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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