When I started research for the first edition of my book, The Dog Lover’s Companion to California, there were just a handful of fenced-in dog parks in the entire Golden State. I raved about these parks and gave them a four-paw rating and lots of space in my book, because they were so dog-focused, so safe from cars, and mostly so unique.
Fast-forward a couple of decades to 2012 and the seventh edition. The world has gone to the dogs. At least the U.S. has. There are thousands of these dog parks across the country — hundreds in California alone. I’ve had to rein in the descriptions to the point where some are as short as three sentences, and have removed dog-friendly events from the book because there just wasn’t enough room for everything. (The book is 1,006 pages. Big enough!)
Along the way, I’ve had mixed feelings about dog parks. Most people and dogs thrive in them, and they’re huge social outlets for both species. People can take their dog for a “talk” instead of a walk, and the dogs generally seem to enjoy sniffing each other’s tushies and chasing each other around with abandon.
But I’ve seen more than my share of problems at dog parks as well. It’s an occupational hazard when you visit hundreds of dog parks for your job. When a lot of dogs share a relatively small space where they can’t get out, and where people often aren’t paying attention, it can be a recipe for trouble.
There aren’t that many dog parks I’ll take Jake to by choice if lots of other dogs are around. As big and affable as he is, when he enters a park, he seems to attract every dog (not uncommon) and they tend to surround him and try to be dominant on and around him (not so common). It’s like he has a sign saying, “Hump me, guys! And come growl at me, too!” These days, if I’m going to check out a park that’s full of dogs, I don’t bring Jake.
During my visits to dog parks with and without my canine assistant, I’ve seen a lot of happiness and real joy. There’s nothing like watching a dog tearing around gleefully, with her tail high and a smile on her snout. And most of the people who use them are friendly and extremely responsible. They’re invested in their park try to make sure everyone is safe. If there’s a problem, they deal with it.
I’ve also seen my share of the not-so-good side of dog parks: Aggression, smaller dogs being trampled (shaken, not badly injured, thankfully; dog parks with a section just for little dogs helps this problem), and owners who ignore any bad behavior or anything their dog does at all – including pooping.
It can get downright ugly sometimes. Dogs have died in dog parks. Last month, a Siberian husky allegedly killed a Chihuahua at a fenced dog park in Ohio. Dogs and people have been bitten in dog parks. People have even become physically aggressive with other people if they felt their dog was getting a bad rap about something.
A writing colleague and I have plans to meet tomorrow, and when she found out I have a dog, she suggested we meet at a fenced dog park halfway between our houses. Our meeting is to be in the morning, but that’s doggy rush hour — not a great time for an dog magnet like Jake. So she and I are leaving the dogs behind and grabbing breakfast instead.
But it got me to wondering what you guys think about dog parks. Do you use them? Do you avoid them? Have you had great experiences, terrible ones, or both? Please share your stories. Let’s talk!
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