Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dog Park Responsibilities

Calgary has many dog parks; some are great while others leave a lot to be desired. For city living they offer our canine friends a chance to run, smell, play and explore without a restricting leash. However dog parks can be very dangerous and lead to behavior problems in dogs. Here are a few things you need to know if you are a user.

The City of Calgary has bylaws that include having your pet licensed, picking up after your dog and keeping your under control. However officers are rarely around and under control seems to mean different things to different people.

You can’t control other people or dogs but you can do a lot to protect yourself and your dog while using a park.


1.      If your dog has a history of aggression then stop using off leash parks. Contact a reliable and educated dog trainer and work on the issue instead of hoping “socialization” will solve the problem; it won’t.

2.      Make sure your dog has strong obedience skills this includes a recall away from dogs, other animals, garbage, toys and people. This isn’t a “your dog comes sometimes” but your dog comes every time skill. If your dog can’t do this then please go to a training class and stop letting Fido run free. Recall is fairly easy to train so just get to work and you’ll be enjoying the park in a much safer manner. If you call your dog and he/she doesn’t come then immediately go get him/her. Standing there and hoping your dog will change its mind will not solve the problem.

3.      Carry a device to break up a dog fight or attack. This includes an air horn (they come in a variety of sizes and you can pick one up at Canadian Tire) or spray shield. I carry these even for on leash walks and they work on coyotes as well. Only use if there’s an actual dog fight.

4.      Do not bring a dog to the park if he/she isn’t feeling well, has an injury or is in season. This isn’t fair to your dog and he/she would prefer a shorter walk or an on leash smelling adventure instead.

5.      Don’t let your dog maul other dogs. Just because your dog is a puppy and wants to wrestle or mount other dogs doesn’t mean another dog is going to appreciate that. Dogs often have a lower tolerance for this as they age and some dogs aren’t comfortable playing until they know/trust the other dog. Respect this and recall your dog.

6.      Remember to take breaks during rough and wild play sessions. Sometimes two dogs meet and they are having a great time racing around and wrestling. Wonderful. It’s still a good idea to occasionally recall your dog back to you for a few seconds break, reward them for coming and then letting them play again. This keeps your recall strong and also allows the other dog to decide if he/she still wants to play.

7.      If you are bringing children with you to the dog park it’s important to remember that not all dogs are safe and bite prevention measures need to be in place. Teach your kids how to greet dogs safely and always ask before petting. Do not allow your child to run around wildly screaming or caring toys (especially dog toys). Just because you trained your dog doesn’t mean someone else has. Keep your kids safe since they don’t know better and it’s easy for an overexcited adolescent dog to knock them over.

8.      Keep your dog close to you. If Fido is across the park you can’t do anything if something goes wrong. A good recall is great but remember you have to be nearby if your best friend gets into trouble.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Leash Aggression? But he’s fine off leash!

I’ve had a fair share of owners who are confused by their dogs on leash behavior. They often begin by telling me how much their dog likes other dogs and does great at the park playing with many strange dogs of all breeds, ages and personalities. Then they mention that their perfect pup turns into a murderous demon when the leash is on.

Alright so what’s actually going on here?

Let’s start off with what leashes do. They restrict our dogs from normal, social body language and put up a barrier to interaction. This is often for their own safety and compliance with leash laws but there are side effects. Just adding a barrier for some dogs creates a frustration response (barking, lunging, lying down) which can escalate into aggression over time.

For some dogs they are fine on leash with other dogs until their owner tries to pull them away. The feeling of their collar tightening is enough to trigger an “attack”. A dog’s response to this can be anywhere from barking, growling, stiffening to an actual bite with injury.

So now what? While this problem can be prevented through focus, heeling and a good leave it cue you’re probably not reading this because you have the perfect puppy.

1.   A good rule for most dogs is to restrict dog greetings to off leash only where your dog can have freedom of communication and movement. I expect my dogs to be working for me when they are on leash and when they are off leash I’ll tell them “Go Play” which signals they can do as they wish. This also makes handling them at busy dog shows and expos easier as they don’t think it’s play time whenever they see a dog.

2.   Walk on your dog on a harness like the Easywalk harness by Premier or Sensation harness. Even a good step in harness will improve things from a collar.

3.   Keep on leash greetings to less than 5 seconds and teach your dog to keep walking when you call his/her name which will allow you to get your dog to come when called without a tight leash.

4.   Keep your leash loose during any and all dog interactions. Tightness in the leash will increase the chances of a problem.

5.   Participate in a group dog training class where dog social skills are worked on or an activity like rally obedience where your dog will learn to focus on you and not pull on leash around other dogs.