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Home > Pet News and Articles > What's the Problem; Dogs, or Dog Parks?

What's the Problem; Dogs, or Dog Parks?
Article By: Glenn Redmond

Recently, I received a call about an apparent trouble maker that was wreaking havoc in one of the dog parks in St. John's. There were some incidents of aggression that were causing concern for some dog park users, and I was asked to evaluate the situation. A walk with the offending dog and its owner was planned and I arrived at Three Pond Barrens that Friday morning for the first time, despite having lived back in Newfoundland for the past 4 years.

It was a typical morning at the park, from what I understand, and I observed cars coming and going, occupied by either tired canines or ones barely able to contain their excitement of what was to come. Owners opened car doors as dogs scrambled to break free from their metal jails to explore the utopia of sights and smells that the wooded area offers. There was about 5 or 6 dogs running about as my client released her 2 dogs into the mix. They all greeted each other with great enthusiasm and we all started down the trail as the dogs zoomed in and out, achieving that energy burn so vital to their happiness.

The excursion was finished without incident and back at the parking lot, as the group of owners gathered, I was asked what I thought.

My response was not what everybody wanted to hear, but it was said nonetheless. You see, I am not a big fan of dog parks, especially when they are used everyday. Dogs are pack animals, requiring consistent leadership to maintain healthy dynamics in the pack. When a group of 3 or more dogs are allowed to run together without strong leadership from a human, they will instinctively form a pecking order. If several dogs try to exert their leadership within this new found pack, the result is often a fight to establish who's who. Not only that, when a new dog comes into the park that other dogs frequent everyday, the new kid on the block is often seen as an intruder into the personal territory of the regulars.

This often results in the new dog having to defend itself, or at the very least cower to avoid harm. Either way, those are not the dynamics we want to establish for healthy relations with and among our pets. Dogs that are not neutered or females in heat only complicate these matters further. If two unneutered dogs meet, the result is most often a fight to establish dominance. That's just dogs. However, if an unaltered dog is brought into the mix of a group of neutered dogs, the unneutered dog is often a target of attack because of the smell of hormones and testosterone alive and well. Neutered dogs feel threatened and act accordingly. We would have no problem with a person fighting an intruder in an attempt to protect their home. We do, however, blame our dogs who act in the same manner, without the proper leadership to guide them.

As well, dog parks can be a cesspool of disease. There is no guarantee of the health of dogs that frequent the park and with many owners having an aversion to picking up feces, the little land mines of waste lie waiting for a victim to infect. Fleas can be passed regularly as well as a host of other parasites and viruses.

Now, before I offend a host of dog owners, let it be said that I understand why dog parks are used so regularly. We all have busy lives and having our dogs well exercised allows us to get on with the rest of our day. It is also vital that our dogs have some off leash time to meet their exercise requirements. However, convenience often overrides good judgment or at least healthy leadership, in the use of these parks, and just because it is a help to us, does not mean it is good for our dogs. I observed complete lack of obedience and leadership while I was present at the park and solving that issue would go a long way in promoting safer relations within the dog park itself. I would also encourage people to use these parks less frequently and find other areas to exercise their dogs, so the issues of guarding territory become diminished. Besides that, some alone time while exercising our dogs allows them to bond first to us instead of to other dogs with the owners taking a secondary role.

With all of this being said, it does not mean my client was off the hook or had no responsibility for the actions of her companion. Her dog had become too familiar with the area and I recommended the use of the park become now and again instead of everyday as well as some continued obedience. At the same time, I hope all dog owners educate themselves on the possible dangers of dog parks and realize their decision making affects the actions and safety of their canines.

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