Sunday, March 24, 2013

7 months - Dog Park

I know there is a lot (a lot!) of controversy surrounding dog parks. I'm not sure if more so among the greyhound community or if it just feels like that since I get most of my dog talk from the greyhound community. I know many people with greyhounds will not go to dog parks. Some hounds are too high prey to risk running with smaller breeds. I know many others though have a fear of their hound getting hurt or attacked by another dog. That is a very valid concern because it is possible.

When deciding if going to the dog park is right for you and your dog you need to first ask yourself one very important question: is your dog a good dog park dog? Be honest with yourself. We are all biased and think our dogs are the very best, but for everyone's best interest it is important to for a moment distance yourself from your feelings for your dog and just look at the facts.

1. Is your dog high prey? Being higher prey might not be the death of your dog park dream. Some dogs are high prey with squirrels and rabbits but are good with small dogs. So you need to further ask yourself how your high prey greyhound does with small dogs. If he views them as prey while both are on leash or while the hound is leashed but the small fluffy is set loose then you have a situation where your dog might mistake a running small dog as prey at the dog park. Even if your dog seems fine with running fluffies it is very important to exercise caution with a higher prey hound if smaller breeds are present at the dog park. You may not be comfortable with him running with dogs under 20 lbs ever.

2. How does your dog react to other large breeds? Does your dog ever exhibit aggressive tendencies towards other dogs? Remember that dogs don't have to love all other dogs. We don't love all other people and that's okay, but how does your dog get his message across? Does he just walk away? Does he correct the other dog briefly and move on? Does he actually attack other dogs? Is he fearful of other dogs? Fear is the number one cause of "aggression" (growling, snapping, biting). If your dog is fearful you should probably consider finding less stimulating places to socialize him with other dogs before trying the dog park.

Let's use my own dogs as examples.

Summit is extremely low prey. He does not chase any sort of creature outside on walks or in our backyard. We have had a rabbit run right out across our hiking trail, virtually under Summit's nose, and he barely even looked at it. He gets along very well with small dogs. He is a very large dog so actually playing with a small dog might not be advisable just based on size differential. He is extremely husky aggressive and can never be allowed within more than about 10 feet of a husky before he starts growling and trying to lunge. We have worked on this with him so that now I feel comfortable walking him on trails and can call him back to me to leash him up if I see a husky coming, however, I would NEVER want him loose in a dog park with a husky. Other large breed, dominant males tend to cause some confrontation. Often after a lot of posturing, snarling and air snapping it is worked out, however I do avoid large males if I see forward set erect ears and a tail held high and stiff. He has a tendency to get competitive when he runs with other dogs.

Kili is low prey. She does well with rabbits and cats indoors. I haven't had much opportunity to observe her with outside prey as it has been winter. She loves all other dogs, large and small. She tends to come into meets cautiously and submissively, often with her tail tucked (but wagging furiously) between her legs, on bent legs. Once she has determined that the other dog is friendly and wants to play she goes bananas playing with them, jumping on them, and wrestling. She certainly does not incite aggression with her body language.

When we go to the dog park I try to see what kinds of dogs are there already before I even get out of the truck. If I see some large dogs or huskies I bring only Kili out of the truck. I let her run around and get playing first, which also gives me time to get a sense of the energy and personalities of the other dogs there. If there are no huskies and I feel like there are no large males with overly dominant personalities I go back to the truck and bring Summit out. I bring him in on his leash (but no tension because one dog being on leash can cause them to feel defensive, you'll have to determine how your own dog is with this). I let him meet the other dogs. If things go well I turn him loose and keep close verbal control of him. For the first couple of minutes as he gets to know the other dogs I do not allow him to sprint. That is overly stimulating which can cause problems and I also don't have as good verbal control other him. If he starts trying to run hard I call him back to me. I reward him, ask him for some easy behaviours and then release him. I keep a VERY close eye on the "IN" gate to make sure we don't get surprised by a husky.

Some days Summit never gets out of the truck. If the energy isn't right or there is a husky present he just has to stay in the truck. It's a little sad but that's just the way things have to be to keep everyone safe. Ultimately going to the dog park is a personal choice. Yes, there are risks. You need to be vigilantly watching the interaction and the new dogs coming in. If a dog has a play style that makes you uncomfortable, leash your dog and leave. All of this might make dog parks seem really scary, but if you have a good dog for it and you are always vigilant it can be so much fun. Here's Kili today at the dog park, just to prove that sometimes dog parks aren't so bad!

A rare shot of Kili BEHIND another dog.
Rare shot of Kili standing still. She's turning out to be a beautiful dog!
Kili's favourite game... chase me!

Some great running photos... I just wish she didn't have all those shaved patches in them.
Kili and her buddy Colby

3 puppies. 7 month old greyhound, 6.5 month old Golden, 6 month old St. Bernard

What happened to my WHITE dog?
Who's at the gate!?
See? Sometimes the dog park IS all fun and games!


jet said...

I think maybe the negative dog park experiences come from parks that are too small and overcrowded. If a park is big enough then dogs should be able to get some separation from each other if they don't get along. Sometimes Bender gets attacked and harrassed by other dogs just for ignoring them. We just move to a different part of the park and it's not a problem.

Barbie likes to be chased. Sometimes she can be a bit 'in your face' trying to incite other dogs to chase, doing high speed close passes. There is always the possibility that a dog might nip her if they find she is a bit too rude. I always reprimand her for those kinds of close passes and she does it less and less nowadays. She is quite content to run laps alone if nodoggy wants to play.

All in all dog parks, or dog off leash areas have far more positives than negatives for us. If I had a non-social dog then of course I wouldn't take it to dog parks. Not sure if I could really fit a dog like that into my life though because I like to take my dogs out with me wherever possible :P

Apex Agility Greyhounds said...

I LOVE the dog park and I am so glad I now have a good dog park dog. Summit is not a very ideal choice. I have to be extremely vigilant when I take him and that's exhausting. Kili is just such a joy to take.

When there are too many dogs that's usually when I grab my dogs and leave. I don't like there to be more than 5-7 dogs. More than that and no matter how large the geographical area I don't like the chances of the dogs acting like a pack. It's one thing to pull 3 or 4 dogs off another dog and quite another when there's 15!