Ben­e­fits And Draw­backs Of Dog Parks

Escalon Times - - PERSPECTIVE - Dier­dra McEl­roy Dier­dra McEl­roy is a grad­u­ate of Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity and is an An­i­mal Be­hav­ior­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in ca­nines. If you have ques­tions or con­cerns about the pets in your house, you can get them an­swered through a fu­ture col­umn of Didi’s Dogs.

Dear Didi: The new dog park in Man­teca has opened and when the weather is fi­nally sunny, we are con­sid­er­ing tak­ing our dog but also are very ner­vous to do so. What are your thoughts about dog parks? – Sounds like fun in Man­teca

Dear Sounds like fun: The thought of joy­ful happy pooches frol­ick­ing with friends in lush grass sends the hu­man heart soar­ing. Dogs go home tired and hope­fully more man­age­able. The con­cept is ir­refutably a happy one but the re­al­i­ties are far dif­fer­ent from our imag­i­na­tions.

Orig­i­nally the idea of dog parks was for peo­ple that had fi­nite amounts of space to ex­er­cise their dogs, such as apart­ment dwellers and ur­ban­ites. A safe fenced-in area to work on off-leash train­ing and ver­bal con­trols. How­ever, it has some­how mor­phed into a place to take dogs to “so­cial­ize” with one another, as if dogs were a highly so­cial species. Hu­mans can’t even seem to get along. Not sure why we be­lieve all dogs should and will get along. Al­though well in­tended, dog parks are a bad idea. A bad idea be­cause de­spite rules be­ing posted the av­er­age dog owner does not fol­low them. Be­sides rules there are tons of un­writ­ten eth­i­cal stan­dards that ed­u­cated dog own­ers should ad­here to. It is just a mat­ter of time be­fore a bad ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pens which can al­ter a dog’s per­son­al­ity dra­mat­i­cally.

I’ve logged thou­sands of hours sit­ting at dog parks ob­serv­ing ca­nine in­ter­ac­tions, be­hav­iors, and their hu­man coun-ter­parts. If your dog has lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence around other dogs they should not be in the park. This is NOT the place to teach dog man­ners. It is as­sumed they al­ready know proper man­ners be­fore en­ter­ing. If you aren’t ed­u­cated on how ca­nines should be­have and meet prop­erly, you are most likely miss­ing things. Dog body lan­guage can be very sub­tle. If own­ers are busy on cell phones or chat­ting amongst them­selves, those sig­nals will be missed. Dog own­ers fre­quently say, “there was no warn­ing”, or “it hap­pened out of the blue”. I’ve seen dogs de­velop into play­ground bul­lies, be­come fear­ful, or just plain get hurt, over and over again at dog parks. The own­ers are al­most al­ways com-pletely clue­less. A large ma­jor­ity of dog park vis­i­tors do not have strong enough ver­bal con­trols to di­rect their dogs from a dis­tance un­der the ex­cit­ing con­di­tions and there­fore, should not be in the park. We won’t even men­tion the rift be­tween small dog own­ers and large dog own­ers which is akin to the Democrats ver­sus the Repub­li­cans.

If you don’t like pick­ing up poop ... please do not go to the dog park. There is never ever an ex­cuse for not pick­ing up af­ter your dog. I’ve seen many fights. Some­times it is not the dogs that are fight­ing. Ten­sions in­crease rapidly when some­one brings the wrong dogs in or com­plains to the city for com­pletely petty is­sues with­out even talk­ing to the dog owner first. If you want your dog to truly have an ex­cel­lent ex­pe­ri­ence with other dogs, choose their friends care­fully and sched­ule play dates.

The city could re­quire that each dog have a “pass” to en­ter the dog park. Ob­tain­ing the spe­cial pass would be con-tin­gent on pass­ing some­thing like the AKC CGC exam. In­ter­ac­tions at the dog park would likely be more pro­duc­tive and sat­is­fy­ing for all in­volved.

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