All over the United States, dog owners are petitioning city officials to open up new dog parks, specifically, off-leash dog parks. These parks are places that are marketed not only as “dog friendly”, but actually let you take your dog into a fenced area so he or she can freely run and play with all the other dogs…big and small, without a care in the world (Cue the “running through fields of daisies” music).
Sound too good to be true? That’s because (in many cases) it is. Instead of being a fun, enjoyable and peaceful place, many off-leash dog parks can only be described as “chaotic.” Craziness. Dogs running everywhere without any kind of control. It can be anything but peaceful and enjoyable.
More and more Crimson K9 Dog Training clients are asking about off-leash dog parks and more and more, we are telling them to stay away. The truth is, off-leash dog parks are not safe places for your dog. We have had numerous clients tell us stories of taking their dog to the local dog park, only to have their dog attacked. In Madison, Wisconsin, an unleashed black Labrador killed a leashed puppy in front of the horrified owner and her two children. That’s right, a lab. Sweet, gentle, lovable.
Having your dog attacked by another dog is devastating. It can be something you struggle to get out of your head; the pictures, the sounds, the guilt. For a child, it can really be traumatic; nightmares, fear of other dogs, etc. For your dog, it can be life-altering, as well. Many gentle, friendly dogs can become fearful and/or aggressive because of being attacked.
And even supposedly “well trained dogs” can stir up trouble. Consider this: A 100-pound service dog killed a 4-pound Yorkshire Terrier at a Cape Cod, Massachusetts area dog show. The service dog was a Bouvier des Flandres who helped a woman in a wheelchair. And while this event didn’t take place at a dog park, it does unravel the cause for many of these dog problems: a lack of human understanding in regard to pack structure and pack mentality.
The typical dog owner does not understand how strong the pack instinct is, even in their very own family pet, and how readily it can be triggered when a dog is suddenly in the company of other dogs. Understand this: it only takes three dogs to make a pack. And if three dogs make a pack, imagine how a dog is dealing with being taken into a park with several other dogs. Many owners are simply not prepared for how difficult it may be to control their dogs in this setting.
Dogs will try to establish rank and will instinctively try to form packs and sometimes, threaten incoming dogs. They often will congregate around gates and entrances. This can threaten and overwhelm new dogs, not to mention be dangerous for a small child, even if the dogs are not aggressive.
The answer is for dog owners to become educated on pack structure, and learn how to better control their own dog. It is also imperative that dog owners learn how to read their dog’s behavior. Sometimes problems can be stopped before they occur just by watching and acting. In the meantime, stay away from off-leash dog parks. The last thing you want is for your dog, someone else’s dog, or some person to be hurt.