Dog parks are a good idea, but they’ve been wrecked by irresponsible humans. That’s the response by an overwhelming majority of readers commenting on a recent story. Last week our resident veterinarian, Dr. Eric Barchas, wrote “What Is Up with Irresponsible People at Dog Parks?” citing bad behavior by inconsiderate and negligent dog owners in the Bay Area. He asked Dogster readers to share their experiences.
In 175 comments as of Monday afternoon, most of you agreed that negligent, inattentive, or otherwise irresponsible dog owners (as well as some professional dog walkers) were to blame. Others cited poor park design and inadequate space. Conversely, several readers said the dog parks near their homes are great places to visit. A couple of others reported problems, but said that trips to their parks were worth the risk.
Most all the problems cited could be traced back to humans.
“Here in New York dog parks are just as bad, in my opinion,” wrote Madelyn. “Unfortunately owners here are seemingly preoccupied with other things and are NOT paying attention to their dogs. They’re usually on their cell phones or so busy chatting with other dog owners. It’s like they’re not even there.”
JudyNC said bad interaction among people is a problem that goes beyond dog parks: “We have become a society where it has become ‘My way, or the highway.’”
Reader Handvolldackel said it also goes beyond the U.S.: “It’s not even an American problem, I’m in Germany and I have just the same problems with dog parks: Irresponsible owners who insist their dog ‘just wants to play,’ ‘is friendly,’ ‘won’t do a thing’ while their Labrador is chasing my shrieking Dachshund. You can’t educate these people and tell them ‘No, actually, humping is not playing.’”
Small versus big dogs — and respect for associated areas — was the subject of many complaints.
“I used to love going to the dog park,” wrote Elisa, “but I eventually had to stop going. People wouldn’t control their dogs, dogs sometimes fixated on my dog and the owners would be in a huddle, not even looking in the direction of their dog. … I was in the part specifically designated for small dogs, and the owner of a white Pit Bull insisted on bringing her dog inside, even though many other small dog owners asked her not to because their small dogs are afraid of larger ones. She was adamant that her dog did not get along with large dogs, and her dog proceeded to pounce on and push around many of the little dogs present.”
AnnG cited some professional dog walkers as troublesome: “A big problem in San Francisco … is that the professional dog walkers are unregulated. There are more dogs than children in San Francisco, but it is an expensive city to live in, so most couples each work — hence the need for pro dog walkers. There are some open areas were dogs can be off-leash, be it parkland, beach, or wooded. One of my dogs has been attacked in such an area by a pack of unmanaged dogs. I had to throw myself over her to stop it, hoping my parka would protect me if it came to that. (It didn’t.) The dog-walker, who had her 5-year-old daughter with her, was useless and later tried to say my dog started it.”
Some readers said they’ve encountered problematic people, but it’s a matter of reading your surroundings and knowing when to take the risk.
Writes reader Ace’s Mama: “Ace and I are satisfied consumers of San Francisco dog parks. We have no other option because we do not have a backyard, and Ace requires more exercise and mental stimulation than a leashed walk around the block. I have encountered the same characters Dr. Barchas describes, and am similarly appalled. However, what are my alternatives? Is it better to live under a rock but be safe, or to go out and have experiences but place yourself at risk?”
She admitted that when encountering “unsavory canines and their owners, sometimes we do need to leave.”
Paul Brady was among readers to bring up the subject of design: “I would love to see a discussion of dog park design. Indeed, not all parks are created equal. I too would hesitate to put my dog into one of those small, featureless, fenced-in … things. However, we go to a multiacre wooded setting on the Mississippi. Paths, trails, activity, and motion minimize the concentration of pups. … Bad design is a huge factor in the bad rep of dog parks.”
A reader named Darbi described a good dog park, albeit in an unusual situation: “Our dog park is fairly new, two years, and all volunteer-run and -funded. We take great pride in the way that so many people volunteer to help keep it up. … Maybe it’s because we are a smaller community, and we have waited so long for this park, that it works. Plus, we all stay with our dogs. Any aggressive dog is asked to leave, same with unneutered dogs. We have a list of park rules and they are being followed.”
A reader named APH cited an example that demands even more involvement from people who use the park.
“One of the best dog parks I’ve been to requires that owners pay an annual fee and have a license specifically for that park,” APH wrote. “It’s beautiful — it’s huge, has great big trees, mulch and grass, and a little jungle gym type of feature that dogs can run under and over, and is well maintained by the park service. The park service checks for tags often enough that it keeps the owners honest. I think the annual fee serves as a filter, and it weeds out a lot of irresponsible owners who would rather go to a free park and check their phone or chat with other people than pay attention to their dog.”
Two readers reported having mostly good experiences at the dog parks near them.
“I go to a great one in Tigard, OR,” wrote Dennis Brooks. “It is the Ash Avenue Dog Park. There are rarely any real dog issues here.”
Brooks says 99 percent of people are well behaved, but “when the 1 percent rears its ugly head, I take my Sissie and go home. There is always later or tomorrow.”
Added Natasha Rene’e, “I have to say that I love our dog park. It’s a huge space with lots of trees, access to water, … and lots of soft mulch on the ground. They also have a separate area for the small dogs to play. We’ve been going for a couple years now and have had no problems. The people are all pretty responsible about watching their dogs. No one drops their dog off and leaves. The dogs are all pretty well behaved. … I’m actually shocked to see people have had such bad experiences.”