Off-Leash Dog Parks

Off Leash Dog Parks can be very controversial,  with behaviour, etiquette or incident, topping the list.


Questions about off-leash dog parks…

“How do I deal with an overly aggressive dog”?
Engage with the owner to take control of their dog.

Call your dog, clip his leash, remove yourselves asap.
A dog on a lead in these parks can become a target, be very controlled as you move out. Concentrate on your dog, do not make eye contact with the offending dog.

“Why does my dog not defend himself when approached by a dominant aggressive dog”?

Think about the temperament of your dog, if he is shy and passive, he knows he doesn’t stand a chance. If he is dominant and pushy, you can rest assured, there will be a confrontation.

Don’t allow other dogs to rush or bully your dog, step in, take control, you are his pack leader.  You will do more damage than good by staying. One negative incident at the dog park, can stay with your dog for years, his temperament will change overnight.

“Do I just let the dogs work it out for themselves”?
Absolutely not. You are your dogs pack leader, you need to be pro-active at the dog park, pack leaders stand tall, take control and protect. Learn to read your dog’s body language along with all the other dogs.
Dogs that approach with tail held high, hackles raised, walking slowly, making eye contact, do not have play on their mind. This dog will ‘t-off’, [put his head over the back of your dog], if no one steps in, a fight will erupt.

Does visiting the dog park enrich your dog’s life?
With the right mix of low energy dogs, responsible pack leader owners, a clean poop free park, it can be engaging.

Does visiting the dog park decrease your bank account?

Dog fights are very expensive! Do you have insurance?

Does visiting the dog park burn off energy?

When owners don’t walk their dog daily for a time appropriate to the dogs age, the answer is no. Dogs with energy to burn, will be waiting for the afternoon to roll around to recharge their batteries at the park. If you take too long preparing to go to the park, your dog may start to whine, bark, pace, cavort and carry on in a super excited state.
By hurrying up and taking him to the dog park in this state, you are rewarding the whining pacing behaviours.  When the lead is unclipped at the dog park, his excess energy is at an all time high, you’ve given him freedom, no structure, no control, he can do as he pleases. His energy level is hightened as he engages with the other dogs. Don’t believe for a moment he will listen to your commands, let alone come when called!

When dogs run in an off lead park, they instinctively establish themselves as a pack, each dog will have rank [pecking order]. If the owners of these dogs are not pack leaders, things can get out of hand very quickly. If your dog is new to the park, or hasn’t been for some time, he may be classed as an intruder. Instead of your dog playing and socializing, he may be caught up in territorial aggression.

Problems at dog parks arise when owners do not engage with their dog. You need to know where your dog is at the park and be forever watchful toward the other dogs, un-neutered dogs can be very territorial and bossy.

Puppies should not go to off leash dog parks. One pounce from an adult dog, and you’ll either have yourself a very fearful puppy or a very aggressive puppy, this will remain with him forever. He could also be seriously injured.

Rescue dogs / shelter dogs / newly acquired dogs, should not go to an off leash park. They were surrendered to the shelter or organization for a number of reasons. By taking them to these parks you will create a very nervous anxious dog. Again, aggression can rear it’s ugly head, because of fear, they are not ready, some of them will never be ready to go to these parks. Many of our clients feel they are doing the right thing by taking them to be socialised,  this is definitely the wrong move, you are far better off, taking him for a walk.


Tips for those of you, who must go.

Walk your dog before entering the park. This will drain some of his excess energy.

When you are pack leader of your dog, he’ll listen.

Step up your leadership role.

Don’t enter the park if he is whining and carrying on, wait until he is settled, don’t give in, stand your ground.

Give him a sit/stay/ok command before you unclip the lead. Don’t raise your voice, in an attempt to get him under control at the gate, you will not only excite him, you will have every dog in the park, waiting to pounce on him as he enters.

Work on your basic obedience skills, especially your ‘recall’- come and ‘drop’.

Dog Parks are here to stay, let’s put some structure into the process for all to enjoy.

 written by Lee Hettiger

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