The Good Dog Park v. The Bad Dog Park

Photo Feb 16, 1 38 02 PM
Queen and King of the hill at the “bad” dog park

There are lots of reasons not to take your dog to a dog park, and most of these have two legs and spend their time texting when they should be watching their dogs. But sometimes, especially when it’s cold and rainy and your dog barks and lunges when he’s on a leash, you really just want to take him somewhere to run off all that energy. We do walk him, but he’s kind of a meanderer on a leash. We have a fenced backyard, and we play games with our dogs meant to stimulate their little brains, but Leo tires himself out best when he can run with other dogs at the park.

In my community, there are two dog parks where I have at various times been a “regular.” When Isis was first old enough to socialize, she did not have a reliable recall, and was prone to do things like run away from me during obedience class tests. I started taking her to the one dog park in town that is fully fenced. I loved watching her race around with the other dogs, once she stopped being afraid of them.

What I learned later is that this is the “bad” dog park, where owners (like me) who have no control over their dogs go. The crowd there is a little rough and tumble.

I thought I’d found the answer to all of Isis’s excess energy needs when I discovered the “good” dog park. While it’s not fenced, the play area is down a trail and bounded by a hill, and Isis never once attempted to escape. She did however, start to show fear aggression toward smaller dogs, and we had to stop going there.

Leo is extremely well socialized with other dogs, so for the past few months, we’ve been taking him and Mia to the “good” dog park quite a bit. Mia didn’t do much playing with other dogs. She liked to run around with her ball in her mouth. Not sharing it, not wanting any humans to throw it for her. But she seemed to enjoy lying on the ground watching the action. Most of the time, Leo romped with the other dogs, and if there was no one fun to play with, we threw him a ball.

Occasionally there would be a clueless owner who let her five-year-old child run onto the field wielding a Chuck-It, her face at the exact height of an excitable Lab mix. You’ve all heard stories about dog park fiascos; I can’t top those. Really, this dog park is as close to ideal as I think a dog park can get.


For some reason, joggers and cyclists seem to think it’s a good idea to jog or cycle on the gravel trail that runs alongside the off-leash area. Granted there aren’t loose dogs there 24 hours a day, but I want to hang a notice next to the sign for the off-leash dog area that says, JOGGERS AND CYCLISTS WITHOUT DOGS, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? and THIS IS NOT A GOOD PATH TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO RIDE A BIKE.

It’s not a very scenic trail. It literally smells of sewage because it runs past a wastewater treatment plant. There was a time the trail led to the bay, but at the moment, it’s blocked off because of construction and you can’t get there from there.

Despite Leo’s penchant for barking and lunging at bicycles and joggers, sometimes he completely ignored these distractions at the off-leash park. Other times he ran after a cyclist, but not to any disastrous end. However, the last time we went to this park, he ran up to a jogger and clearly frightened her. I get why she was scared, even though he didn’t bark or jump on her, but my attitude also was kind of, “Hey, lady, I don’t bring my dogs to your track! Why are you jogging through my off-leash play area?”

Bottom line: It’s our fault for not having strong enough voice control that we can call Leo away from a jogger or a bicycle, so he lost his “good” park privileges.

Today, we returned to the “bad” park, enclosed by chain link to keep the joggers out. Calling it the “bad” park isn’t fair to all the lovely people and their dogs who were there, but it was a boisterous crowd. Mia was scared. She chomped on her ball and stuck pretty close to our sides. A dog barked in her face to incite her into play, and her hackles went up. Leo did a lot of running around, which was the whole point, after all.

As responsible dog owners, we kept a sharp eye on our dogs, as well as the other dogs. I was prepared to leave at the first sign of inappropriate behavior, but we didn’t see any. At one point, Leo joined a group chasing after a dog who had tucked its tail under. I called him away and headed for the exit gate. Happily, he obeyed and we were on our way.

Is this like taking my badly behaved child from a playground in suburbia to a park in the inner city? How are the dog parks in your community? What are the signs that you look for that tell you it’s time to leave?

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

11 thoughts on “The Good Dog Park v. The Bad Dog Park

  1. I definitely judge dog parks based on the other owners who frequent it. We’re lucky here – something like 17 off leash parks in Calgary – though, only 3 are fully fenced. But I will definitely travel a greater distance to go to a bigger park with more attentive owners.

  2. There are only two dogs parks near me. I think it’s not just the park itself, but the day and time you bring your dog(s). I found that weekends tend to be the worst for inattentive owners, but since I work during the week, it’s hard to get to the park at any other time. We’re lucky we have a big back yard–large enough to romp in. And with three dogs, usually someone wants to play with someone. (And sometimes we have doggy play dates–always safer.)

    –Woofs (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats.

  3. I don’t take the Babies to the dog park. Sometimes I’ll take them on the walking trail, but they’re ancient and listen well, so we don’t have issues. They mostly run around in the house and in our large fenced yard. Sounds like you’re just doing what’s best for your dogs in an imperfect world.

  4. Every time a parent brings their toddler into my dog park and lets them roam around unchecked, I get annoyed. My dog hasn’t spent a great deal of time around children and has a tendency to jump on them. It’s a dog park, not a child park. Watch your children. Also, watch your dogs. Just because it’s a fenced in dog park, that doesn’t mean you can ignore your dog altogether. I’ve seen people drop their dogs in the park and go sit in their cars. Really? People suck.

  5. I tend to leave at the first sign of trouble because Mr. N is so small. He’s picky about parks. They usually have to be at least an acre so he has room to run around and he doesn’t like crowded ones.

  6. I’m pretty careful about when we will enter a dog park, and if I don’t like the looks of the mix, then we just don’t go in. There’s one that is rarely frequented that we’ve been visiting a little lately, because we can let Morgan and Küster each have some time to play by themselves in one side while the Greyhounds play in the other. We have another dog park that we like a lot better, but there is less guarantee that it will be empty. Sometimes there are some pretty clueless people at that one.

  7. We don’t go to dog parks anymore. Sadly it’s becuase of the two legged beings, as you mentioned. It never failed to surprise me, the stupid things you’d see them doing. Like the one huge off leash park here is at the bay, but it’s for the dogs, yet folks woudl bring picnic lunches, and also let their kids play in the water. It’s a closed in part of the bay used for water skiing, so between the boats and the dogs, the water is filthy. I would never let my (nonexistent) kid play in that water.

  8. I started out as a very well socialized dog that liked to play with other ones until we started going to the dog park. I do okay with one dog but that’s it. Out in the open I love to play with my regular pack but closed in forget it. You should read what we have to put up with in our non-dog park! Love Dolly

  9. We’re cautious about dog parks and like to go where we know the crowd. I carry a leash and am ready to wrangle Bear and keep him by my side for a few minutes of cool down if things get too rowdy. He’s a border collie x GSD with strong herding instincts and strong sense of what he believes other dogs should be doing (which often is not what THEY think they should be doing 😉 ) so I’m always on the watch. We’ve found weekends are when the worst owners are out, and try to go weekday mornings if possible. Bear’s made a lot of great friends there now, and really looks forward to playing. We’ve favorited a quite small park and will leave if it feels too many dogs are in there though- better safe than sorry!

  10. I go to a Dog Park near us some times! I really like it and Mum says it all depends on who else is there as to how the experience is!

    One time, like at your park, there were two women who came with their dog, let it run off and started running around the path like it was a jogging path! I’m a herding dog, so I thought they wanted to play chase and I and other dogs did just that! Mum distracted me and I wasn’t there when the ‘incident’ happened, but one dog, not sure which it actually was eventually nipped one of the ladies and the police were called…..

    Luckily we’ve also had lots of fun, safe times at the park and Mum is always assessing the situation and we leave at the first sign of any potential trouble

    I hope you have fun,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

  11. Fortunately our pack has options to dog parks…instead of dog-to-dog play at parks, we do nosework for mental stimulation and walk on leash in new areas together building up trust and teamwork. I can tire out my duo with fun at home…with Playground of Higher Learning, agility and tracking. Local dog parks are too crowded and crazy for me.
    Have you seen Sue Stern’s app Dog Park Assistant? Even comes with videos.

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