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 counterparts. 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 completely 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 contingent on passing something like the AKC CGC exam. Interactions at the dog park would likely be more productive and satisfying for all involved.
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. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.