No leash dog parks
The big excitement these days regarding dogs and urban areas is off leash or no leash dog parks. Some communities, for lack of funding (for whatever reason), set aside an area and call it a ‘dog park’, when it really isn’t. An off leash exercise area for dogs, is just that, an off leash area. There is no fencing, very few rules, and certainly no supervision.
A dog park is a specific acreage, with a 5-6 foot fence, with appropiate gates at it’s basic level. The better dog parks have some trees for shade, benches for the humans, a water spigot somewhere, a dog waste bin and a sign clearly stating the rules. The best dog parks are run by dog clubs and require registration so therefore there is some supervision involved.
The best dog parks require membership to ensure all dogs that play in their dog parks, are vaccinated for certain diseases like Parvo virus, Distemper and Rabies at the very least. The Dog club provides education for dog owners, regarding training and socializing of dogs (and owners). These Dog clubs are run by members of the community, usually voted in by membership, like any other democratic organization. To find a dog park, I discovered typing in the query of off leash dog park near me, will give you a map with the positions of the various dog parks.
Our local city, after a lot of persistance from dog owners, set aside a off leash dog ‘area’. It is unfenced, unsupervised, and is sandwiched inbetween the community center (on one side), the outdoor horse ring for fairs (on the back end) and a new residential neighbourhood on the another side. The powers that be, put in a sign with some rules and a poop depot. Remember when I mentioned, no supervision?
This is a potentially bad idea! A no leash dog area like this relies on dog owners following the rules, relies on the dogs being well behaved enough to have a good recall, and well socialized enough not to start a fight with another dog. No one is checking on whether sick dogs are using this area, potentially contaminating the ground with Parvo virus or Distemper or other illness causing bacteria.
Dog Park Requirements
Number one in importance is vaccinations
Now I have mentioned Parvo Virus and Distemper a couple of times, some of you might not know exactly how damaging or contagious those diseases are. Click on the highlighted words and you’ll wind up in Wikipedia, which has an extensive description of those diseases. I have been told that to recover from Parvo, a dog owner will usually wind up with a vet bill of $800 to $1000 or more, if the dog survives. Distemper is worse, because if not caught early, the disease results in a dog that has a damaged nervous system and most likely will have to be euthanized later on from complications from this damage.
Puppies are the most vulnerable as it takes a series of three vaccinations in the first 6 months of the puppy’s life to give immunity for both these viruses. Mortality (death) rate is high, in both adults and puppies, but with puppies, the mortality rate can be as high as 90%! There are other illnesses that you can vaccinate your dog for, but are much less deadly, like flu viruses or Bordetella commonly known as Kennel cough.
Since flu viruses are always mutating, as they do for humans, I place very little importance on those shots. My husband and myself have never had a flu shot, not have any of our dogs or cats. I believe to receive regular shots for common mutating viruses like flus and colds, is counter productive for our immune systems. It is much better (from experience), to build up a strong immune system through the right foods, herbs and other supportive natural supplements, and life style.
Rabies, is another important vaccination, for dogs and horses that may be exposed to wild life like possums, foxes,skunks and racoons. There are vaccinations for humans as well, and if bitten by a rabid animal, a treatment called PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) is 100% effective, provided the person has had the vaccination. The treatment is expensive, generally costing several thousand dollars.From what I understand, if your dog is bitten by a rabid animal and has been previously vaccinated, the treatment following the bite involves another vaccination by the Rabies vaccine or using the PEP, and then quarantine. The quarantine is necessary in case the treatment does not work and your dog is contagious, otherwise the dog must be euthanized.
I hope you can see the importance now of vaccinating for Parvo, Distemper and Rabies, at the very least. Back to the subject of no leash dog parks or areas, taking a puppy that has not been fully vaccinated, to a public dog area is very very dangerous. Likewise, an dog with a compromised immune system from a previous illness or a dog that is struggling with or recovering from cancer, is very vulnerable to viruses. Alright, assuming your dog is vaccinated, what else do you need to consider before taking your dog to a dog park or off leash area?
Number two, is behavior and training
Is your dog reliable in coming back when you call, in an excited dog environment? Is your dog social, gets along well with other dogs? In other words, is your dog a lover not a fighter? You will find out pretty quickly in a group of excited dogs, whether your dog is social or not. For me, there are few events more frightening than to break up a dog fight. In all the many years that I have owned and operated a Pet Hotel (mostly with dogs), I have had to break up more than a few fights, two were particularily frightening. Due to quick intervention, none resulted in more than scratches and hurt feelings. Are you prepared to protect your dog from someone elses’ aggressive dog, or are you prepared to stop your own dog from hurting another?
Taking your dog to a un fenced dog exercise area, requires that your dog has a very good recall, meaning he or she will come back when you call. That goes without saying right?
The fact that there is no fence, allows other dogs who are passing through, perhaps strays or someone’s runaway dog, to interact with your dog, with no owner in sight. That has the potential to turn into a dangerous situation, both for you and your dog.
A fenced dog park, is not as safe as you think either.
Some dog owners, who do not have a good recall with their dogs, will take their dogs to a fenced dog park and just let them loose. Within a fenced dog park, if your dog decides not to obey your call, how are you going to catch him or her when it’s time to go home? My strong recommendation is first train for a strong recall at home, and then leave a leash dragging, a long one, while in the dog park. Your dog should prove to you first, that he or she will come when you call, before removing the leash. I used this method with any dog in my care, that showed a reluctance to come when called. Off leash trust had to be earned.
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Is your dog very possessive of toys,
to the point of being aggressive? If so, do not take any toys or balls to the dog park with you. Any other dogs in the dog park, that also enjoy chasing after balls and such, will naturally be attracted to YOUR dog’s balls or toys. It’s a lot easier to pull two little children apart who both want the same toy, than to seperate two ball or toy possessive dogs apart in a fight. Think about it. Are you prepared?
Of course, some one else may bring balls and toys for their dog, still creating a problem for you, if your dog decides to take them or maybe their dog is the toy possessive one. Again, are you prepared to seperate your dog in a fight? I have noticed that many dog parks have included that aspect in their rules, no toys or food allowed (for a good reason).
Number Three is operation of the Dog Park
Is there an organization in charge of maintaining the no leash dog park, regarding clean up and maintaining the surface whether it be grass or gravel? Every designated off leash dog area will have rules, usually clearly posted on a sign.It can be a simple sign for an unsupervised no leash or off leash area like the one on the right.
Of course, the success of the rules being followed, relies on each and every person that uses the dog area. There are always going to be people who think the rules don’t apply to them or their dogs. Bad apples in every barrel.
My choice for a dog park would be a park operated by a Dog Club, with a membership of dog owners that are committed to improving the lives of dogs in general. Most dog parks or dog areas are under the jurisdiction of the City or Town that that the dog park is situated in. Every city or town will have by laws that govern dogs within their jurisdiction, and will have a bylaw officer or animal control officer who can be called in. Most cities will require that all dogs using a dog park (or any public space) have to be wearing their Rabies tag and city license tag. Failure to do so, can result in a ticket being issued to the dog owner.
In Summary regarding no leash dog parks, my recommendation is if you intend on using one, make sure you and your dog follow the rules. Make sure your dog is healthy and has had the primary three vaccinations (Parvo,Distemper,Rabies) at the very least. If you are un sure of whether your dog is social with other dogs (and people), keep a long leash on him or her during your time in the dog park, dragging behind so you can grab it if necessary. There can be a lot of drama between dogs and people in busy dog parks, so keep vigilant. Your dog is depending on you to keep him safe, and other dogs need to be safe from your dog as well. Dog Parks can be fun places for dogs and their humans, but common sense should be applied.
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