Activities & Enrichment Dogs Life at Home

Unleashed: Keep Dog Play Areas Safe And Fun

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It’s a reality that not everyone wants to hear: Not all dog parks and dog beaches are for all dogs or for that matter for all people.

Here’s what I mean. I recently visited a dog beach, and one particular Mastiff was taking advantage of his size, acting like the beach bully. He bulldozed other dogs as he ran, intentionally pushing them over and sometimes chasing them. A small dog might have been seriously hurt, though luckily that didn’t happen.

The Mastiff’s owner was watching her dog but somehow viewed this behavior as acceptable.

When she did nothing about her dog’s behavior, one person became so irate that he took matters into his hands and hit the dog to stop him. Mayhem ensued. Some dogs became stirred up and began to bark. Others were visibly upset, running to the opposite end of the beach.

Clearly, no one should punch a dog for a myriad of reasons.

That said, none of this would have occurred if that Mastiff were never taken to the dog beach. Sad as it may seem, dog-friendly areas aren’t for all dogs. I don’t blame the dog, though, unless he put on his own leash and took his owner to the beach.

The result might have been worse. While there were no injuries, there clearly was some degree of emotional distress based on the dogs’ response to all that was happening. One dog was so frightened she tried unsuccessfully to jump the fence.

Life isn’t Fear Free. In life, for people and dogs, there are doses of fear, anxiety, and stress. Most people and animals can deal with it, but some individuals have a more difficult time bouncing back, especially if there are repeated occurrences.

Dog parks and beaches allow for socialization and for exercise. In urban areas, for many dogs, such places may offer their only opportunity to run. Few things in life are as awe-inspiring as a Greyhound running at full speed or as joyous as dogs rolling about or playing tag. Just watching dogs at play entices endorphins in our heads to do a happy dance.

When it’s the right mix of dogs, there’s no doubt that dogs benefit–as people do–by socializing with others.

Sniffing the ground where all those other dogs have been is canine heaven. Not only are they learning about other dogs, but also about squirrels, chipmunks, and other critters that may be using the same space when dogs aren’t around.

Exercise is healthy for us, and that is no different for dogs. About half of all dogs in America are overweight or obese, and most are under-exercised.

Dog park etiquette requires people to pick up, but sadly not everyone pays attention, and some don’t even care. Signage about picking up is found at nearly every dog-friendly place, and some even provide poop bags. And still some don’t pick up. (That’s where you come in, and politely point out that there is no magical “poop fairy” who does cleanup.)

The best thing you can do if you take your dog to a dog park or beach is to be at the park or beach with your dog. I mean really be there; participate with your dog and always be watchful. You know your dog, but you don’t know the other dogs. If there’s a beach bully, move away; only you are responsible for your dog’s safety.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant) has written and contributed to many books about pets; host three radio shows, contributes to Veterinary Practice News, CATSTER and others; is on the Board of Directors of the Human Animal Bond Association and Winn Feline Foundation, and is Chief Correspondent Fear Free Happy Homes. He speaks at conferences worldwide. His blog:

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