areas for large and small dogs. The people and dogs there all seemed to know each other, and some immediately grabbed their dogs and left when I entered with my very big boy. I don’t really blame them – would you subject your dog to an unknown 100-lb. Doberman? Anyway, we stayed for a while and he ran around and socialized and all was well. It was a really nice experience for him, and I’d go back to that park if I was in the area again.
Kathryn Butterfield says
Thank you for this! My soft-hearted, compliant Golden is such a soft dog.. and as a certified therapy dog, I want her to continue to live in the la-la land that all people and dogs are kind. I love dogs. However have always believed dog parks to be a disaster waiting to happen and have never considered taking my dog…I’m certain the stress radiating off of me would be palpable!
I feel the most important relationship for my dog is between her and I. Trust. Safety.security. The mosh pit of a dog park is nothing of those things. Count me out . It’s nice to read an article that doesn’t make me feel like an over-protective dog parent! And confirms what feels right to me. My dog would also “crumble” as Maggie would. My Gabi can be bullied by the aggressive squirrel that frequents our yard!
Thank you for a great article. Your trip looks amazing! I hate zoos, but love animals. Your photos and narrative are a delight!
Our Doberman, Ginny, is about 15 months old. We avoided dog parks like a plague because our vet had a bad experience with her dog. When she was about 3 or 4 months old, we were walking her at the park in a part away from people and dogs. A lady was running with her dog off leash and the large dog ran up to Ginny and frightened her very badly. The woman said oh he’s a social butterfly and we ended up picking our dog up until it finally decided to follow her. After that she became a bit leash reactive so we worked on walking past other dogs, etc. She still isn’t perfect, but we are taking steps to try to resolve it.
As far as the dog parks go, we finally gave in at about 8 months. She needs a lot of exercise, our yard isn’t fenced and playing on a 50 ft. lead wasn’t cutting it. To begin with if there was another dog, we would take her on the other side if there wasn’t anyone in it. She would run the fence with the other dogs.
One day we did this and a lady had 2 Giant Schnauzers and encouraged us to let them play. This was the beginning of Ginny loving the dog park. That day she played with them, a Bernese Mountain Dog, and 2 other Dobermans. She gets so excited when she knows we are going to the dog park.
However, it hasn’t been all roses. There have been 2 or 3 incidents that scared me to death and that I have put myself between her and another dog, which I know you aren’t supposed to do, but she is everything to me and I react before thinking it through. There are lots of careless owners and I have learned to read the signs that it is time to go. My Ginny doesn’t do well with the playground bullies, she avoids them, but if they bully one of her friends, it makes her mad. She has the philosophy that we are here to play and it confuses her when other dogs don’t just play. She is so sweet and loving that I would hate to see that ruined by a mean dog with a careless owner.
I think dog parks are fine as long as you stay vigilant, watch the signs and leave immediately if you see any that things aren’t fun anymore. The more you go, the more you learn which dogs are “safe” and which are “trouble”.
Hopefully we will find land soon and be able to move where she can get plenty of exercise at home, but we will probably still go every once in a while because she loves it so much.
Your trip looks fun! Enjoy every second of it.
Charlotte Kasner says
I think that the situation is slightly different in the UK. Most formal parks in urban areas impose few restrictions on dogs, although some do only have a small, muddy enclosure where dogs are allowed. They rarely have fences that could contain medium-large dogs and suffer from all of the problems as outlined in the article.
That said, fewer that 12% of owners in the UK have undertaken any training, formal or otherwise, and of that percentage, many dropped out after one or two classes or only completed a brief puppy course. Neither trainers or behaviourists are regulated and qualified, full-time professional trainers are rare.
There is a massive trend for outsourcing dog care to untrained, unregulated people (often students) meaning that recall is poor, dogs are regularly abused by incompetent handlers and spend most of their day without their owner. For many dogs, their day comprises being picked up by a walker and driven around in a van for a couple of hours in the company of a variety of dogs that they may or may not know or like, a hectic run around and then more van travel until they are then left on their own for the rest of the day.
Owners feel that their dogs have been sufficiently exercised and “socialised”. Problems with large numbers of out of control dogs in incompetent hands resulted in most parks imposing a limit on the number of dogs being walked simultaneously (usually 4). Initially, dog walkers just gathered in groups resulting in packs of up to 30 dogs rampaging around parks with the handlers having little or no control over their charges. Further complaints have led to dogs now being driven out of town where farmers are charging £20 an hour for dogs to be let loose in a field.
It can be very difficult to exercise dogs off lead in rural areas and we have a big problem with livestock worrying and with neosporosis in cattle and sarcocystosis in sheep spread by uncleared canine faeces.
One of the problems with dog training is also the lack of venues that will allow dogs in and the exorbitant fees charged by the few that do. The going rate in my part of London is £130 per hour. I managed to occupy “dead man’s shoes” when another trainer moved and pay £45 per hour, but the venue is tiny and noisy and up a flight of stairs. I can only accommodate 4 dogs maximum to train in any degree of safety and have to charge accordingly.
It is simply too easy to get a dog and too easy to dump it again causing overflowing shelters and “problem” dogs.
I think a key factor is the size of the dog park. When I lived in Washington state I took my dogs to several huge dog parks with trails in the forests for all the smells and sights to for them to investigate. These parks were completely fenced so there was no chance they would run off. Here in California there are generally urban dog parks where my cattle dog has been attacked several times; now I am not risking a visit.
When we adopted our previous dog as a 3-year-old from a shelter, I thought she needed dog companionship so I wanted to take her to doggie day care. The owner of the business usually takes in puppies but will take an adult dog that has shown itself to be good around other dogs. She had me take my dog to a dog park to see how she did. She was fine, though really uninterested in other dogs. I took her to day care once a week for a month and then stopped because she spent all day hanging around the owner and zero time interacting with other dogs. Throughout the rest of her life, she really had no interest in other dogs except one we would sometimes see on our walks and she would absolutely flip with excitement when she saw him.
My whippet greatly enjoyed our local dog park when he was young. When I took his lead off at the gate he would fly down to the end where the group of dogs were, buzz them, and then roar around in giant circles with the pack in hot pursuit. The other owners would thank me for bringing him as their dogs got a good run panting after him. Eventually they would realize they couldn’t catch him and wouldn’t chase him anymore, to his disappointment. I am lucky enough to have access to a large dog park with several separate fenced enclosures plus a river beach. I watch my dog all the time and if there’s any body language I don’t like we just go through a gate to a different field. He has been injured several times at the dog park, but all of those have been simply as a result of being a whippet with short fine fur and delicate skin. He was lying down once so he could play very gently with a mini dachshund puppy and the puppy caught him with a tooth to the face. No aggression involved but, being a whippet, he carries the scar on his nose to this day. Now that he is 8 he is not hugely interested in active play with other dogs so we don’t go very often.
Julie H. says
Dog parks. I live in the country now so don’t go often, but when I lived in the city I helped get the first dog parks started there. There is nothing inherently wrong with dog parks. The problems are:
1. People are clueless about dog body language. I’m a dog trainer and in my puppy classes I narrate play time so people can learn what is nice play, what’s not, and what to do about it. I’ve taught dog body language seminars and I’m amazed at how little people know. Many people don’t recognize a play bow or can’t tell when a dog is scared.
2. Too many dogs aren’t well socialized to other dogs when they are puppies and adolescents – NOT at dog parks, but carefully first, in controlled situations. I tell my students to avoid dog parks until their puppy is at least 6 months old and to have lots of dog-dog experience before that.
3. Some city dog parks are waaay too small. I saw a picture of one in New York that was smaller than my living room.
4. Some don’t have separate small dog areas. You’re going to have a problem with a 150 lb. Mastiff running with a 5 lb Yorkie, no matter how nice they both are.
Frankly, I think many people (esp “dog people”) are too overprotective of their dogs, just like it seems many parents are afraid to let their children experience the world. Sure bad stuff could happen at a dog park, but kids can get bullied or injured at kids’ parks too. So do you keep them locked up at home?
Compared to many years ago the world is a lot more urban and people have less knowledge about animals in general. I really believe that many people are afraid of all dogs other than their own. Dating myself, but when I was a kid the neighborhood dogs were all running loose (not that we should return to that). But everyone – kids and dogs – got “socialized”. Now we are all – kids and dogs – locked up indoors alone all day.
I had to laugh when someone compared dog parks to a wild party, as if no one loves wild parties. Your retriever/boxer/pit probably IS a party animal. If they’ve learned good social skills, they probably will be perfect dog park candidates. Your tiny lap dog – maybe not. My border collies were never very interested in playing with other dogs, but when we lived in the city the big dog park was the only place to full-out run after a frisbee.
When I was a dog walker I went to the dog park 5-6 days a week for 3 years. The parks I went to had many regulars, rules were posted, and there was a lot of peer pressure for people to monitor their dogs (and pick up poop!). I can count on one hand the number of serious incidents I saw or heard about. If a dog is social, it’s a shame to isolate them from others of their species.
Anne Johnson says
I have an under-socialized Aussie who benefits from being on the outside of the dog park fence. He reacts negatively to growls and loud barks, so this has been a good step in making sure he feels safe and I use the techniques you have given in many of your training books. I’ve had up to 5 dogs at a time and always had a large fenced yard, so they had their own dog park. I’m down to 2 now, and do have two acres of land for them to roam and romp. My city is so “dog-friendly” I am taking steps to properly socialize them so they are allowed to go hiking, visit the downtown of Flagstaff. It is such a beautiful area, it’s nice to share it with your canines! Keep the photos of your trip coming as I doubt I’ll ever be able to visit.
Monica Roberts says
When I lived in the Seattle area, I frequented dog parks with my standard poodle. She loved to run and was faster than any other dog at the park. I was taught by my first dog trainer how I was to behave at a dog park to keep us out of trouble. Laika and I kept moving, we stayed away from groups of dogs, I didn’t use my phone, and I didn’t talk with the other people. We certainly saw when things were getting ugly and we got out of there. I felt it required hyper-vigilance on my part. I did not have expectations that it would be safe without my effort.
When we were in Coachella Valley one winter, we frequented a dog park with one entry, where the dogs got mobbed at the entry. Laika ended up with diarrhea the few times we went there, so we stopped going. I believe it was the shared water.
I don’t go to dog parks anymore. Too much work and Laika is older and okay with her backyard and walks.
Jan Berger says
I have only been to one dog Park during my 50+ years of dog companionship. While spending 3.5 months in Florida five years ago, I took my 3 Border collies and my Papillon to a nearby park in Sarasota. I think I may have spent all of ten minutes there and left because my sweet, minding his own business Border collie Moss, was attacked. The rules listed outside the park included “all dogs MUST be off leash. There was s very small area set aside for small breeds but I was definitely not going to leave my Papillon puppy in there by himself and kept him on leash. The park was filthy, i.e., lots of feces on the ground. After Moss was attacked, we left and never returned.
I take my current pack (2 Border collies and that same Papillon) out to hike or run on the beach almost daily. They interact with a lot of dogs and get to explore and run as much as they like, weather permitting. I feel that it’s a much more positive and enriching experience than dog parks.
I don’t use dog park for my dog or the dogs. I walk during the day. The dogs I am paid to walked do not come reliably so I think best to do other activities which I believe to be in the best interest of the dog like sniffing to their heart’s content, looking, visiting with people dogs children a fast walk a slow walk a good rubdown a little training (sneaky me)
My own dog is a small Extremely fast Border Collie. He is mister personality loves every dog every one every game. People get upset because they throw balls and frisbees and my dog will outrun the owner of said ball and mind you deposit it at the feet of the thrower but they hate me for that. He is sweet and doesn’t respond to signs of aggression he is very respectful and OMG I am so lucky I want it to stay that way. He has his dog walking buddies his agility buddies we’re good
As far as socializing puppies which is also my job I will take them to small wonderful pet shops and they can socialize with some of my friendly dog clients. I am very happy with the result
Fights at dog parks yes all the time and people can’t call their dogs back as they have no recall.
Catch 22 dog has little training is overwhelming family. Family needs some peace takes dog off leash at park for exercise dog has even worse recall. Retraining means having dog on leash on a long line for a few months. Family won’t do it because dog driving them crazy and no time to tire dog in other ways.
Disease not much experience but yes kennel cough will spread quickly so will other flu like viruses
All dog parks are not created equal. When I got my year old border collie rescue a few years ago, he was very squirrel obsessed. I did not have a fenced yard and needed some way for him to blow off steam as just going for walks wasn’t cutting it and it was going to take a LONG time to get a recall on him. My older dog was fine in my yard as he LOVED to retrieve his ball. The dog park closest to us required us to go to an orientation where they went over dog behaviour and signals dogs give (Calming Signals). Could only get into the park with a key fob. We had to pay a yearly fee and show our shot records. If you didn’t keep up to date, the key fob was turned off. Large dog section, small dog section. Each with two sets of double gates for in and out. Park would close if it got too muddy.
I went NOT so that my dog could “play with friends”, but so that he could run without me worrying about him running on to the road and often we were the only ones there. We also had a phone app where we could see who was there or who was coming later. There were some dogs that I didn’t want my dogs exposed to as they were very physical in their play and it was too much for my older dog. Yes, we stood around talking, but the VAST majority of owners there watched their dogs and stepped in if it looked like there might be an issue.
I’m also from Washington state and love our gigantic dog parks. However my love is with a caveat. One, The dog park we go to is 37 acres, with trails, elevation, multiple entrances, and we rarely go in the middle of the day on weekends. Two, my dog isn’t really into playing with dogs. By nature she’s more shy, we spent lots of time training positive exposure experiences so she usually has the confidence to approach say hello and wander back to me. She likes saying hello and doing the sniffs and then doesn’t know what to do.
Our trips to the dog park are more like off leash walks. They’re bonding time for her and I. She contentedly walks by my side or 20 ft ahead of me, she checks on me, we practice recall training, When she gets a interesting scent she can fly off super fast and do her little burnout donuts. We’re hanging out together. I think that part’s pivotal to why the dog park is worth it.
We do two or three miles looping throughout the park in different paths and then go home. Leona might say hello to 5 to 10 dogs, maybe do play chase/race game for a minute, and that’s about it. She does enjoy a nap on top of the picnic tables though. She sassy that way.
Heidi Rosin says
I have had only Canaan Dogs, and if you know anything about the breed you also know it would be highly irresponsible of me to even think about utilizing a dog park!
That said in general and based on other stories both pro and con I have never advocated for and generally against – not necessarily because of the dogs but the owners.
I couldn’t own my dogs if we didn’t live in an area that has dog parks. I take my lab/hound mix and my 7 mo old aussie to the park every morning. We live in a 1 bedroom apartment and leash walks just don’t cut it. My dogs need to RUN and there just isn’t a safe alternative in my current location. That being said- I’ve witnessed a few of the instances that have been described above. Owners that don’t have control over their dogs- dogs that play too rough, owners that bring tennis balls to throw for dogs who resource guard them, owners who haven’t brought their dogs out all week (read as ‘all winter’ if you live in the upper midwest like I do) that are too much and owners who don’t understand dog behavior. Yes all of this is true- the risk is there for some inappropriate interactions. And don’t even get me started on people who follow their vets advice to not fix their dogs until they are a year old- and then bring them to the dog park- However, for dog owners like me who understand dog behavior the dog park is a great place to build community. My “pack” at 7am every week day has become a family to me. We walk those 2 laps around the converted landfill and talk about our lives- but we also talk about the dog behavior that we see. What’s appropriate- what isn’t appropriate and I try my best to educate other dog owners in the nicest way possible about what they’re dogs are saying to their ‘friends’. I teach family dog training and always educate my students that the dog park is NOT the place for a young puppy. I do love seeing them once they’ve graduated and grown up and come to the park with their families. It’s just continues to build the community.
That being said- there are a few times I do not go to the park- any time after 7am on a weekend is a NO GO zone- especially if it’s early spring. It’s usually packed with dogs who haven’t run all week, people who are excited to get out but aren’t paying attention to their dogs and it can be too much for my Aussie who wants to herd all of them into the tiny agility ring.
The area does have a reserve-able dog park that I think is a great alternative. It has an indoor and outdoor arena that you can make a reservation for you and your dog to use it. It’s great for puppies, for aggressive dogs or cautious owners who want to exercise they’re dogs without other dogs around. I have also seen some great additions to our area dog parks such as posters educating people on dog behavior and signals to look for. It has started to get people talking. All in all- I think, as you said you need to one- evaluate if your dog behaves appropriately around other dogs and if they will cause a problem and 2- are the risks of other dogs misbehaving worth the benefits you get from being there, if not go at what you know are unpopular times or find an alternative to exercizing your dog.
I used to frequent dog parks a lot with my previous dog, who was uninterested in other dogs but loved to walk the perimeter and smell everything. He even met a husky who convinced him to play for once!
Some years after he died I ventured back with a 2 year old pittie I recently adopted, who LOVED to play and he had hit or miss encounters, but it was mostly good. He has some isolation anxiety and so I adopted another dog (a lab) to keep him company, and since then his dynamic with other dogs has completely changed and I either have to take them to the park separately, or not at at all.
My solution has been hosting “dog brunches” with friends who have well socialized and well behaved dogs. They all get their playtime in, and we snack on pancakes and mimosas 🙂
Linda Gallacher says
Because my husband and I travel a good deal with our 5th wheel trailer, dog parks are often the only opportunity our three dogs have for off leash exercise. In most cases this works well. We always observe the dog dynamics in the park and will leave if there are apparent bullies. Our dogs pretty much ignore most of the others. My husband and I spend the time circling the park with our dogs running and playing close to us. We are quick to control any situation that might be a problem. My biggest complaint is that owners don’t watch their dogs and therefore, never pick up after them. The amount of feces is disgusting!
Lucky you for taking such an amazing trip! The photos are wonderful!!
That dog parks can be considered “relatively incident free” does not make them a good solution. Many of the negative effects of the common dog park are not “incidents” at all, but are linked to exposure to an environment that your dog may not be equipped to handle, to people and dogs and situations that are not going to be necessarily good for your dog.
I think a good alternative is a membership style dog club/field, with limited members, all having gone through some minimum amount of training (basic understanding of dog behavior, signs of stress etc.) Ideally, all dog owners would have to have some sort of minimum training.
Cheryl Croft says
We have a local dog park. It’s actually the only legal place in town you can have your dog off leash. It is nice, large, divided and well kept. Sometimes the park is empty or there is only one or two dogs in the park. We are a town of about 16,000. I have used the dog park but believe you must know the behavior of those dogs and humans in the park and know your own dog. The dog park is not for every person or dog. I have found people who think their dog is fabulous at the park (and it’s not), do not pay attention, think dogs will work it out themselves, etc. On the upside, I’ve seen dogs and individuals who love the park and use it for what it was intended. So, for some, it’s heaven and a blessing to take their dogs and let them run and for others, not so much. I do believe that for the owners, dog parks require constant watching not only your dog, but other dogs and most are not willing to do that and even if they do, they do not understand some of the behaviors. Currently, my senior dogs are just happy with walks!
We have a dog park fairly nearby, but it has an area for small/timid dogs and an agility area in between the other 2 areas, so it is pretty well thought-out. Lots of room for big dogs to run and trash cans and pick-up bags. We don’t go there a lot because I don’t vaccinate my old dogs, but it’s a nice park.
Josefine K says
I am homeless and have a PTSD service dog. I don’t know how he would survive without daily plays sessions at the dog park. I walk him back and forth outside the dog park until he is able to keep a loose leash walking in. I am very, very watchful and catch him before he gets himself into trouble. (for example when he is too pushy in his play and the other dog backs away with a tucked tail. Or when another adolescent male dog struts up to him looking to prove something. It is a lot of work to monitor his playtime, but it is so worth it. Despite all the challenges, many people comment on how calm and happy my dog is. He was really wild as a young adolescent and I thought I might have to wash him. But all our hard work (and play!) has made it possible for him to be a successful service dog and stay with me, but also helped to make him the happy-go-lucky puppy he is.
I will say that the size of the park makes a huge difference. He doesn’t get as overexcited in roomy dog parks.
I would also add that since I plan to become a dog trainer and behavior consultant, watching dog behavior at dog parks has been invaluable experience!
CJ in Canada says
The start of your Africa trip sounds like mine 11 years ago! The teenager (what an amazing first job) at the Giraffe centre warned me in advance to step back as soon as I ran out of pellets, because the female I was about to feed would get annoyed and start using her horns to tell us so. Oh the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, one of my favourite places ever! They’ve had a few of their rescued elephants return from having a baby in the wild to introduce them to the wonderful keepers.
I did get scolded by my amazing safari driver for not doing a better job at guarding the eggs at one of our campsites from the cheeky Vervet monkeys, who clearly saw an easy mark in me the moment my guide walked away, lol.
Love the photos!!
Thanks so much for sharing your trip!
As for dog parks, as with so many other things, there are a number of variables that can make or break a successful park. The physical layout of the park is one. The nature of the dog is another. In my experience, play between two or three dogs is better than a large group.
As with so many other dog experiences, the nature and behavior of the owner is the wild card. Some are nervous and hyper vigilant. Some are proud their dog is the biggest and baddest in the park. Some don’t give a rip what goes on. All these types can cause big problems at the park.
I have recommended my clients make several trips to the park without their dogs to observe before making the decision whether or not to join the games.
Many of these same dynamics are at work in doggy day cares but that’s another story for another day.
I live in a city that has several dog parks – one divided into small/large dog, with about an acre each, the other is about 3 acres for large dogs and 1.5 for small dogs. We also have one all-sizes pay-to-enter park that is 15 acres.
I have a Pomeranian (she’s foreign-bred and on the larger side) who is frightened by physical proximity to larger dogs, and I like taking her to the small-dog sectioned parks when there are two or three other dogs there. If there are more than that we don’t go in – you just have too many personalities and a greater number of owners to get distracted. I used to have larger dogs, and wouldn’t take them to any park except the pay-to-enter park which is staffed, so if there a problem dog you can ask that it be removed. Too many large dog owners at our parks are careless or have the attitude of “just let the dogs sort it out”, and bad situations happen.
I LOVE the staffed park with dog-savvy people. I just don’t take my Pom because she doesn’t enjoy play with larger dogs (she’s totally fine around them in a training environment). Its worth the price to enter, and I wish every dog park were set up the same way! It fixes so many of the problems – people who just don’t want to deal with their dog or don’t care are usually not the people willing to pay $10+ dollars, provide vaccine records, and their identifying information. Aggressive dogs are observed and dealt with. The park is huge and professionally maintained so it stays safe and beautiful.
We aren’t lucky enough to live in an area with large safe places for dogs, and we can’t afford a home with a large yard either. (None of our friends in this area can.) So the only place available for our dog to run around is the dog park, unfortunately.
I do take him but I’m limiting his visits to once per week (many people go every day!), and we go at a time when 1) the park will be relatively quiet/empty and 2) I know most of the dogs that are likely to show up.
The most important things for me to do at the dog park are:
1) stay vigilant and actively engaged. There are schoolyard bullies to watch out for, as well as indifferent, uneducated owners (most of them, sadly). I have found a group where the humans and dogs like each other, and the humans are refreshingly engaged with their dogs’ play and manners. People do give their dogs time-outs. But it’s a public space, so anyone can show up. If I see any signs of tension, or a dog who would clearly rather not be at the park (but their owner doesn’t realize it), I make sure to redirect dogs and block sight lines so that everyone can relax before bad feelings grow. If I can’t defuse early, I leave.
2) don’t let my own dog practice bad habits. It’s actually fairly difficult to have meaningful conversations with people at the dog park because I’m a full-time ref for my own dog as well. He is presently a teenager and admittedly has some bad habits. Sadly he has probably learned some of them from other dogs at the dog park. I practice regular time-outs when I see over-arousal and bad manners.
3) don’t be shy about speaking up. Most owners just don’t know anything about canine body language. If I see something, I say something. I’ve even had sidebar conversations with owners to educate them about their own dogs— something along the lines of “the dog park isn’t for everyone… your dog looks stressed to me….” I will also ask owners to police their dogs. I usually don’t make friends this way but that’s not my priority.
4) be ready to leave at any moment. If a dog enters whose body language I don’t like, I’m outta there. Or if a dog turns into a bully and the owner is unengaged, I’m outta there. Or if it gets too crowded for my comfort, we’re gone. Happily, these occurrences are rare since I found a good time slot that’s quiet and with dogs I like.
In spite of our attendance, I am not a fan of the dog park. I read the NYT article and agreed with it. Our older dog has never been one to enjoy off leash running and play, which has been amazing because we never had to go to the dog park. But our younger dog gets such immense joy from running off leash, and from playing with other dogs, that it becomes a quality of life question for us. How can I deny him this joy? How can I keep him from an occasional free run which is also good for his physical health?
I dream someday of having the budget for a home with a larger yard. If that happens, I’m inviting our dog’s friends over and ditching the dog park. But for now, I see it as a necessary evil.
Amy C says
Short version of answer: dog parks, bleerrrggh. I’ve always had terriers (first Scottish, now Irish) and maybe because I don’t expect or desire that my dogs play nicely with others, I come at this with a very different perspective than most dog owners.
I was a dog trainer for 12 years until 2013, taught R+ group classes and did behavior mod for a variety of serious problem behaviors in conjunction with our large university’s veterinary behaviorist, etc., etc. My clients were always obsessed with the dog park: I want my dog to be friends with all! I want my dog to not growl when another dog ambushes her, steals her toy, body slams her, etc.! Well, um, no. I spent so much time correcting people on their assumptions that their dogs were “bad” for reacting poorly to obnoxious/inappropriate/aggressive behavior by other dogs that I began including my “dog park spiel” into my basic obedience classes, and I incorporated dog body language into my advanced classes.
I always, always told my students and clients: avoid dog parks and doggy daycares for the same reasons mentioned in this article and your post (lots of adolescent dogs with high energy and poor dog manners, big dog/small dog safety issues, dogs constantly contracting giardia from the water, etc.). I would never in a hundred years turn my children loose on a playground with a dozen other (unknown, new to us) kids ages 1-17 and then sit down and play on my phone and expect everyone to get along and play nicely. Why would I do this with my dogs? And why do we think dogs NEED it anyway?
In lieu of dog parks and daycares, I told them to find those dogs that their dogs loved (neighbor dogs, dogs that belong to family members, their dogs’ littermates) and do playdates in someone’s yard once in a while. Over time I found that many owners felt relieved by this recommendation, because there was so much pressure to go to the dang dog park that they felt they were somehow doing their dog a disservice if they DIDN’T go. So when they learned they didn’t have to have a dog that got along with 20 other strange dogs of all ages and sizes, and that they were preventing potential behavioral fallout and health risks by avoiding dog parks, they felt a lot better. 🙂
You said “… I, and my colleagues, only see clients whose dogs have either created problems at a dog park or suffered from them.”
Along that same vein, I used to often deal with highly-reactive dogs, many who couldn’t be brought anywhere near a dog park. Yet, nearly all of them ended up doing very well at dog parks. Even the ones who simply didn’t like most other dogs went just enough times to learn how to calmly say no. So, no longer did their owners have to worry about another dog coming near when they were walked, as their dog calmly handled the issue.
For the ones who began poorly at the dog park, many times it proved too difficult to change the people, who either didn’t want to give any effort, or were certain about dominance and how dogs should “nicely” play. Nearly all the time, the people were the issue.
Over the past six or so years, a local dog park has somewhat changed each year. One year there were many dog fights, another year cops came for people fighting over their dogs. But, things calmed down to a stable group of regulars, with all people watching all the dogs. Where everybody helped and supported new people and new dogs coming in. I and others helped hundreds of new dogs become socialized.
What about young pups? During that period we had several adults who loved teaching pups, and all the others behaved well. And small dogs with very big ones? They chase them and the big guys just rollover. As with all the items, the only issues were with dogs lacking social skills.
But, nothing lasts forever. People now discuss the best prong collar to stop pulling, or how hard to smack your dog to get his attention. At this time, many of the dogs seem to be better socialized than the people. And, this will change again.
So, that’s at least four different views over time of just one dog park. Just as with anything else, learn a bit and take a good look before entering, or deciding not to do so.
Lastly, a curious thing about dog trainers. Especially over the past decade, there seem to be fewer of them in the city who understand how to manage dogs off-leash. Where you mentioned dog’s social signals for discomfort and such, they can’t seem to tell the difference between fear and play signals, and tend to favor their own opinions over the dog’s subsequent behavior. We almost never seem them at any dog park. I did see you holding a class at a dog park while I was in the other side. She yelled at me for my dogs chasing a flirt pole, that it would increase their prey drive and aggression. And, she seems typical these days, with her muzzle halters and shock collars.
For several years, I ran dog playgroups at a large municipal with thousands of dogs. Not even a single dog trainer was able to come in and manage the playgroup. Given that, from where are most people supposed to get good advice on dog parks?
Mary Beth Stevens says
A very timely post, as we just moved from a town with tons of open space – perfect for off-leash walks – to an area that is very dog-friendly, but has nowhere for an unleashed dog and its person to go for a walk. My dogs seem to have taken the transition in stride – me? I’m having trouble with it…Anyway, there’s a dog park in town – well-designed, two separate areas for big dogs/small dogs, clearly posted rules, separate entrances, blah, blah, blah. All that said, I will only go in if we are the only ones there. Tippy does well in new areas with new dogs, but poor Suzie takes a very long time to open up to new people and places and I just won’t put her through any trauma. After having had Tippy attacked by a dog on a beach a few months ago, I am taking no chances. And yes, too many owners are totally clueless about dog behavior.
I have had three dogs attacked, but none at dog parks. One was a backpacking trip six miles on which an aggressive dog was zipped into a tent and left, one at a school playground that appeared empty, one a recreational pond where a criminal had two unleashed, uncollared dogs and mine was killed in a prolonged attack. Even with this, I do go to a park near my house that has an off leash area. It is large, with plenty of room to avoid the big pack playing roughly. I am very vigilant and I pack mace, though I know it would not stop every attack. I keep my eye on people not paying attention, and I am vocal if a dog is unruly near me, jumping up or not acting pleasant. It’s not perfect, but my own dog, spinally injured in the backpack attack, loves to go there, and I am just as careful as I can be. I can’t stop living; this is where I live. I wish people were more responsible; I do what I can to insist that they are. It’s far from perfect.
Sandy Moser says
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is amazing! Thank you for adopting Zawadi and sharing her story with us. I’ve supported them ever since seeing their story on 60 Minutes years ago. Yes, watching Zawadi’s rescue has me gooey.
When you live in the city and have an active dog, one that can’t be happy with leash walks, and you’re not brave enough to bike with a dog, there are only 2 choices: dog park or move to the country. And if the second one is impossible, I consider them a necessary evil. Now that I live in the country, I never have to take my dogs to the off leash park. I will walk them, leashed, around town, or they can play with each other in my yard, which is full out running and wrestling with dogs they know.
Susan Sanders says
I recently took my Brittany pup to the local, well fenced, maybe 20 acre dog park a few times to work on long distance recalls. We went in the middle of the day in rotten weather when few or no people would be there, & it worked out really well. I was glad to have the resource available. Now we can take both of our dogs to run with their pack of four or five other sporting dogs in a nearby, huge, unfenced section of the (KM) State Forrest, which is a de facto offleash park. There is, logically, a correlation between the size of the park, the absence of a fence, & the training & reliability of the dogs. Knock wood, we’ve never had a problem in 20 years.
I’ve had mixed experiences with dog parks – the one in a nearby city is quite nicely laid out. It’s divided into two areas, for different-sized dogs, and the one for large dogs, where we took our doodle mix Daisy, a few times, was quite large and had a area with trees – the dogs could get away from others if need be. Most people were good, but you would have the occasional owner who would bring a dog to “socialize” them, which the dog was usually not prepared for. One horrific day a poor frightened boxer was physically disciplined by her owner for – quite justifiably – snapping at another dog. Last visit for us…The other park we visited in another city was smaller and fairly full of a rather rowdy group of dogs. A gang of five or so descended on Daisy – who is the definition of a non-aggressive dog – and actually had her pinned against the fence. When we went to rescue her one owner told us we should “let them work it out themselves.” It looked to us like working it out themselves would be disastrous to Daisy, so we rescued her and left, to the sniffs of the other owners. Last visit to a dog park for us. (We would never take our dog-loving Bullmastiff to a dog park, we know perfectly well who would be blamed if there were any issues.)
Christine Zeltner says
I have had dogs that were good at the dog park and dogs that it was a bad idea. All of the the things that are mentioned that can go wrong are a possibility. I am now the happy mom to a shy 111 pound Pyr/Anatoilian. The dog park has been a god send to him. He is getting over being shy of people and getting confidence. We adopted him not quite a year and half ago. I love the change it has helped make in him. I live in Dane County and the small parks here are several acres. The one he likes best is 79 acres. This gives a lot of room to head away from problems.
Yes we have had a couple trips to the vet for intestinal upset from picking something up at the park. I know this is part of it. There are dogs and people that should not be there and I try to keep an eye out for problems. I know there is no guaranty that something will not happen and just a few days ago we had to leave one park for a different one because a woman came in with a problem dog and just did not care.
I have in the past quit the dog park because of aggressive dog problems. At this time my boy needs the exercise and social time.
Our local dog park seems to have a pretty loyal following, but the few times I’ve been there, I was uncomfortable with the bad behavior (human and canine) I witnessed.
The last time I was there, I overheard a woman as she leashed up her big hound mix saying, “Well, we know he gets along with other dogs now.” Someone asked what she meant, and we learned that she had literally just adopted the dog that morning. She thought it was a good idea to bring him to the public dog park before bringing him home to introduce him to her own dogs.
I think the dog parks can fill a need for off-lead exercise space, but I prefer to keep my dog away from them.
i used to live in nyc, and the off-lead hours in prospect park were so beneficial to both myself and to my paco. we found an amazing community of like minded dog-owners, received so many pro-tips, and it allowed us to walk off lead 3-4 miles every morning over varied terrain. granted, the picnic garbage was a drag, as was human feces (which many dogs loved to roll in-ewwww), and fights did break out (of course the owners who stood around for the entire 1 or 2 hours with “the dogs will work it out” mentality were frustrating) but i found that if we kept in motion and really walked and explored the park instead of standing around waiting for a fight to break out–that’s how we kept ourselves safe and healthy. it also helped me socialize paco to men, in a vast space where he would not feel trapped or cornered; men with pockets full of treats! :o)
now that i am in los angeles, i do miss the community we had in brooklyn, and have visited the few fenced in dog runs here, but they were too small and depressing, and paco flat out began to refuse to get out of the car when we arrived, which i respected. it took some time, but found tons of hiking trails in the national forest near us, which made him even happier and healthier and stronger than he ever was in nyc.
What fabulous photos! The giraffes!! Oh and then I was so envious that you got to visit the Sheldrake sanctuary- in my excitement I can’t remember the proper name- but I am pleased to say we are “co-parenting” Ziwadi!!
I fostered her last year when I stumbled upon this marvellous place and adopted an elephant and rhino for my parents.
In Australia the off lead parks are often just big ovals…sometimes without gates even. People do tend to congregate in masses still chatting and ignoring the dogs.
I was in the inner city for several years and would use these parks but would watch out for any signs of discomfort but mostly I’d walk around the oval with my dogs anyway. It’s always good to practice a sit/stay under distraction and recalls. Generally I found my little pack of smaller dogs were happy to stay near me although they loved the opportunity to run.
I have witnessed only one incident which was very low key at a fabulous off lead park/reserve where you could walk your dog through at least 1km of paths.
Most people keep an eye on their dogs and aren’t offended if you intervene on their behalf
If I only had access to the parks described in the article in the US I think I’d be much more circumspect about using them, or try to gobat the least busy times.
Love that we are co-sponsoring Ziwadi!
I am so sorry about your dog. Still cringing over your story. I love your bravery and commitment!
Dog parks are a gamble. The first place I took my puppy was privately owned, had raving reviews online, and was supposed to be a safe environment with an attendant present at all times. It was a nightmare… my puppy was chased around, cornered repeatedly, and spent the entirety of the time hiding under my chair. I felt horrible afterwards. Luckily, he’s a resilient one.
After that, we avoided dog parks for a while, but went to off-leash areas, trails, etc where there was plenty of dog traffic. My puppy was plenty curious about other dogs. Cautiously, one day I took him to the city’s “bark park.” I didn’t bring him in, but just started playing fetch on the lawn outside. Slowly other dogs and owners approached us, also playing individually or just resting on the lawn. It was wonderful! My puppy imitated those dogs and started relaxing.
Kudos to my city. They maintain a beautiful, clean park where well-mannered dogs enjoy a good romp and run. Dogs are separated based on size, there is a cleaning station, dog fountains, and agility obstacles. I couldn’t be happier! The private “dog-friendly” businesses, on the other hand, don’t show as much regard for safety.
Not able to comment on dog park pros/cons but still mentally stressing over the obese dog in the first photo of this post… It is possible that I have some OCD when it comes to obese dogs… Love the photos of your wild animal journeys!
Ashley F says
I’m a teacher. I compare dog parks to unsupervised recess.
Some kids/dogs are good natured and wouldn’t even know there weren’t adults/humans around. Others would. Things could be fine for a long time. But there is always the risk that at some point, things won’t be fine, and then you have to deal with the consequences.
Just like life, some of us walk through it blissfully unaware of the dangers around us and live happy safe lives; others of us see every pitfall and potential fall or disaster that could happen.
For me and my dog (a shiba, who much prefers her couch to socializing anyway) choose not to attend dog parks. However, there are some dogs who need to run off leash.
Maybe someday, we can be the humans our dogs need us to be. We have grown in many ways. 🙂
As a long time dog park user, I read both articles when they were first published and have to say my experiences fall somewhere between the two. Over the last 12 years (and two different dogs), I have seen a lot of strange things. There was the woman who placed her two toddlers in a wagon, handed each a cookie, and proceeded up the busy trail only to have her wagon surrounded by dogs looking for a handout. Or, the family that stopped at McDonalds on their way to the park and then tried to have a picnic inside the dog park. I, too, have run into people who stop on the way home from adopting a new dog, one they hardly know, to let the dog run at the park. And, I’ve run into people who bring their 8-9 week old puppy to the park (even though the minimum age is 4 months), and then say “he needs to learn to take care of himself” when another dog starts to play too roughly with the young pup. I see way too many dogs wearing “e-collars” and sometimes being ‘buzzed’ for acting like normal dogs. I see a lot of intact male adolescent dogs whose owners simply don’t have the training skills to keep them in line.
On the other hand . . . I have also had incredibly positive experiences at the local dog parks. I credit daily trips to the dog park years ago with helping my aussie overcome his reactivity and fear behaviors. My current hound/husky mix loves to RUN. As hard as I have worked on recall, I’m not comfortable letting her run off leash in an unfenced area, so having access to a large (20+ acre) fenced park has vastly improved both our lives. I’ve made a number of ‘dog park friends’ – folks I would never have an opportunity to know if I didn’t frequent the dog park. At their best, dog parks build community among dog owners and enhance the lives of many urban dogs who would have no other options for running off leash.
I’ve gotten lazy since I retired from my job, but for a long time I had a regular gig walking loops around a large park before work every morning with a group of responsible dog owners who also happen to be smart and interesting and very caring. Some of those dog park friendships have extended beyond the park. We’ve shared vet recommendations, training tips, and more. Sometimes we talk about politics, or religion, or sports, or books, or our jobs or relationships or a myriad of other topics. But always, we keep a close eye on our pups to make sure everyone is safe and having a good time.
I agree with your comment, Trisha, that smaller parks tend to be more problematic than the larger parks. And don’t get me started about the entrances to the parks. Since we all know that the gate area is highly charged and the place where problems are most likely to occur, why is it that every park in my community has a kiosk, seating, poop bag dispensers, and trash cans all clustered immediately around the gate area? If we want people to move away from the gates, we need to do a better job designing the parks to ensure they do.
And finally, Africa. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
My dog Archie is the dog that dog parks were designed for, and I can’t wait till they finish building one in my town so I don’t have to drive to the next town over! Archie has a couple dog friends in our neighborhood who come over and play in our fenced yard, but he REALLY really loves meeting new people and dogs. Like, it’s an obsession. He doesn’t necessarily play with them all, but he gets such joy from seeing them and approaching them and greeting them. It’s a different pleasure than just playing with his good friends.
Dog parks might be a better place to take our dogs if Tim Hortons coffee cups and cell phones weren’t allowed inside so that the people would pay more attention to their dogs. We no longer take the dogs there (my daughters dogs) and they are a Border Collie and an Australian Shepherd so they are quick enough to outrun the bullies. But that’s no way to play. We’re fortunate enough to have other places to run the dogs off leash here in London, Ontario. Love you pictures of your African journey. My daughter spent 6 weeks in Africa 12 years ago and loved it. Hope you are going to get to see the Mountain Gorillas.
Jane Haynes says
One trip to the new dog park in my city was our last. My Lab was bullied the second we entered. His nemesis was a HUGE English Bulldog, in tact, and a definite big man on campus. Festis, the Bulldog, would not let Quinn, my Lab, stand up. He was on his back the whole 20 minutes we were there to play. Festis was not the problem – the other owners were – they sweetly explained to me that Festis is dominant and my dog is submissive. They felt it was a normal interaction and that over time Festis would accept Quinn as a member of the pack. That was crazy Monks of New Skeet talk, and I recognized the naivete and good will of the owners, but I couldn’t help but wonder of they would allow their children to be bullied for days on end until the other kids accepted them. I often walk with dog-savvy friends in my training groups and occasionally some dog gets too big for his britches and decides to harass another dog-now it is Quinn’s sister, my young Lab Cora, and the rest of the pack joins in. Natural behavior, I think. We immediately stop the bullying and the dogs go,” WHOOPS ! Forgot ourselves for a moment there!” And the walk continues peacefully.
Margaret Eckert says
I tell all my students to stay away from dog parks. Most people are just clueless about body language and it is safer to arrange play dates with well socialized dogs and owners. I agree with the article that dog parks are not safe. I train my dogs and student dogs out side of dog parks for distractions and also try to show students the body language of the dogs inside the park. It is amazing to me that they just can’t see a lot of the signs of stress and beginning aggression in the dogs. And if you ever watch any of the court shows, you will become terrified of dog parks and it is always owner negligence and it is the poor dogs that pay the real price.
The pictures are wonderful, please keep posting, and have the best vacation ever!
Dianne Fecteau says
I learned early on, when my Chloe was a puppy, to avoid dog parks. Owners would not exert any control over their dogs even when it was obvious their dog was harassing other dogs. It was clear that Chloe was much safer socializing at her doggie day care than in a dog park.
I’m not socialized enough to go to a dog park. I’d love it if it was a park full of just dogs. 😉
Plus, we have had only two dogs that would have maybe liked a dog park and then only for a short spurt, but such a thing didn’t exist back then.
I love, love, love your trip pictures. Sitting on the bank of the Ewaso Ng’iro watching the wildlife and learning about people’s lives, now that’s magical.
Please keep the photo essay coming for us armchair travelers living in a grey world.
“I’m not socialized enough to go to a dog park.” Thanks for the spit take!
Parks can be a problem as some owners can see the behavior but respond appallingly slow. I’m one of those owners. With much more speed than I could muster, the female dog advised my male in no uncertain terms that his amorous advances were not welcomed, and luckily my male got the message. For me, I do not take my dog to the park often, but the park provided him space where he was able to run and play, unleashed, and I was able to finally see and trust he had good social skills. BUT yes, even though I waited for a year after bringing him home to go to a park and even keeping him on leash initially to see how other dogs responded to him, I used the park as experimental ground. It can be risky as any situation can be. One has to weigh those risks for their dog, hopefully respect those risks for the sake of the other dogs.
What a marvelous trip. Thank you for sharing the pictures.
Jenny Haskins says
I’ve taken my dogs to ‘off-leash areas’ — The ones that are large enough for me and my dog to not be bothered by other people or dogs. Like measured in acres and with trees and other things to investigate. On occasions I have spoken to other people and sometimes let our dogs interact.
Many people here take their dogs to the ‘dogs permitted’ beach, but even there I have heard of some dreadful things.
When my knees allowed I used to sometimes go and walk on a long empty beach 🙂 Everybody there kept their own dogs to themselves.
We live on acreage and I regularly invite friends over and we let out dogs interact after a short training session while we human have wine and cheese in the paddock. We know our dogs — sometimes one might stay on lead beside his/her person 🙂
I have once taken one dog to a small (read tiny, tiny – about he size of a normal back yard) ‘dog park’ to check it out but there was nobody else present. The only thing I would ever recommend these sorts of parks for is IF you do not have any other fenced and secure area to training your dog off-lead. And even then be sure that if there is anybody else present it is a friend with a dog that gets along with yours.
Jenny Haskins says
Maybe the time has come for somebody to write an article on “Dog Park Manners”, because it seems to me that the real problems are with the people, not the dogs.
People who let their dogs run straight up to — called in your face, likely to get your dog seriously attacked, and DON’T blame the Rottie
People who take their dogs, who do NOT like other dogs in their faces, to the “dog free-for-all’ park. If your dog only tolerates other dogs with good manners certain do NOT take them to one of these types of places.
People who will always blame ‘the other dog’ regardless of what their dog did.
People who take untrained or disobedient dogs to these parks.
People who think that they have no responsibility to ensure either their own dog’s safety or that of any other dog.
On the other hand I much prefer those articles that say beware of ‘off-leash dog playground parks’ that those who say that mostly they are safe. Mostly safe is certainly BNOT safe enough. Especially if it is your dog that gets killed or the destruction order because it killed the rude little dog that decide to challenge it.
Mary Hanvik says
I bring our 5 year old border collie/Aussie mix to the park at least a couple of times a week. We usually go about the same time every day so see most of the same people and dogs. Penny isn’t really into other dogs but loves people. When she was about 2, all her herding instincts kicked in and she began chasing and nipping at other dogs. She would also try to break up dogs who were playing too enthusiastically. I then started bringing her very early in the morning because she was fine if there were only 1 or 2 dogs there. She has mellowed out and is fine with a bigger group. I never bring her on weekends or after 4 pm. Owners at that time are clueless as to dog park etiquette and feel no need to supervise their dogs.
Rebecca Rice says
As always with dogs, I think the answer on dog parks is “it depends”. And it depends on a LOT of things. The overall design of the park, the behavior of the dogs in them, and the knowledge and behavior of the people. And the issue I see is that people who go to 25-acre dog parks, with dog-savvy, friendly dogs, and attentive, friendly owners think that they are great and try to convince everyone else that they absolutely MUST take their dogs to one. While people like me, who’s local dog park is less than a half acre (note: my yard growing up in Missouri was bigger than that!) of bare dirt crammed full of 20+ dogs, not all of whom should be there, and with inattentive owners, think they are the devil’s playground and people should avoid them like the plague. (Full disclosure, I have seen dogs getting viciously attacked in it, and have heard of dogs being killed. One of the people I train with has gone to dog parks close to her, which are slightly larger than mine but also have more dogs, and seen dogs come out with ripped open stomaches after a dog fight, and does know of one client whose dog was killed.) And when the two groups meet, they have a difficult time getting the other person’s perspective. If you know dos, and are willing to take the time to study the dogs already there and judge how well they are playing together, it may be a calculated risk you feel comfortable with. I personally avoid mine unless the number of dogs in it is very low, and that’s only because it has a separate “small dog” side where I can take my dogs that tends to have even fewer dogs in it than the main park.
Jim Perry says
Trisha, I hope you will summarize what your thoughts are after digesting all of this comments.
It seems “dog parks” are seen in the mind’s eye very differently by different people. And they are far from being the same.
We spend 8 months of the year on our 40-acre old dairy farm with trails cut into the prairies. Two daily walks of our GSP where he can investigate and only encountering a skunk or raccoon every once in a while. He is e-collar trained and can be stopped or called with the tone button. He get to run.
Then in January thru April we are in southern AZ in a [god-forbid] HOA. On the way down this year we found the Shawnee Mission Park in Lenexa, KS. Big, wide, open expanses for dogs to run at their hearts’ content. The only fence I saw was at the entry by the parking lot. No tight spaces where dogs feel intimidated. Posted rules and code of conduct.
In AZ we live adjacent to a defunct 18-hole golf course that has been given to the county as a park. The fairways are down in arroyos, with neighborhoods on the elevated hills between them, so there are natural boundaries.Lots of people walk their dogs there but the rules are “no off leash.” That might be fine for dogs who require less exercise but in my opinion, many dogs benefit from off-leash exploration. I am trying to get the rules changed, maybe even on separate fairways, but it is an uphill battle with a zillion reasons why not to. A number of us deviants break the rules.
The bottom line is that it seems wide open spaces make good “dog parks” and the little, enclosed ones do not. Another truism: Life is not risk free.