Rethinking Dog Parks

dogs retrieving together

My post last week on Dog Parks caused quite a stir, with 47 comments, a rather bizarre swipe of most of the post by someone who lacks the courtesy (or the courage?) to link to what he parodies, and more retweets than I could count.

The incident I had heard about on twitter that lead me to write the post also became a blog post itself.

A few people got caught up in the particulars of what I listed as potential problems, so let me summarize: my main objection is that oftentimes you don't know what you will encounter in a dog park.

Most of the people that disagree with me seem confident that they do know what they will find at their local parks. Since I offered, as alternatives to dog parks, ways to insure that you do know what you will get, this makes perfect sense to me. If you are lucky enough to live near a park that is predictable, that's great. I don't, and based on many of the comments I'm apparently not alone.

Many dog park proponents described concerned and conscientious people meeting at the park for managed playtimes. Others shared what I have witnessed: out of control play with inattentive owners.

In my area a dog park is a fenced area, usually part of a larger municipal park, that is set aside for dogs. It may or may not have separate entrances and exits. It may or may not have inner gates to prevent easy escapes and door-dashing. It tends to be quiet during weekdays and over capacity on evenings and weekends. It's a public park, which means anyone can go there with any dog and rules enforcement is irregular at best.

Maybe I painted dog parks with too broad a brush (and maybe a few people painted those of us who do not like dog parks with a similar brush...but I digress) based on my experiences of public dog parks at peak times. But the fact that I am seeing them at their most crowded times also likely means that what I see is what most people see.

Wandawoof described a members-only park in Illinois. That sounds great! As soon as a fee is introduced, you keep out the "poseurs" as Wanda put it. A membership also gives you an effective way to enforce the rules that a public park lacks. I pointed people toward day care and privately run playgroups for similar reasons: broadly speaking any fee, regardless of who charges it, weeds out many of the human bad actors, and a "velvet rope" gives the people running the place a way to be even more discriminating.

I never meant to say that all day care or training facilities are good - that's why I said that the facility should evaluate the dogs and allow you to observe what is going on. (It was in bold in the previous post too.) There are quite a few excellent day care facilities near me. Maybe that's a product of the lousy dog parks?

I also concluded with saying that playing with other dogs is not required for a dog to live a fulfilling life, right after I referred to dogs playing with people instead. It's interesting, and a little sad, how a few people latched onto the latter and let the former woosh right on by.

Many of the comments indicated that a more "productive" approach would be to tell people how to conduct themselves at dog parks, rather than just telling people to avoid them. But here's the problem: what do you do with someone who's dog doesn't belong there? Someone who leaves their dog unattended? Someone who just plain refuses to follow the rules? At what point does going to the park to have fun become going to the park to get annoyed (or be annoying)?

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