Dog parks – yes or no?

black-white dogs playingCasey is a tired puppy. He had his first-ever trip to a dog park today.  While many trainers discourage people from taking their dogs to a dog park, my personal perspective is that the answer to the question of whether or not you should go to a dog park is “it depends.” The up side of dog parks is learning socialization skills with other dogs and free range play to release pent up energy.  The down side is that owners may not pay attention to their dogs who are misbehaving, and there is the chance of picking up a disease or infection of some kind.  Here are some things to think about on both sides of the issue.

Dog Park Down Sides

I recommend keeping your dog out of dog parks when

  • The park is too small to support the number of dogs in it.  Your pup needs room to run and be alone if they so choose and a one acre park is a postage stamp – not a park. It’s hard for a dog to be properly socialized when they don’t have room and can’t easily avoid dogs they don’t want to be social with.
  • Dog owners stand around at one end of the park and pay no attention to what their dog is doing. This means there are probably dogs there who do not play nicely and fights can begin.
  • It’s a big flat space with nothing interesting to explore (i.e., trees, water, items to play on, and the like). Unless you have a retrieving dog, there is absolutely nothing of interest to dogs other than each other, and that can become a problem if a dog just wants to be left alone.
  • dog park mudThere is no grass – just dirt.  Beyond the mess (especially if it’s been raining), what fun is that? And how healthy is it likely to be?
  • There are no rules about vaccinations for park attendance and/or there is standing water that gets slimy.  Both of these instances raise the risk of infection or disease, which is not something you want your pup exposed to.

Dog Park Up Sides

Here are the good things about dog parks when the items listed above aren’t an issue.

  • Well behaved dogs in a dog park are a great way for a pup to learn proper socialization skills.  Nobody can teach a dog proper play manners better than other dogs.
  • It’s great for you because you can meet other dog owners who understand
  • Responsible dog owners keep an eye out for their own dogs and will alert you if your dog is doing something they know you don’t want.
  • dogs playingThey can run, play, and burn off steam
  • Because it’s an enclosed space where they can safely be off leash, it can be a great way to work on commands like “come” where they learn to come to you even if they’re free of the leash. That’s one of the things I’m doing to teach Casey.  He’ll be off and heading out of sight and I’ll call him.  So far, he’s doing really well about listening and comes running back. yay! But if he ignores me, I know he can’t go anywhere and get into trouble.
  • You get to return home with a very tired and very happy pup.  Such as you see here:

tired pup after 1st park trip 100115

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Puppies as patience practice

The moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived!  Casey has now been with me for 2 weeks and has decided this really is his home.  What does this mean?  It’s time to test his puppy boundaries!  So, as expected, this amazingly well behaved puppy of the last 2 weeks has started become a little tester – can I get by with …?  At 10 months old, he’s decided that being a calm dog is just plain boring.  And he’s right, of course.  The impulse control training focus of the first week, especially, is really all about teaching him how to be calm and ok with boredom.  Now that we’ve reached the testing phase, this is where I get to practice even more patience, consistency, and being very very clear with what is and is not allowed.

beagle chewing shoeSo, what kind of testing is he doing?  What boundary questions is he asking? Here’s a partial list:

  • If I start yipping when I want something, will I get what I want?  Answer = no.
  • Since this is my toy box, is the box next to it with vacuum cleaner parts available, too?  Answer = no
  • Can I sneak up on the bed when no one is in the room?  Answer = no
  • When I’m feeling playful, can I nip just a little bit?  Answer = no
  • How about if I start yipping to demand play time?  Answer = no
  • If I can’t get on the sofa, can I at least put my front feet on it or on a footstool?  Answer = no
  • Can I sneak a tissue out of the waste basket?  Answer = no
  • and so on

In other words, it’s getting to the stage where he’s no longer needing to be under foot every moment.  What this means is that I have to pay very close attention when it suddenly gets quiet.  He might just be checking things out, but …

My patience practice is in having to quietly and frequently let him know what is and is not allowed – for example, these things are your toys and these other things are not.  And, at times, this is literally happening every 2-3 minutes.  To me, this is one of the many great gifts of dogs – it reminds me to be constantly aware of what’s going on while staying calm and not getting frustrated.

Casey in a calm moment

Casey in a calm moment

As I often say, dogs can teach us so much if we let them!

As I wrote that last sentence, he came out of a bedroom dragging a headset….  And so it continues.

Gifts Dogs Bring Us

If you’re a dog lover and have had the joy of having dogs in your life, then you probably also know the pain of losing them.  I’ve known people who have refused to get another dog when they’ve lost one they particularly love.  I find that sad.  While it’s true they’ll never have another “Rover,” folks who feel this way are depriving themselves of the wholly different, new, and equally wonderful “Spot” who could grace their lives.

Throw the Ball please

Please, please throw it again!

I recently lost my best buddy, China, after 13 years.  It’s taken several weeks for me to realize that one of the biggest things I’ve felt the loss of was the role she played as my playmate.  She made me remember to play.  And that’s something I too easily forget by being “responsible.”

If you’ve had driven Labrador Retrievers in your life, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Her need to retrieve was immense and her love of it was her reason for living. You could see the beams of joy flying off of her whenever she got to chase her toy. And, of course, that meant my job was to be out with her – throwing the toy, exploring the woods, hiking the trails, and so on.  In other words, her joy in her job and her curiosity about life made me get involved and play, too.  What a gift she was!

Each dog brings their own special gift to us.  Some are cuddlers, some are workers, some are play machines, and others remind us to chill out – I’m thinking about greyhounds here.  Whenever we open to the gift each one of them brings, our lives expand and become richer and deeper.

The impact China had on my life has prompted me to finally walk away from the frustration of corporate life and start a pet sitting business.  Personally, I’m looking forward to discovering the gift each pet brings to everyone that’s willing to accept it.

What gifts have your dogs brought to you?  I’d love to know.