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Categories: Dog Parks

Q. I disagree with you on your article called Dog Parks.
Hello Mr. Frawley,

I recently discovered your list of articles on the internet and have enjoyed reading several of them. The article about 'Dog Parks' caught my eye as I am a frequent user of a public dog park here where I live in Florida. I have two Dobermans, a 3 year old American-bred male from show and obedience lines and a 10 month old bitch I imported from Holland at the age of 10 weeks.

My male has an excellent mind for a non-working Dobe. He has good confidence, is protective, and has a lot of courage. He also has good prey drive and is not afraid to "go after" a target. I would say he is not dog aggressive unless he is challenged; he does not 'enjoy' fighting. But I have seen him fight off multiple dogs who have ganged up on him - he can fight and win if necessary. He is a semi-soft dog in terms of what it takes to correct him. He has had no formal protection training but I have seen how he reacts to threats and I rest easy knowing he is in the house with me. He has a lot of personal pride, which helps him to be an effective protector. He is NOT your typical American Dobe.

My bitch is from top working lines, although most of the dogs on her pedigree are also show champions as well. Her sire just earned a Korung 1A ZVA rating this year and he has all-around excellent credentials. Her mother has an IPO 1, which is nothing to sneeze at, and she is a Dutch Champion. The mother also earned highest scores on the DKT, the Dutch equivalent of the ZTP. My pup has a more intense temperament than my male and she's a little smarter (but the male's no dummy). She is a 'good biter' but she, like my male, is generally non-aggressive and peaceful around other dogs. When she was 6 months old I witnessed her chase away a 4 year old Chow who was trying to bite her. To say she is precocious for her age is an understatement. She already has developed well defense drive and is a somewhat dominant bitch, and I would say she is more hard than soft. I may train her for Schutzhund or protection, although I have not been impressed with the clubs I have seen in my area. She puts all the other dogs at the training club to shame because she hasn't been trained to bite but yet she bites harder and faster and more accurately than almost all the other dogs there, especially the other dogs her age. She is an all-around great (world class) Dobe in terms of her superior working ability, good conformation, and nice temperament. She is muscular and has a strong head, almost like a male. I don't know whether she's Korung material but she definitely has strong nerves.

I have been bringing the male to the dog park since he was 6 months old and I started bringing my puppy when she was about 5 months old. They have never been attacked and I feel that it has actually made them more confident in unfamiliar situations. Sure, they've each gotten into 1 or 2 minor scuffles, but fortunately most of the people who frequent our local dog park are "regulars" and we know each other as well as each others' dogs. The dogs also know each other, unless the dog is new to the park. Better than 90% of the people at this particular dog park are responsible dog owners; it is very rare that we have any real problems.

For me, our dog park is also a forum to discuss training (usually simple obedience), health and medical issues, and anything else that relates to dogs. I understand in Europe (esp. Germany, Holland, and Belgium) most towns have a nearby training club where dog owners regularly go with their dogs. We have no real training club where I live, but the dog park is only a five minute drive away and I feel it has been a benefit to both my dogs and me.

My dogs like to go because it gives them an opportunity for intensive exercise which is really play. The dogs seem to enjoy the company of other, different dogs, and it also exposes them to different types of people. It is definitely a place to socialize the dogs, as well as the owners. They have fun and so do I. It is cheap entertainment with several benefits to me and the dogs. It is a place to go to "get away" for a while, to clear your mind, etc. And I've made some friends there (so have my dogs!)

I understand that bad things can happen at dog parks, but bad things can happen anywhere, really. I have been to the two local dog parks in excess of 150 times total (maybe 200, I haven't really kept count), and I can tell you that I've never seen a dog or person get seriously injured. I do know of a man who had two male English Mastiffs he raised together as puppies. His dogs did injure two other dogs, but he is a moron for getting two large male puppies the same age in the first place. Fortunately he stopped bringing those dogs to the park.

I have had three occasions where loose neighborhood dogs have attempted to attack my male while I was walking him (not at the dog park). These were dogs that were not socialized at all, I would consider them to be dangerous or vicious. I have to ask myself if these dogs would be so dangerous had they been socialized at an early age. Fortunately my male is a hard and fast fighter and he quickly ends any fight another dog chooses to start (the same for my female puppy, actually, despite her age). But he doesn't fight at the dog park because he has been trained not to, and he has a proper temperament for a Doberman (non-aggressive).

So I have to disagree with your blanket statement that dog parks should always be avoided. Sure, you shouldn't blindly turn your dog or puppy loose amongst a pack of unfamiliar, potentially dangerous dogs. But not every dog park is like that. Like I said, our dog park consists of mostly "regulars." We welcome newcomers but we watch them carefully. I have not really observed the "pack mentality" you speak of. The dogs know who their owners are and tend to stay near them, even though they may wander off for a while and come back. There is no reversion to a more wild, uncontrolled type of behavior. At least not at our dog park. On a normal day we have about 20 or 30 dogs, coming and going at different times, with as many as 20 dogs there at once on a busy day. There are it is enclosed and is actually fairly big (maybe 3 acres).

I would not recommend bringing a young puppy under about 5 months of age to our park, although there are plenty of 12 to 16 week old puppies there on any given day. I understand that you do not want to have your carefully-bred puppies injured at the dog park, that is only common sense. But I think once the dog is old enough it could be beneficial for both the dog and owner if the circumstances are right. I believe in letting dogs play. Part of the reason I don't like our local Schutzhund club is because it is run by a woman who believes that her working dogs must be kept in cages when they are not working. It is my impression that socialized dogs who are allowed to play are happier and healthier, and they probably have less obsessive/compulsive behaviors such as chewing, barking, etc. If my puppy is killed by a pit bull at the park I may change my mind, but, based on what I've seen over the last 2 years, I don't think that's going to happen.

Just something for you to think about... You have done a good job with your web page/articles. I am a Dobe person, not a GSD person, but I'm sure a lot of your principles can be applied to the Dobe.

Larry

A. I certainly appreciate the time you have taken to pass on your thoughts, but when one stands back and looks at what you have written, it is evident that you are naive in your approach to dog training and the dangers present in dog parks. You have been lucky and as a result you are misdirected. You also do not have a clear understanding of the pack drives in domesticated dogs.

In my opinion my dogs (even my police dogs) should never be put in a position where they have to fight another dog, no matter what the circumstance. Your attitude towards your dog's ability to defend himself against dogs that are out of line is not an acceptable position to defend.

If people thought like this, they would find themselves in a situation where they would find out that there is always going to be someone or some dog that is tougher than there dog. In your case, there is no question that a rank pit bull would teach your very quickly how easy it is for one dog to kill another. It happens very quickly and the odds are you would be standing there wondering what went wrong and where did this fool with this crazy pit bull come from? I hope this does not happen to your dog.

  Response:

Dear Mr. Frawley,

I have read your response to my original comments about your article on dog parks. I realize there is an element of danger at our particular dog park. I do not like pit bulls, as a rule, but my observation has been that most of the pit bulls in our area have little more fighting ability/confidence than the average American bred-for-show German Shepherd. Of course there must be some pits out there who still have the abilities of their ancestors, but they seem to be few and far between (none that I've seen). And hopefully the people who own that type of dog would not bring it to our dog park. Most of the pit bulls I've come across LOOK scary and intimidating, but that's all. The pit bull breeders in our area have been producing friendly, soft dogs, either by design or by accident. They don't seem to be the tough killing machines most people would expect them to be. Maybe I've just been lucky (I expect that's what you will tell me). I do know that no dog has ever been killed at our park in the last two years or more, that says something concrete about the place. I also can tell you that the "regulars" at our park would not permit someone to continue bringing a dangerous dog once it had demonstrated its bad behavior (a pit bull may be intimidating, but 15 or 20 people carrying large sticks and/or rocks would probably be more intimidating; fortunately it has never come to that).

Our dog park will still continue to be a part of my life, when I have time to go. I, like many others in our town, do not have a large yard of my own to exercise my dogs, and the park gives me that opportunity. Our situation may be somewhat unique in that we are a fairly close-knit group of regulars who know each other and each other's dogs (many of us have been regulars for more than a year, some for several years). In that sense, we may not be exactly what you would define as a "dog park," with lots of strangers and strange dogs coming and going. I realize I am fortunate to have two relatively large dogs with at least somewhat good fighting ability, should an "incident" occur. If I had a Lab puppy or something less able to protect itself, I might feel differently. Or if injuries or deaths started occurring I would feel differently. Hopefully that won't happen. But we have an awfully good track record over about three years' time. I am putting together a web page about our park. I will send you the URL when I do (it may take me a few more weeks to finish it). I realize I am not going to change your mind, but I hope you will be open-minded enough to at least consider that, given the right group of people and the right dogs, a dog park doesn't necessarily have to always be a terrible thing. Granted, we may be the only park the way we are... I do not deny that. It is unfortunate that some people bring aggressive, dangerous dogs to dog parks; hopefully our park will continue on its present track (without any real problems, with good dogs and owners).

Larry

P.S. The typical reaction of both my dogs, when they are "snapped at" by another dog, is to stand there without moving and stare them down, as if to say to them "What do you think you're doing?" 90% of the time this will make the other dog stop its bad behavior. I do not deny that they would fight back if pushed, but the average dog out there does not want to mess with a dog that shows no fear toward them. Not all of the other dogs have the high level of confidence my dogs have; I realize I am lucky in that respect, also. Confidence is perhaps more important than toughness, as far as keeping the peace at our little dog park.

  Follow-Up Response:

You do not need to send your URL on your dog park. I would not consider adding any information on something I am so strongly against and when I know that I am right.

I think your quote “I realize I am fortunate to have two relatively large dogs with at least somewhat good fighting ability, should an ‘incident’ occur,” indicates that you are out of touch with reality and are living in a dream world.
  
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