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.

Except.

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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Appropriate dog park behavior or party foul?

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo's counsel at the dog park.

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo’s counsel at the dog park.

We haven’t been to the off-leash park in a while, so we thought we’d go Sunday during the Super Bowl, when we’d have it mostly to ourselves.

Our favorite park isn’t fully fenced, but the play area is between a really steep hill and a waste treatment facility. One trail leads down the steep hill, and another leads in from the parking area. None of my dogs have ever tried to escape, although a smitten Leo did try to go home with a couple of pugs once.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought we’d have the place to ourselves. We saw a middle-aged gent walking with a border collie and Australian shepherd. Mia already was off leash, but we usually keep Leo harnessed up until we’re in full view of the play area. I consider it bad dog park manners to let a dog haul ass into the fray before the other people and dogs can see its human companion.

The man and dogs were on their way out the other end of the park, and Rob said, “Should we wait until they’re gone before we unleash Leo?” And I don’t know why, but I said, “Nah, just let him go.”

Possibly, I wanted Leo to have a chance to greet a couple of other dogs, since he hasn’t gotten to hang with any but Mia since last summer. Possibly, I didn’t want to give him the chance to start barking, like he does when he’s on leash and sees another dog. Maybe I thought that guy would be happy to see a couple of German shepherds on this bleak and rainy Super Bowl Sunday at the park.

Whatever, we were in an off-leash dog park, so we let our perfectly friendly 95-pound German shepherd off leash. He loped over to the other dogs to say, “What’s up?”

The border collie tucked her tail between her legs and hid behind a park bench for a second, before bolting away from her owner and toward us on the path, Leo in hot pursuit.

She zipped past us like a bullet and zoomed up the trail back toward the parking area.

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before,” I said, as I weighed the odds of Leo following the dog all the way out of the park, into the street to who knows where. “Leo!” He, of course, ignored me and kept running after the border collie

The man called his dog’s name, but that critter was gone. We could see Leo through the trees on the path. I looked at Rob, “You better go. Run.”

Rob trotted off in Leo’s direction, but perfect angel that he is, our boy realized the error of his ways (or else the border collie was so far gone he forgot what he was chasing), and he came back. The man passed us, looking, I would say, annoyed. Not terrified that his dog had just run away and might get hit by a car, and not overtly hostile toward us for chasing his dog away.

He said, “She’s just a little puppy.” Hmm. Puppy maybe, but not that little. I’ve seen full-grown border collies that size. He said the same thing to Rob, then trudged up the path after his dog. Was that his excuse for lack of voice control over her, or was it his explanation for why she ran screaming from Leo? Perhaps both.

In hindsight, yes, it would have been better to keep Leo leashed until the man and his dogs were out of sight, since they were leaving anyway. But we were at an off-leash dog park. Dogs are supposed to chase each other. How were we supposed to know the border collie would actually leave the park? Even if I had better voice control of Leo and he came right back to me instead of following the border collie up the path, that wouldn’t have kept the border collie from running off. But… she wouldn’t have run off if Leo hadn’t been chasing her.

As usual, my concern is that another dog owner will blame the German shepherd (and me as the negligent owner) for instigating a problem. I worry that this man thinks Leo chased his dog out of the park. In my mind, that’s not what happened, but I’m biased.

So I put it to you, readers, and not just because I want assurance that Leo and I aren’t responsible for this dog running away. Did Leo display normal, appropriate dog park manners? Are we to blame? I mean, even if the guy hoped to be the only one there, it’s reasonable to expect that a dog might come running up to you at the dog park, right?

I really hope that guy caught up to his dog.