Dog Parks Used to be a Fun Place, What Happened?

Remember when dog parks used to be a fun place to take your dog?  I still remember the day when we got the go ahead to take our dogs everywhere.  They finished their puppy vaccinations and had healed perfectly from their spay and neuter surgeries.  The littermates were now ready to be introduced to the dog park.

Rodrigo got car sick on the way, I got lost even though the dog park is just down the road from our house, and the dogs were read for an adventure.

It was fall, it was sunny and warm, and there were only a handful of dogs at the park.  We walked through the double gates, took the leashes off our puppies, and let them explore.

Keep the Tail Wagging, Kimberly Gauthier


Rodrigo’s reaction – he immediately got low to the ground (his hunting stance) and watch the dogs; my guess was that he was checking everyone out and deciding who he was going to interact with first.  He took to the dog park like a fish to water and had a grand time.

Sydney’s reaction – she was walking in and sniffing everything and failed to notice the welcoming committee (which included two Great Danes) bearing down on her.  When she did notice, she turned and ran, crying, to me and at the last minute figured that I wasn’t capable of protecting her and ran around me and straight to my boyfriend.  She never did warm up to the dog park.

We were there for an hour or so watching Rodrigo play and keeping Sydney close (she was mostly interested in the senior dogs).  When the park became too crowded and our puppies were starting to wind down, we leashed them up and headed home.  They slept until dinner time.

We went back the next day.

That was 3 years ago.  Today, we don’t go to the dog park.  EVER.  It’s off our list of places to go for a laundry list of reasons…

Rodrigo was attacked.

The winter following our introduction to the dog park, I took the dogs on a snowy afternoon, thinking we’d have the place mostly to ourselves.  They were having a grand time until an older black dog attacked Rodrigo as he walked by and he leaped into my arms.  That was his first negative experience with another dog.

The owner apologized and shared that her dog isn’t socialized so she only comes to the dog park when no one is around (because that helps with socialization?).

After this interaction, Rodrigo slowly grew into this “I’m not taking your crap” type of dog, aka, an alpha.  This required me to step up, because it’s my role to protect the pack, not his.  But with so many other dog owners who aren’t alphas in their family, it became difficult for me to monitor Rodrigo and his interaction with other dogs while keep an eye on our two other dogs (until mid October 2013, we had 3 dogs).

Untrained and unsocialized dogs and humans.

Another thing we noticed over the 2 years following our first experience at the dog park were the number of dog owners who used the dog park as the sole means to socialize their dogs.  I can understand the misconception; I used to think that this was the best place to socialize your dogs too.  But if you have a puppy, going to a crowded dog park is like tossing a non swimmer into the deep in of the pool and shouting SWIM FOREST, SWIM!!!  If you have a senior dog, a crowded dog park is equally overwhelming.

We were encountering fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, and aggressive dog owners.  The day a man threatened to kick Sydney and I turned around and threatened to make him choke on my foot (yeah, I kind of have a big mouth), was the day when I realized how dangerous dog owners can be; the dog park can be overwhelming for all of us.

I know you know that your dog just took a crap.

And you have to chuckle at the person who either choose to ignore that their dog has assumed the position 15 feet to their left.  Another thing that became common are the people who inform the rest of us that (1) I don’t like to pick up dog poop, (2) that’s too far away, I’ll never find it, or (3) forgot my dog poop bags (this despite the loaded dog poop bag dispenser at the entrance).

Dog poop happens.  I’m not a fan of it either, but it’s part of being a dog owner.  What I don’t like I stepping in (or our dogs stepping in) someone else’s neglected pile.

Toddlers at the dog park just sounds like a bad idea.

And the final reason why I stopped taking our dogs to the dog park are the families who brought their kids.  Initially, I thought it was a great idea (can you tell that I don't have kids?), because they're socializing their kids with dogs.  But then I saw a kid reach out to grab a stranger's dog, I saw another kid knocked on the ground as a group of dogs chased each other, and I saw a parent flip out, because of an "aggressive dog" that was just wasn't used to children.

I was terrified that my dogs would unintentionally hurt someone's child so I walked away.

I know that my experience with dog parks isn't shared by everyone and I envy people who go regularly without incident, but it's no longer a fun place for us to go.

Do you still go to the dog park?

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  1. Sheryl says:

    I went to a park three times.
    The first time my dog was trying to tell me she didn’t feel safe. An owner inside the gate had her pit on a leash. As I went in with my dog she said her dog didn’t like little dogs and proceeded to UNLEASH her dog who immediately went after my dog. I was able to get mine out in time.

    The next time was a year or so later. I went and had the park almost to myself and everything was fine.

    The next time everything was ok for 30+ minutes. Then an owner of a Great Dane came in. It attacked my 14 year old 35 lb dog. Long story short, fighting broke out. Two of my dogs had to go to emergency, I was bitten and went to the ER. And that one 4-minute act of aggression on the part of the Great Dane cost me $10,000. in medical bills for me and my dogs. My old girl survived, barely.


    Kimberly Gauthier Reply:

    Sheryl – that is awful. Although we’ve dealt with aggression, we only had one vet visit and it cost less than $100. Wow!!! I’m so sorry. It’s too bad you couldn’t hold that dog owner responsible for those bills.


    Sheryl Reply:

    Actually I was extremely fortunate. It’s an amazing story. I had three witnesses who saw the whole thing and assisted in getting the Great Dane off my 14 year old (Twice – the owner didn’t hold on tight to his dog the first time we got it off and it came in to maul her again!) I was bleeding profusely from a bite, so one gal drove me in my car and all my dogs to the Animal Emergency. Then drove me to the hospital. I had to be admitted overnight due to my deep bite wound. Then they kept my other dogs overnight, fed them, bathed them, picked me and my wounded dogs up and drove us all home the next day! This was a park in Boulder Cty. and they are very serious about aggressive dogs. The owner and his insurance company didn’t want to settle so we went to court. My witnesses testified and were so rock solid about the unprovoked attack that a judgement was made in my favor. I eventually got reimbursed. I had never met those women before. They were like three angels placed providentially in that park that day.


    Kimberly Gauthier Reply:

    Thank you so much for sharing that, Sheryl. I love stories that remind me that there are good people out there. They went so above and beyond that I’m just blown away. Such a great ending 😉

  2. Ania says:

    It is very sad to see how irresponsible some people are> I would love to take my dogs or dogs i’m taking care of to dog parks but hearing all the stories just scares me. I may know my own dog, it might be the best trained dog but I can’t trust owners of other dogs who are inconsiderate of others. I hope one day we will have dog parks where all the pups can play and have fun together.


  3. Kimberly Gauthier says:

    I agree, Ania – that’s the one piece that I didn’t consider when we first started going to the dog park. You can only count on yourself and your dog. Not on the actions of others.


  4. Kimberly Gauthier says:

    You are so lucky, Alicja!!! I wish we had more great ones near me. We do have a lot in Western WA, but most are too far away.


  5. Andrea Luty says:

    My dog got attacked one time, and owner removed dog immediately and others said that it was very surprising. My choc lab is very laid back, never submissive and enjoys humans more than dogs. My problem, is that she would get sick after going to park a few times. so then on meds, then we would go back and she would get sick again. My concern became that not all owners make sure their dogs have all their shots and if sick, put on meds and kept from park. So no more park for me. I also read a horrible story about toys left at the park (not ours) were poisoned and the rest is history, so again no dog parks for Roxie.


    Kimberly Gauthier Reply:

    I’ve heard stories of poisoned toys and meats at our local dog parks; just another reason for us not to go, because we have three dogs that will swallow something before we realize there was something available to eat.

    So sorry about your dog being attacked.


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