Tails of Terror

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would share some doggie horror stories.  Unlike most haunting Halloween tales, these ones are all true.  They are all true Tails of Terror at the Dog Park.  I truly love the concept of dog parks and have been to a few in other places where everything seemed to be going very smoothly.  However, I have seen too many bad situations at the parks in my area to feel comfortable taking my dogs to them.  The really bad situations may not happen often, but when they do it happens fast and there may be no time to react to prevent disaster.  Too many people at my local parks are too busy chatting to watch their dogs, and often prove to be oblivious to what their dog’s body language is saying when they are bothering to observe.  It is like allowing young children to go unsupervised to play at a park where teenage hoodlums are hanging out!  Here are just a few of the experiences that have led me to swear off my local dog parks.

Hell’s Hound
It was a beautiful spring day and I decided to stop by a local dog park to see if it was a good time to give my little terriers a chance to run.  This park is usually quiet during the day, and this day was no exception.  There were just two other little dogs romping around the park and my pair happily joined in.  After a few minutes of blissful romping, a couple showed up with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  As they entered the park, one of the dogs was staring at the running small dogs and moving very slowly.  I warned everyone that the dog was acting predatory towards our small dogs.  I scooped my two dogs up and left the park before the Ridgeback had a chance to approach.  The other owners felt I was over reacting and allowed their dogs to continue running around.  As soon as the Ridgeback’s leash was removed, she flew straight at the small running dogs and it was now obvious to everyone that my assessment had been correct.  Luckily, the small dogs were near their owners and came when called before the Ridgeback reached them.  The Ridgeback’s owners admitted that they had never had their dogs at the dog park before and that the dogs had never been around small dogs.  It hadn’t occurred to them that letting them loose in a large area with several small dogs running around wasn’t the best way to test their dogs’ social skills.  Luckily, no dogs were hurt.  That time.

No One Saw It Coming
At another dog park, people weren’t so lucky.  I wasn’t there so I can’t say exactly what happened.  Unfortunately, none of the people at the park seem to know exactly what happened either.  No one realized there was a problem until it was too late.  Whether that is because people were busy chatting and weren’t watching their dogs or because the owners weren’t well versed in canine body language I can’t say.  All I know is that one day at a very large and busy dog park, a little poodle was killed by a German Shepherd Dog.  This is the only dog park death that I have heard of, but once is enough to make me think more than twice about allowing my dogs to go to dog parks.  Besides, I have plenty of stories of injuries, like a client’s dog that was laying under a tree resting when a dog that had just entered the park made a beeline for her and grabbed her by the neck and started shaking her.  Both of these dogs were about 50 pounds, and my client’s dog required treatment at the emergency vet.

Tail of Terror

Another day at yet another park, serious injury was barely averted.  I saw a woman dragging a large, muzzled dog that was cowering and shaking into the park on a leash.  As I was headed that way in the hopes of heading off a disaster, I heard a gentleman telling her to take of her dog’s leash and muzzle and that everything would be fine.  The woman responded that she had to keep the dog leashed and muzzled because she was very aggressive to other dogs.  At this moment, a very sweet dog approached the muzzled dog very slowly and gently and giving lots of body language that said “I’m not a threat”.  The muzzled dog snarled and leaped on the greeter.  I told the woman that she needed to leave the park because aggressive dogs are not allowed in the park.  The woman told me that she needed to have her dog in with a pack of dogs to cure her aggression (thanks to the wonders of reality TV).  I told her that this was not a pack of dogs, it was a bunch of individual dogs that were gathered to play with other friendly dogs and that aggressive dogs were specifically banned from the park.  Dog parks are supposed to be safe playgrounds, not rehab facilities full of humans and canines unknowingly participating in the “therapy”!!  This woman refused to leave, which is unfortunate because this experience was seriously traumatizing to her dog, and was not going to be a quick fix for her aggression.  In fact, her dog was aggressing at any dog that ventured anywhere near her, and the other dogs were moving away in response to her behavior.  This dog was just being given another opportunity to learn that aggression is an effective strategy to keep yourself safe… and that her human could not be relied on to protect her.  I was also concerned about impressionable young dogs at the park being exposed to this dog’s aggressive responses to their very appropriate and friendly advances.  The whole situation really broke my heart.  This woman was genuinely trying to help her dog, but was in reality making her problems worse while also endangering the mental well being and potentially the physical safety of other people’s dogs.

Grabbing Goblins
Other dogs aren’t the only hazards at the dog park.  One day at another dog park, I stood up from picking up my dog’s feces (as well as some that others had left behind) to see a three year old child leaning over my 20 pound terrier with his arms reaching over Edgar’s head in the beginnings of a full body hug.  The mother was standing next to her child watching this happen.  Now, when I had knelt down to pick up the feces the child was in his mother’s arms and that was where he had been the whole time I’d been in the park.  I made the mistaken assumption that this parent was being contientious and would keep her toddler away from dogs she didn’t know.  When I yelled for her to move her child away from my dog, her response was that my dog had approached them, so she assumed it was OK for her child to visit with him.  EEK!  If I smile and say hi to a stranger walking past me on the street, that is hardly an invitation for the stranger to hug me!  Why do people assume that the fact that a dog walks near them and wags their tail that it is OK to hug the dog?!  I have also seen young children at dog parks repeatedly picking up other people’s dogs despite being told not to and seen kids grabbing unknown dogs by their collars.  Of course, I have also seen adults do the same thing without thinking twice.  I’ve handled enough dogs to know that a happy dog can turn into a biting one in a heartbeat if grabbed by a stranger.  And I’ve seen enough owners that are completely unaware of the messages their dog’s body language is sending to trust that the dogs at a park are guaranteed to be safe.  I can’t imagine what parents are thinking when they allow their children to grab at dogs they don’t know!  The repercussions for both the child and the dog if something goes wrong are both too horrible to think about.

Monster at the Gate

In my experience, though, the people at dog parks are generally more dangerous than the dogs.  Yes, of course the humans are responsible for the problems between dogs, whether due to inattentiveness or ignorance.  But it goes beyond that.  I have had to tell many adults, some of them more than once, to not feed other people’s dogs.  One person even brought treats to the dog park and wanted to hand them out to all the dogs for her dog’s birthday.  Turns out this isn’t really how her dog wanted to celebrate… she started attacking all the dogs that came near her owner as soon as the treats came out!  When working at an animal shelter, the police called us multiple times to report fights between owners at dog parks that started over disagreements about what behavior should be allowed by the dogs.  I recently had my own unfortunate experience with an aggressive human at a dog park, and it had nothing to do with the dogs!  I was walking 3 of my dogs at a park and decided to give them a chance to stretch their legs at the dog park.  Now, by this time I had completely sworn off dog parks, but there was only one older black lab wandering around the park so I decided to take my dogs in.  While I was in the double-gated entrance area unleashing my dogs, I suddenly heard the sound of a gate opening.  I looked up to see a man opening the gate to come through with his dog while I was still in the small entry area with some of my dogs loose and others still leashed.  I asked him to close the gate and he replied that he just wanted to bring his dog through.  I asked him to wait until I had my dogs in since it was a small area and I didn’t want to have my dogs in there with a fourth dog…. or unleashed with the gate open!  As I said this, I reached up to close the gate, and the man actually reached over and pushed me aside to open the gate back up!  Needless to say, I grabbed my dogs and left.  It was just as well, because as we walked away another man showed up with 2 boxer mixes straining on their leashes who proceeded to get in a scuffle with the dog of the man that had opened the gate on me.  

Now I really have sworn off my local dog parks!  In fact, I don’t plan to take my dogs into one even if the park is empty.  I have discovered that even empty parks aren’t really safe… one was recently closed for a week to be sanitized (I’m not sure how) after a dog that had been playing there was diagnosed with parvo.   Believe me, I don’t believe in protecting my dogs to the point where they have no lives.  They get to run off leash regularly at open space areas and have frequent playtime with other dogs I know.  I just don’t feel the need to put them in situations that have such a proven track record of being dangerous.

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