Dog Parks: Why They Are A Bad Idea
Using Dog Parks to Proof Obedience with Michael Ellis
Dog parks can be dangerous but they can serve a purpose. We use dog parks as distractions in order to proof our obedience exercises. In this video, Michael Ellis demonstrates how to utilize dog parks for this without putting his dog in harm's way. Watch as Michael works his dog, Pi, on positions and heeling while 2 dogs are running and fence fighting right inside the park. Michael never goes inside the dog park, instead he stays outside the fence and uses the other dogs to proof his obedience through distractions.
This article will detail three topics concerning dog parks:
- The original purpose of dog parks
- The problems and dangers of taking your dog to a dog park.
- How to prepare for a dog park
- How to handle and protect your dog while in the dog park
The Purpose Of A Dog Park
It would seem pretty obvious that a dog park is a place for people who don't have a lot of personal space to take their dog for exercise. The perfect example would be apartment dwellers or people who live in big cities.
The second and possible more common reason (which I disagree with) is that a dog park is a place for a dog to socialize with other dogs.
The Dangers of Dog Parks
Every couple of days I get an email from someone asking about problems with their dogs being attacked when they are on walks or running loose at one of the local parks that many cities setup.
People also question me on how to deal with overly aggressive dogs that belong to other pet owners. They also question me about their own dogs not trying to defend themselves when approached by a seemingly aggressive dog. Some people want to know if they should just let the dogs work these problems out themselves.
I want to go on record as saying that the concept of "Dog Parks" was well intended but a bad idea, especially when dogs are allowed to run off-leash. The main problems all stem from people who don't understand and have not established pack structure with their dogs. This means their dogs are out of control.
The average dog owner does not take the time to understand much less install pack structure. They don't know how strong the pack instincts are in their family pets. These drives can and often do click into high gear when a dog is taken into a park with strange dogs.
When a new dog comes into a park that other dogs visit every day the new visitor is often seen an an intruder into "the personal territory" of the regular visitor. More often than not they are not seen as new found friend. This often leads to either to territorial aggression, dominance aggression or fear aggression.
Dog Packs in the Park
When a group of dogs (3 or more) are allowed to run together in an area where there are no strong pack leaders (human pack leaders), they instinctively try to establish a rank order (or pecking order). If there are several dogs that want to assume a certain rank within this new pack there are often problems. Too often this results in dog fights to determine what rank a dog will assume.
It is a mistake to assume that every dog in the park is a well-mannered, well-trained pet. Just because it playing with other dogs does not mean that it will play with your dog. The issue of rank has already been settled with these other dogs and the game may be going according to their rules. Your dog will not know the rules and can easily get into trouble. To often when a fight breaks out between your dog and the leader of this pack the other dogs in the pack will also jump in and go after your dog.
I get emails from people who are disappointed in their puppy or young dog because it shy's away from other dogs and shows avoidance to these strange dogs they meet on walks or in parks. These people completely misunderstand pack structure, many don't even know that it exists.
The vast majority of dogs don't want to be pack leaders. They are perfectly happy with their owners assuming the position of leader. As such these dogs expect their pack leader (their owner) to protect them. That's why these dogs will run to their owner when they fell threatened by another dog. When a handler does not protect his dog the dog is in conflict and loses confidence. When the owner ignores the perceived threat their dogs often move into fight or flight.
When you stop to think about it, normal people would never expect their young children to fight adults that were threatening their home. So why do people expect their young dogs to show aggression to older dogs? In most cases, the owners simply lack the understanding of pack drive and dog training. People get caught in the trap of thinking they have a German Shepherd from working police bloodlines and "BY DOG" it should be tough!! Well, it doesn't work that way.
When new owners assume the position of pack leader and they do everything right when their pup is young the dog will grow up to be a confident adult dog. When owners drop the pack structure ball their dogs grow up to be basket cases (either overly aggressive or fearful). This is the reasons I do never guarantee temperament in the pups I used to sell. Too many people lacked common sense or the experience to properly raise a dog.
How to Handle Your Dog in the Dog Park
When your dog is approached by a dog that looks like it may be aggressive YOU (not your dog) needs to take the aggressors role.
Dogs that have the potential to be aggressive are going to have a stiff body. Their legs will be stiff, often their tail will be straight up in the air or straight back (never tucked under the stomach - that's a submissive posture). When another dog does this it's to make itself look bigger and stronger.
Dominant dogs will T-OFF on your dog. That means stand at your dogs shoulder and put their muzzle over the shoulders of your dog. This is a dominant display. When you see this:
- Tell the dogs owner that he or she needs to get control of their dog.
- If this does not work, then it's time to leave the park. If there was any aggression you may want to file a complaint or police report. Make sure you indicate that you were concerned for your personal safety and your dogs.
- If the situation has moved beyond the point where you can leave then you need to take things in your own hands. Verbally tell the dog in a deep voice to get out of there. Usually (not always) this is enough to make the dog back off. When that happens you need to determine if you have solved the problem or if you need to leave. Always error on the side of safety.
- I would not go to a dog park without a walking stick or a can of pepper gas. If you are not familiar with how to safely break up a dog fight without getting hurt you need to familiarize yourself with what to do. (Read the article or listen to the podcast I have done on this).
- What I do may not be possible for many people with less experience. But if a stray dog were to get aggressive with my dog and I could not verbally threaten the dog to make it move on I would attack the dog with the stick. I can hear all the PETA PUKE rolling their eyes as they read this, but the fact is by this point retreat is not an option and I would not allow my dog to be hurt. Often times one good HARD HARD hit right between the ears will deter most dogs. If you don't have the confidence to do this, call the authorities because this dog does not belong in the park.
- If another dog attacks your dog you need to do what I explain in my article on Breaking Up A Dog Fight. If I were to walk a dog in the city, I would not do it without a can of pepper gas to use on any dog that even looks cross-eyed at my puppy. I would not hesitate to physically go after a dog that approaches my pup. The only ones that would be allowed to come close would be dogs I know for a fact are well-mannered, friendly soles that will be tolerant and play with my puppy.
While some breeds are predisposed to fight more than others, every breed has it's own bullies. There are too many people out there that don't come close to the label of being a responsible pet owner. With the number of fighting breeds growing, the risks of taking your pet to one of these parks is growing every day.
Pet owners should know that once a puppy or adult dog has been attacked by another dog, it will become a dog aggressive animal itself. This only has to happen one time for a permanent temperament change to occur in some animals. You will quickly find that dog aggression is a real pain in rear.
Finally, if your dog is a bully and is aggressive to other dogs, you need to explain to him that this is unacceptable behavior. Softer dogs can get the message with a simple verbal reprimand, while other dogs need to have serious corrections. These corrections can come from a prong collars, a dominant dog collars or in some cases a remote collar. (One should only use a remote collar after they have had the proper training).
The correction for serious dog aggression needs to be so hard enough that the dog remembers it the next time it thinks about being aggressive.
The bottom line for professionals it the correction needs to be so severe that the idea of fighting or showing aggression is not as strong as the respect (or fear) of what happens when he does not mind. For these dogs the presence of another dog is a big distraction, but they need to understand that if they allow this distraction to take control them the punishment will be swift and severe. Once they understand this simple concept they will become much better dogs.
Giving a dog this kind of correction is often not a pretty sight. Many people do not have the temperament or skill to do it correctly. They simply cannot bring themselves to correct at an effective level. Dog fights are a serious business and these people should either seek professional help or find a new home for their dog aggressive dog.
In my opinion one of the most effective tools for trainers who want to learn how to administer corrections at a level beyond their normal strength level (IE. a small women with a large dog) is to learn to train with a remote collar. I have produced a training DVD titled Remote Collar Training for the Pet Owner which covers the foundation of collar training.
If you have a dog that needs a little help with distraction training I would direct you to my training video on Basic Dog Obedience. This tape will guide you through normal distraction problems. It will explain the principles of correction and how to read a dog's temperament to determine what level of correction to use.
People with dominance problem in their dog should never bring their dog to dog parks until they have the dominance issues under control. I tell people "if you can't control your dog at home or on a walk how will you ever control this dog when it's in a dog park with 20 other dogs?"
If you have a dominant dog I recommend my DVD Dealing with Dominant and Aggressive Dog
Recommendations to make dog parks safer places:
While I am lucky to live in a small community and have acreage to exercise and train, I know that others that live in large cities don't have an option to where they can go with their dogs. The following information is designed to help people make dog parks a safer place.
Dogs should pass a test before being allowed in a dog park. In my opinion communities should establish and set up tests that pet owners must pass before dogs are allowed off leash into these dog parks.
The tests should demonstrate the off leash control owners have over their dogs while the dogs are faced with extreme distraction. In other words, the owners need to be able to call their dogs back away from a group of several dogs that are playing.
Dogs that can't pass these tests should not be allowed off leash in the parks.
These tests should include a knowledge of how to deal with dog fights.
There should be parks for small dogs and parks for large dogs. Allowing very small dogs to run with large dogs can be a very dangerous situation for the small dog. The average pet owner has no idea how to break up a dog fight. They also can't comprehend how quickly a large dog can kill or seriously injure a small dog.
Be a responsible handler There are some basic common sense rules that good owners should follow when they use a park.
- When at the park and a dangerous or out of control dog shows up, leave the park. While you may feel you have the right to be there you gain nothing by pushing your limit and risking a dog fight.
- Go to the park at off-peak hours. You will learn when the quiet times are, those are the times to be there with your dog. If you dress for the wind and rain there is nothing wrong with having the entire park to yourself.
- When a dog pile or dog fight occurs, immediately call your dog away from the pack. There is nothing wrong with using a remote collar and practice calling your dog away from chasing a group of dogs.
- There is nothing wrong with teaching your dog that you are more fun than other dogs at the dog park. When you go, play the games your dog loves away from the dog pack.
- When your dog is off leash at the park, 100% of your of your focus should be on your dog.
- If you wish to socialize with other dogs owners that fine, just do it when you have your dog on a leash.
- Don't make the dog park it's only out of the home experience with you. Take it for walks, take it swimming (when possible) play or train in different locations. People who only take their dog to a dog park set themselves up for dogs to get out of control. The dogs with a lot of energy who only go to the dog park can take the attitude of USE IT OR LOSE IT which means they can get wild.
- In my opinion people should learn how to use a remote collar. Collars are invisible leashes. They should study my low level stimulation training and understand when they can and cannot use a collar in a dog park. (Don't use a collar in the middle of a dog fight - the dog will think that his opponent is causing the stimulation and fight harder).
Notice the ball in the one dog's mouth -
allowing only one dog to have a toy will often trigger a dog attack.
News & Media Articles about Dog Parks
2 people, dog hurt in attack at dog park
The attack marked the first time since the Newport News Long Island park opened in April that a person was bitten, an official said.
March 30, 2007 NEWPORT NEWS -- A dog attack this week at the city's only off-leash park left a miniature dachshund with serious injuries and two women with bite wounds.
Christine Hyatt and her daughter, Kathy, were walking their three small dogs through Fido Field, an off-leash dog park at Riverview Farm Park, Tuesday when they heard someone holler.
Hyatt, 67, spun around and saw an Akita mix sink its teeth into the neck of her 2-year-old dachshund, Maddy, and start shaking.
Maddy broke free, but the dog attacked again.
Christine Hyatt and her daughter tried to intervene, and the Akita mangled Christine Hyatt's middle finger and bit her daughter's hand, Hyatt said.
Eventually, she said, the Akita's owner helped pull the dog off.
Hyatt's dog remained in an animal hospital Thursday, but a doctor said Maddy could be released this weekend, Hyatt said.
Hyatt, meanwhile, underwent treatment for her sliced and fractured finger at an emergency medical clinic.
She worried about the risk of rabies, since she didn't know whether the Akita had been vaccinated.
On Thursday, as she sat at the intersection of Menchville Road and Warwick Boulevard, Hyatt said, she saw the Akita's owner drive past.
It was "divine intervention," she said.
She and her daughter followed him to a Bryan Court home, where she confronted the driver, according to a city animal services report.
The driver, James Coleman, admitted owning the Akita, Hyatt said.
She's hoping Coleman will cover her dog's medical bills.
Coleman couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, but Bill Wise, the city's animal services superintendent, said Coleman reported his dog, "Kita," was registered and up-to-date on its shots.
The incident marked the first substantiated report of a person being bitten at the park since it opened in April 2006, said Andy Lunsford, the city's parks operations superintendent.
At Fido Field on Thursday, Josh Biskey, 27, watched his German shepherd, Dakota, roll through the dirt with a mixed terrier.
He described the park as a great place for both dog owners and dogs to socialize.
Most people, he said, recognize when their pets become aggressive.
"You have to step in before something happens," Biskey said. "You need to know what your dog's capable of."
Making Dog Parks Safer
A sixty-pound child is roughed up by a one-hundred pound dog at a place where dogs are supposed to run free, but run safely. Changes may soon be made at some area dog parks, after an incident this weekend raises questions about safety at the parks. A child was pawed and bitten by a dog at a Hamilton County dog park, and he's not alone.
Local 12 Reporter Jeff Hirsh unleashes some concerns in this developing story.
What's more fun than going to the park with your buddies, get some much-needed exercise, and even play wide retriever. Well, usually, it is fun, but not always.
"It was very scary."
These scratch and bite marks are on an eight year old boy who was at the Armleider Dog Park yesterday with his mom and their pet. But another dog ... a big mastiff ... perhaps only wanting to play ... used the child as a chew toy.
Tracy Hickenlooper, Dog bite victim's mother: "He was screaming, he rolled up into a ball, saying get him off me. He was rolling up into a ball, trying to get away, and the dog continued to go after him."
It's also a dog-eat-dog world. This dog needed stitches to close a wound several months ago, from the same Hamilton County Park Board facility.
"Now, if dogs could read the rules, they would find out that owners are supposed to have leashes in hands at all times, that big dogs and small dogs are supposed to be in separate areas, and that aggressive dogs are supposed to be removed immediately."
Dogs who bite people are supposed to be quarantined for ten days, if they're caught.
Harold Dates, SPCA Director: "You've got to observe how your dog is behaving. Is he truly getting exercise? Is he trying to take over the other dogs in the park. What is your dog doing?"
Tyler and Nico are not exactly threats. Owner Anne Huddleston loves to bring them here. But sometimes, Huddleston sees other folks drop off dogs and leave for hours.
Anne Huddleston, Dog Owner: "Here they come back from wherever they've been, pick their dog up. They just leave them here, do whatever business they have to do and that's very irresponsible."
One nearby community may have a solution. In Anderson Township, park users pay a small yearly fee, register their dogs, wear i-d tags, and incident report forms are at the gate. Tracy Hickenlooper would like to see Hamilton County's Dog Park do the same thing.
"Some people see it as a social situation and they're on their cell phones and talking to dog owners and not paying attention to their dogs. These things happen fast."
Jeff Hirsh, Local 12.
Attack reports are rare in dog parks, but the Anderson Park District did ban one aggressive dog from its facility. Hamilton County is considering a permit-and-fee system in a possible new dog park. That's on the west side of town. There are no plans for it in Armleader Park, on the east side.
Dog Park violence on the rise
By Lisa Black
Published March 27, 2007,
Robin Hunt used to walk her pets up to three miles a day at a Libertyville dog park. But she hasn't since July, when two Akitas mauled her 12-pound Chihuahua mix, Deardra, and left her with $5,000 in veterinarian bills.
Deardra is among dozens of dogs bitten or attacked in the past year at the region's dog parks, according to data kept by various agencies. Some veterinarians and trainers worry that too few owners take responsibility for their pets in the free-for-all environment in which dogs frolic off-leash.
In response, some dog park operators are strengthening rules or creating "adjustment areas"—smaller spaces where dogs may get accustomed to socializing before entering the larger park. Among them is Lake in the Hills' Bark Park, where a pack of young dogs killed a Pomeranian last year.
Advocates who enumerate the benefits of exercise and socialization say the majority of dogs safely use parks.
But as dedicated dog parks proliferate in the Chicago area, others say the problem of dog attacks is just emerging. Even the most docile animals, they say, can raise another pup's hackles or skirmish over a toy.
"Dog parks are a great idea, but I honestly don't think there's enough control," said Cathie Sabin, owner of B.C. Dog Training in Mundelein. "I have seen people pull up to a dog park, open the gates, let the dogs in and go back in their car and read a newspaper."
Most dog parks require permits and proof that the animal is vaccinated. Sabin wonders if the permit holders should also be tested on whether their dog responds by name and if the owner can recognize menacing signs, such as a dog that assumes an aggressive stance.
Dr. Kristen Temo, a veterinarian who treated Deardra at the Animal Emergency and Treatment Center in Grayslake, said she often treats dogs for scrapes after they visit Libertyville's Independence Grove Dog Exercise Area. Temo rarely takes her 95-pound dog there.
"That's because I don't like sewing up cuts on my day off," she said.
When the Akitas cornered Deardra, the two women who brought them had walked around a bend, deep in conversation. Hunt said one of the Akitas had started "death shaking" Deardra by the time she was able to get the women's attention by screaming. Deardra underwent surgery to fix a gaping hole in her abdomen.
It is difficult to estimate the numbers of injuries at the parks because they are often lumped into broader categories of dog bites. It's likely that some aren't reported at all.
Chicago and Cook County officials declined to provide statistics but said they have received very few reports.
Lake County Animal Control Supervisor Len Hackl estimates that he receives 20 to 25 reports annually of dog-on-dog bites at the four dog parks owned by the Forest Preserve District.
"We just had a discussion with some of the forest preserve staff, because we found out there were incidents being reported to them and not to us and vice versa," Hackl said. "We are going to keep better track of that, especially with spring and summer coming."
The DuPage County Forest Preserve District recorded 26 dog-on-dog incidents at its seven offleash dog parks in 2006, spokesman Bill Weidner said.
In McHenry County, dog parks are overseen by municipalities, and no such statistics are available. But Bark Park in Lake in the Hills instituted new rules after the Pomeranian's death.
The park now prohibits dogs that are aggressive, in heat or younger than 6 months.
No statistics were available for the two dog parks operated by Will County's Forest Preserve District. The district has rescinded several permits because of aggressive dog behavior over six years, said spokesman Bruce Hodgdon.
He recalls easily the most serious incident, on the opening day of Hammel Woods, in which a small dog died.
Even the people who love dog parks and seldom have problems say they understand the need to tend to their animals.
"I've had maybe two incidents where I've come across an aggressive dog," said Selina
Carpenter of Grayslake, a regular at Independence Grove park. In one case, she said a yellow lab growled at her Great Dane, Hampton, when he tried to play with the lab's toy.
In most dog parks, regulars develop friendships and form a self-policing community, she said.
Authorities say regulars often report park violations.
Trainer Toriano Sanzone, owner of DOPA Dogs in Chicago, said he advises clients to run through training commands with their dogs at the parks and then reward them by letting them run off-leash.
"You shouldn't just let them go," said Sanzone, who said that too many owners talk on cell phones or socialize with others while their dogs play.
He likened it to parents ignoring preschoolers at a park.
"Eventually someone is going to fall off a slide or get into it over a particular swing," he said.
He advises owners to keep a short 4-inch leash on their dogs so they can restrain them if necessary. Other trainers suggest bringing an air horn to scare off an aggressive dog.
If there is a fight between dogs, experts say it will be difficult to step in without getting hurt.
Some advise pulling a dog's hind legs to get it away from another animal; others suggest wedging a large stick in the dog's mouth.
Maggie Ross, 25, of Lake Villa said she was terrified when a stocky white dog—she is not sure of the breed—latched onto the neck of her yellow Labrador retriever at Independence Grove last month. Her 9-month-old dog, Payton, wasn't injured badly because he was wearing a collar that became entangled in the attacker's teeth, she said.
"My dog was gasping for air. His eyes were bulging out," Ross said. "From the sounds of it, I thought my dog was dying."
The woman who owned the attacking dog was fined $300 and prohibited from returning to the park because there was a prior record of her two pets fighting, officials said.
"Dogs won't fight unless there's an issue," Sabin said. "But like people with their kids, it's never my kid [who started it]. It's never my dog." --
Tucson Wants Tougher Laws Against Irresponsible Pet Owners
Oct 3, 2007 12:30 PM PDT
Are Old Pueblo pups sitting pretty or are our dogs in danger? It depends who you ask.
click here to access an interactive web story put out by Men's Health Magazine that reveals the nations top dog friendly cities. By clicking on Tucson you can see we get the fourth ranking for a number of reasons. The best marks come from our vet services. From this you'd think our pooches are in primo shape, right? Think again!
City council is looking at the quality of life for our four legged friends.
Dog parks are some of the only places in the city where your dog can roam leash-free, but the city is pushing for tougher punishment for dog owners who break that law.
Dog parks are a growing trend across the country and Tucson is no different.
"He loves it here, he has a great time so it's great that it's really convenient," says Crystal Adams.
There's nothing more enjoyable for Crystal and her little dog Rusty than leaving the leash at home. But it's outside the dog park where she has concerns about other dogs roaming free.
"Having irresponsible pet owners without the dogs on a leash and they're aggressive, that's not too great," says Crystal.
That's why Tucson City Councilwoman Carol West is pushing for tougher laws against violators after a string of disturbing incidents in her ward. One particularly gruesome story where a loose dog became dangerous.
"A little puppy was on a leash in a park and a big dog came and tore his eye out."
West says increasing fines by $50 could discourage pet owners from letting their dogs run loose. Violators would pay up to 200 dollars. …
Dog killed at Wentzville dog park
March 31, 2014 10:36 PM CDT
WENTZVILLE, Mo. – One dog is dead after being attacked by another dog at a St. Charles County dog park.
The attack happened Sunday at the Quail Ridge Park.
NewsChannel 5 was alerted to the story by a viewer, who says she was at the park Sunday with her own dog and watched as the attack happened.
The St. Charles County Parks Department confirms a black Great Dane quickly attacked and killed a Golden Retriever.
The parks department director says the owner of the Great Dane left the park and was not found by park rangers. Now St. Charles Animal Control are looking for the Great Dane and its owner. Park rules say owners are legally responsible for their dogs and any injuries or damage caused by their dogs.
For 11 years Nick Andres and Buddy were there for each other.
"I couldn't help him and he was scared and that's the worst part about it is I didn't want him to think he was by himself, you know," Andres said.
Sunday afternoon Nick, Buddy and the rest of his family were celebrating a dog's birthday at Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville.
Nick says the attack only lasted seconds.
"This black dog was on, had Buddy like around his neck, and his ear," he said.
He tells us he and his father rushed over and started pulling the black Great Dane off Buddy.
"My dad was breathing into his mouth and his nose and I was pushing on his chest to see if I could maybe we could get him to hang on to where maybe we could get him somewhere, he was already gone," Andres said.
When park rangers showed up the Great Dane and it's owner were gone.
Nick says he wants answers, why did the owner bring the dog to a park? Had it been aggressive before?
"To come leash your dog while I am on the ground with mine and just take off and run?" Andres said.
He says he was told Buddy had internal injuries and didn't suffer.
"That's the main thing, everything else is you know, this guy getting caught or his dog getting caught not going to change it, a thing for me," he said.
Park officials say there were about 75 people at the park Sunday when the incident occurred. If you or someone you know were at the dog park, contact St. Charles County Animal Control at 636-949-7387.