By: Brenda and Jonathan Hoffman
Fenced dog parks are a great place for you to work and play with your dog(s)…when you have the place to yourself.
“Sure!” you might say. “But my dog needs to run around and blow off steam with his canine friends and just be a dog!” And of course, it is extremely important for your dog to get the chance to release any pent up energy. However, we have to ask ourselves, what is the type of exercise s/he’s getting at the dog park really accomplishing?
Objectively speaking, let’s first outline what a common occurrence at a dog park might look like. First, as soon as you mention the word P-A-R-K your dog goes bananas. Then, throughout your entire trip your dog looks like s/he is going to explode from pure excitement alone. Once you arrive at your destination (of course, by this point you can only refer to it as the P-word, if you are able to do that at all) you release Fifi or Fido and they begin running around like canine delinquents, barking, chewing, peeing on, or even humping everything s/he sees. That is, until your dog collapses from sheer exhaustion, gets in a fight with another dog, or you get in an argument with another dog owner.
What’s wrong with this oddly familiar scenario? The problem we speak of is leadership. At what point of your dog’s daily (or sometimes weekly) jaunt do we stop and ask ourselves: “Who is really in charge of this situation?” “Who is really in control?” Often times it’s even worse. We catch ourselves sitting on a bench, throwing a tennis ball, or just schmoozing with our human compatriots and totally ignoring what’s happening to our dog! And then we go home and wonder why our dog is still giving us issues, even though s/he just ran like crazy. Or at least it might buy us a few hours.
Again, the problem is leadership. Your dog needs you for direction and guidance. If s/he doesn’t feel as though they have this type of leadership from you, unfortunately s/he will take matters into their own paws which can be dangerous for both you and your dog.
I recently visited a popular dog park in North York with 2 of my dogs, both medium-large in size. When I am with them I make sure that I am constantly moving and making sure that they are following closely behind and listening to me. Soon, a couple with a German Shepherd showed up, and he wanted to play with one of my dogs. Meanwhile, as the two owners of the German Shepherd were enjoying their ice cream sundaes; on the other side of the park, their dog’s “play” was quickly deteriorating into a game of cat and mouse. At first it did look like play, but soon the German Shepherd became frustrated at the speed in which my dog was running away. Before I knew it, the German Shepherd began circling my dog with an intense look in his eye. He wasn’t playing anymore. He was hunting.
Thankfully, the other dog I was with knew exactly what was happening. He’s a gentle soul, but once he knew what was going on, he tried to break up the “play” by butting in. Then, before it could escalate any further, I immediately stepped in by calling my dog over and letting the Shepherd know that enough was enough. The owners FINALLY called their dog back, which took a forceful voice command on their part. They promptly left with the dog. It all happened so fast. And I am grateful that my dogs are fine. I had gone against my own advice to stay away from off-leash fenced dog parks. I figured that it wouldn’t be that busy, and it wasn’t. But it only takes 1 bite.
This is just one example of the dangers posed by dog parks, and I have just scratched the surface. Often times the best exercise we can give our dog is a good walk or jog, if you can. This specifically builds your relationship together while ensuing that your dog is listening and attentive, and of course, gets the exercise s/he needs.
Of course, we are not trying to be kill-joys. If you are in a situation where you are completely confident about letting your dog off-leash, by all means, let your dog run around and be a dog.
However, that should not take precedence over proper leadership training. It is imperative that your dog and the dogs s/he encounters are safe and well-behaved. Dogs are our companions and friends and we need to be their loving guardians. Let’s interact and teach our dogs to be great canine citizens. Canine Nanny can show you how.