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Whomever it was that thought up dog parks, where people could bring their dogs to romp and play with each other, should probably be tar and feathered.

It seems like every week there is a thread or two, sometimes more, about dog park incidents.
The county I live in has no less than five dog parks. There have been deaths at all of them. And a great many incidents requiring medical care to humans and dogs have occurred.

The county has set up a volunteer team in charge of patrol and oversight of the dog parks in an effort to reduce issues.

Through my involvement in local dog issues, I was asked for input and to be involved. I declined involvment on the principle that dog parks are a bad idea.

I offered an alternative, to use the parks and allow dog owners to form play groups. Then make an experienced person in the play group captain and another experienced person co captain. The thought process was to group together like minded people and like minded dogs. Then these groups would use the parks together without concern that an odd dog or owner is going stir up the mix. Group dogs by temperament and drive rather than size. That entire idea got shot down. And maybe it was too complicated.

Next they sent me a proposed rule list. The first thing that jumped out at me was that dogs would be required to wear buckle collars. I pointed out that this was dangerous. I was told that the collars were needed to carry identification of the dogs and in case of a fight, to control the dog. I countered that in the case of a fight, grabbing a collar puts a person's hands WAY to close to the action. I was ignored.

Since then there have been three incidents in which a dog got its bottom jaw caught under the collar of another dog in which one or both dogs were injured. Plus two people have been bitten trying to grab a collar to break up a fight.

I know some folks love dog parks and dogs seem to enjoy them as well. But what escapes people is that all dogs are territorial pack driven predators. Given the opportunity dogs like each other and will forms bonds and even friendships if you will. Which is why I suggested play groups. So the dogs could have play and interaction time with other dogs. But throwing random groups of strange dogs together, can be bad. It can be worse than bad. Even when it seems everyone is playing nicely. One thing can happen and set things off. Much of what a lot of folks perceive as play is really sparring and dogs sizing each other up. Which in theory it is not a bad thing. Dogs learn social skills that way. But in a dog park things can constantly change. Every time a dog enters or a dog leaves the entire group is affected. A single dog can change how 20 other dogs are getting along and interacting. The dynamic can change in a second. Far faster than most people can pick up on it and react. Dogs that were getting along fine can start bullying each other. Alliances can change, etc. To make matters worse, the owners usually screw things up even farther. A dog starts getting bullied some and the owner steps in. The bullied dog perceives that its owner is going to protect it, while the bully sees it as disrespect. Things can become unglued in a second.

Then there is the liability. Your dog hurts another dog, you are liable. Hurts a person, you are liable. A dog can end up with a bite record so fast it is not even funny..

The entire phenomenon amazes me.....
 

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all i want to say is that even in small playgroups this happens. dogs fight. things tick them off and it happens. i have seen 2 dogs who have always played wonderfully suddenly get into because of a little thing that may have irritated the other one. whenever you put 2 dogs together, be it at home or at a park, you run the risk of a fight. they are animals, they are like children. even kids who have been friends for a long time have fights. im not opposed to dog parks at all, im opposed to ignorance though.
 

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We've been going to dog parks for a long time. There's no where else in the city our dogs have 20+ acres to run around off leash (yes it's a huge dog park). The majority of problems occurs when:

1. People crowd around one area and just stand around.
2. People bring their puppy or toy/small dogs to play with the large breeds.
3. Dogs and people not paying attention to each other.

Look, there are all sorts of dangerous things we do because we find the rewards out-weigh the risk. For us, giving our dogs time off leash with infinite space to run around in, far out-weighs the risks we take. We think it would be cruel not to give them this time off leash. Our backyard just isn't the same.

Just like when you are driving, you need to be on the defensive when at the dog parks. Make sure your dogs are paying attention to you. Don't stand around, always keep moving. Make sure your dogs are always within eye sight. Don't bring your puppy or small dog in with the large dogs. If there is a dog or dog owner you are uneasy about, avoid them. It also helps to get to know the regulars at your park. Be sure to make new dogs acknowledge your presence before they run around with your dogs.

Also, it seems most of the cases of dogs getting hurt/killed at the dog park are puppies and toy breeds. How often do you hear "My adult lab was killed at the dog park yesterday"? I never have. Yet you often hear "My 4 month old puppy" or "my yorkie" or "my chihuahua" was killed at the dog park. Well every dog park will suggest against, or flat out have rules against, bringing dogs this small in with the big dogs. Would you let your 6 year old child play tackle football with high school kids? Well that's basically what you're doing.
 

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I agree with GreatDaneMom. While I also agree with most everything the OP has posted, and do buy into the idea that such "play groups" could actually be a better situation, it does not negate the dangers and risks, either. It does, however, provide at least for a little more predictability.

I can't speak much for dog parks, as my experiences are limited to 4 or 5 trips since Friday. I've only had my dog since the first of the year, didn't have dogs in the family except when I was really young and then towards my last years at home (and even, limited to a small dog both times), so I've never been a dog expert outside of common knowledge. I have learned a lot in a short time on here and just from experience already, and part of that is regarding dog parks. I definitely am not ignorant to the likelihood of something happening, and really am just waiting for the first incident, be it as a witness or the owner of one of the dogs to get into it. To this point, my experiences have been awesome. Jax is a social butterfly (which I already knew) but has impressed me far beyond my expectations, and yet we've also not enountered an overly aggressive dog with an ignorant or careless owner. There was a small scuffle the other day which Jax ran into late (dog entered with owner, had apparently been growling at everyone and everything, and Jax ran into it from across the park and caught the tail end of the incident) but the owner was smart enough that she put the dog on his leash and kept him off to the side for a short while before leaving. I spoke with her, she admitted she hadn't had the dog long and he was still new to socializing, and before leaving, he'd warmed up a decent bit.

I have already seen an owner or two that have been overly cautious, trying to break up their dogs at the slightest bark. And of course a trip during which 2 of the other 3 dogs there were being kept on a leash, which typically seems to only cause issues that otherwise may not start. Of course, the dogs wanted to play, but being kept on a leash sitting still in the middle of the park doesn't help.

Much of the issues I read on here and what little "problem" I've seen so far are more or less related to careless or uneducated owners and sometimes a dog that has no business being where it is. I see the issues and likelihood of such happening, and I'm really just waiting for it, but the concept of dog parks can be a good thing in the right setting (relatively educated owners, dogs that aren't overly aggressive, not an overly packed park of owners/dogs, etc). It just so happens, the ideal setting rarely comes together completely.
 

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Me too, I used to frequent dog parks but was frowned upon in one bc my Izze when she was younger was 'too rough' , guess cattle dog play is too rough for most ppl & their dogs lol. I never thought of doggy play 'sizing each other up' but I guess in some cases it is.
 

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The layout of the dog park is really critical, as is the purpose of people going there. A simple fenced area where entrances/exits are not segregated from view of the dogs already in the part, with people who are going to stand around and chat, drink coffe, and watch their dogs play Thunderdome -- that's a terrible idea, I agree. It's just setting things up for conflict.

Having said that, parks on substantial acreage that are designed for people to walk/hike through with their dogs instead of congregating/milling have very few problems IME. I'm very lucky to have two such parks nearby me and I've been using them for about 6-7 years without incident myself and only hearing about 2-3 incidents of fights leading to injury through the grapevine. You have to be smart about it... Pip is the only one who is suitable to go (Squash maybe someday, but he's not ready yet and Maisy sometimes bullies other dogs so she's out), I try to stick to weekday mornings or weekends before 8-9 am, and I know all the "back" or lesser used trails.

So... It's very nice to have someplace to take an off leash hike, that's why. But I realize that the dog parks I have available to me are somewhat of an exception design-wise.
 

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No more dog parks for me!!! Too many experiences of dog owners who somehow think that their aggressive dog should be allowed to stay in the park, and all the concerned owners should leave. Might as well just not go in the first place.
 

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Also, it seems most of the cases of dogs getting hurt/killed at the dog park are puppies and toy breeds. How often do you hear "My adult lab was killed at the dog park yesterday"? I never have. Yet you often hear "My 4 month old puppy" or "my yorkie" or "my chihuahua" was killed at the dog park. Well every dog park will suggest against, or flat out have rules against, bringing dogs this small in with the big dogs. Would you let your 6 year old child play tackle football with high school kids? Well that's basically what you're doing.
I agree. This drives me nuts. Our dog park is of the "thunderdome" variety and the rules specifically say the minimum age is 4 months, but at least twice every weekend I see people with 10-12 week old puppies -- inevitably TERRIFIED -- and they never want to hear it when someone points out the sign with the rules posted.
 

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Herders, good point on the people standing around. I didn't think to mention it but I've quickly noticed it at our park. The big and small area together are a long rectangle, though the small dog park is a square up in the top corner, so the large dog area is a narrow stretch at the entrance, then opens up to 3x the width and a much greater depth. Well, people like to stand around in the narrow area not far from the entrance, and it often becomes a cluster with dogs and people, and I find myself calling Jax while in a back pedal, getting him to chase me out of the mess. Another dog or two will come with him and suddenly the situation is much better.

And I have to laugh at the comment about lab. But so true. Yet to see a "my 80 pound dog was killed." Yes, I know such incidents occur between large dogs and that injuries happen, but yes indeed, most of the severe ones being posted involve a small dog. Fortunately, in the short time our park has been open, so far owners with small dogs have been intelligent. We've had small dogs in the big dog area, but I've yet to see a real issue, while I have indeed seen owners either wait till the big dog area cleared out before bringing their small dogs over (to play with their own larger dog) or small dog owners taking their dogs to the small area when the big dog area began to crowd.

I'm sure something will eventually change my mind, but so far I've been impressed by the people I've encountered. New park though, and the first dog park in the county...the ignorant folks probably don't know of it yet.
 

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Herders, good point on the people standing around. I didn't think to mention it but I've quickly noticed it at our park. The big and small area together are a long rectangle, though the small dog park is a square up in the top corner, so the large dog area is a narrow stretch at the entrance, then opens up to 3x the width and a much greater depth. Well, people like to stand around in the narrow area not far from the entrance, and it often becomes a cluster with dogs and people, and I find myself calling Jax while in a back pedal, getting him to chase me out of the mess. Another dog or two will come with him and suddenly the situation is much better.
We have the same problem at our dog park. It's 26 acres of hiking paths and open fields. Yet people still congregate and stand around the entrance...
 

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Yep I'd love to have a park available like Sassafras has but as far as I know there aren't any near me. Only the "thunderdome" types. Jubel actually did pretty well in the thunderdome situation overall I just couldn't deal with the ignorant people anymore myself and stopped going. The parks nearest to me that I visited are also just one fenced in area, no small and large dog sides. Fortunately I never witnessed any major issues due to size discrepancies but the risk was surely there. Most issues involved dogs that weren't suited for the dog park due to fear or aggression problems or dogs playing too rough with dogs who didn't like rough play and the bully's owner not stepping in to stop it.
 

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I haven't had a lot of experience with dog parks. . .there's one in the town my parents live in, but it's rarely occupied, and usually if someone is already there, the newcomer will wait until the other person leaves. It's just a large fenced area, which is nice for people with tiny/no yards and dogs with iffy recall. The fenced ballparks in my town are used the same way; fortunately the city hasn't put up any "no dog" signs (yet).

I agree that "thunderdome" type parks are a bad idea. And that off-leash-dogs-allowed hiking areas are a great idea. State parks don't allow off-leash dogs, and those are the ONLY hiking areas around here (hard to find forested areas in corn country :p). I would love to go hiking with my dogs. As it is, if I want them to be able to run off-leash, I'm stuck with walking them along minimum-maintenance public roads.

But. . .I guess I think that anything can be good or bad, depending how you use it. And there's risk in everything you do. I don't know if typical dog park use is an unacceptable risk, I suppose that depends on the dog and the owner.
 

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I don't know if typical dog park use is an unacceptable risk, I suppose that depends on the dog and the owner.
Yep, and on the park itself. If it's not several acres that allows us to walk around and spread out it's not worth the risk for us. For us the dog park is for our dogs to run around off leash, they can socialize elsewhere.
 

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maybe part of the problem is the lack of education and monitoring these parks provide. i am a very strong supporter of one of the newer parks in my area. yes the design isnt the best, but they are run solely on donations from people, the town does not pay for it. never the less they still have ran seminars with "dog park etiquette" and "canine behavior" themes to help people better understand what is going on, and also have had social gatherings so that us as owners know each other better and can speak openly. i have NO issues telling someone they can not come in because their dog is not neutered or telling them to leave because their dog is behaving inappropriately. i have seen many people come in with a young pup who is scared in the large dog area (i dont care if it IS a german shepherd pup, its still a pup) and i kindly tell them "i manage a dog daycare and i am a dog trainer, why dont you try taking your pup to the small dog side to gain more confidence before bringing them over here" and assuring them that its very common that their pup be scared, and tell them WHY this will benefit their dog. instead i see so many people rudely say "your dog shouldnt be here", which doesnt help anyway because then people are offended and end up in dog parks that are not well monitored or give up on socialization completely resulting in other issues. even if you arent a trainer or anything, try saying "hey i know a good trainer who said to try this..." or "my friends dog had the same problem and they did this.... and it helped a lot!". i have made myself well known at the dog park, and there is a big reason why!

in addition even in dog daycare thats well monitored by trained staff, we still have fights that occur. so you cant blame dog parks for that. the difference is at a dog park i wont grab someone elses dog (usually... it depends on the situation) if there is a fight, i protect my own dog, though she tends to go the opposing direction from a fight. at work, its a different ballgame. yes, i grab the collars. for me there, its a matter of "do i get bit, or do i let a clients dog get bit?" and i would rather be bitten. and yes i know there are sooo many different ways that you can break up a dog fight, but at work its a knee jerk reaction and i have to look for the fastest route to break it up.... especially when 30 other dogs have swarmed in around it....
also people dont generally mix up dogs "sizing each other up" and play.... they mistake bad play for good play, or they mistake good play for bad play (usually just because its too vocal) and discourage their dog from interacting as they should. in addition lots of reprimanding dogs for giving other dogs good warning that they are irritated, resulting in suppressing those behaviors are triggering a fight sooner. also i dont see many dogs size each other up... ever.... i have had dogs who cant stand the mere sight of another dog, even having never met them before that moment, and charge right into a fight... but they never take time to size one another up....
 

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^^^ good point on people punishing their dogs or pulling them away for getting a local vocal. I've witnessed that maybe twice now, once being this morning. Jax, my 60 lb husky mix, was playing nicely with a puggle of decent size and some other small-ish dog. There was more sniffing than playing by all 3, but in any case, the puggle got snippy with a little bark from time to time. Every time the owner would pull him away and give him a stern little remark or simply comment about him. I saw no harm in it, he was being friendly otherwise, but was voicing his opinion when enough was enough at times. Some dogs get vocal. Mine doesn't hardly ever, but if he's trying to play too much with a dog that doesn't want to go as far, and he gets a little snip or gets barked at, it's not a bad thing. Not all barks are aggression, but not all owners realize that or want to believe it.
 

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We have no dog parks around here; I think I'm glad now that I know a little more about them. We have gone to a local fenced in ballfield with friends and their dogs but that's it. My Boone is weird with some dogs so a dog park is no place for him. Our Brittany ginger hasn't been to the ballfield because it only has a 4ft tall fence, which she could easily hurdle.
 

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The other thing that helps, I think, is that one of the parks (the one closer to me that I use more often) requires a paid permit and the closest parking is pay parking. Both are a nominal yearly fee but it tends to weed out casual or spur of the moment users. Sure, people show up without permits - but once the city park and rec department (who is in charge of the dog parks in my city) realized what a cash cow that was they started doing random permit checks and it has fallen off considerably. So most of the people (and by extension their dogs) are pretty experience dog park goers. That makes a huge difference.
 

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Ive Always had 2 or more dogs ,So they always had each other to play with.
Right now I have a 1 year old very playfull Rottie , and a 16 year old very tired mixbreed.

Out of curiosity I took a ride to the local "Dog Park" to see what its all about.
Its actually just a 200 x 200 ft chain link fenced area of dirt...and not much of a park.

There were about 7 dogs running around having a great time , they seem to be very playfull ,
and the owners all knew each other. So we chatted and I watched the dogs playing . It was great.

and then a guy showed up with 2 Boxers... The woman I was talking to suddenly said "Okay..Its time to leave".

The 2 Boxers charged into the group of dogs, and they played and ran around with the other dogs for a while...
and then the 2 Boxers tried to mount every dog in the park...over and over.

I knew right then why the woman suddenly left the park with her dog..She knew this Guy with the 2 Boxers was a moron.
and soon after that..All the other dog owners took their dogs and left as well.
 

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We used to frequent dog parks when we lived in colorado. We never had a lot of problems, but my dogs are great about staying close to me. But we saw our fair share of fights between dogs and thankfully they never ended in anything bad. Where we live now there are no dog parks and its at least an hour drive to one, so it is not worth my time. We have hiking trails here at the lake we go on weekly and our yard is so huge my dogs are never in need of a big place to run. When we go visit friends in KS we will take our pack to the dog park there before heading home, that way I know they are fully tired and will sleep the whole trip :) So far we've had good experiences at that one, but we've only been there a couple of times. As a rule I try to avoid them as much as possible anymore
 

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I agree with Sassafras. We have several parks, but the only one we go to is a 9-acre fenced wooded park. There is a path around the perimeter and one down the middle. When you walk into the park, you have to pick a direction and walk. Without this park, my setter would be imploding with anxiety. This is her only opportunity to get out, run and stalk critters. It is very important to her mental well-being. It is a risk I take, but I'm not careless about it. I go when it's quiet, or I don't go at all.

Most dogs are busy walking, with a little play in the mix. There are small incidents, which have grown in number ever since the park was advertised by the county, but I am always reading the dogs. When I don't like what I see, I turn around and go in the opposite direction, or pop into the woods, until the dog and owner leave. One owner normally meets me there. Sometimes, she thinks I'm a little over cautious.

I like the added element of having a path that forces you to pick a direction and walk. It tends to weed out those who just want to dump their dogs and sit. It also sets up an environment that promotes a more productive and peaceful setting, where most dogs are not posturing and challenging each other.

It's darn near impossible to govern dogs and owners. The majority of the ones who stir up trouble, simply don't get it.

I feel that parks have to better designed and owners need to be educated on etiquette and body language. Maybe part of the solution is membership with a mandatory seminar.
 
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