Training Dogs for Urban Living

“Why Don’t You Let Her Off the Lead so They Can Get on With it” : Why We Support the Creation of Dog Parks…But Would NEVER Go to One!

A few weeks ago I was out with some clients on a bootcamp session. In case you don’t know, our bootcamp is a pack of 10 1-hour sessions and this was their 8th session. The dog was a 3-year old Cocker Spaniel named Shelley with fear aggression. At the first session in Shelley’s bootcamp, if another dog came into view, her body would go stiff, her head low, and she’d hide behind the owner’s leg. As the other dog would draw near she would growl, bear teeth, and eventually lunge to the end of the lead barking and biting the air as the dog passed her. The owners were very distressed by her behavior and had taken to muzzling her and doing anything they could to avoid seeing other dogs.


At the start of her bootcamp we introduced Shelley to clicker training. Not surprisingly, she loved it. Most dogs love clicker training, it’s just a big game to them. So we began by building Shelley’s confidence up by clicker training her to perform a variety of simple things including sit, down, heel, look (meaning, look at the handler), come, paw, rollover, simple retrieves etc. Once Shelley was successfully executing these commands both at home and on walks without other dogs present, we began taking her to parks where we would see other dogs and doing the training there.

Shelley did beautifully. By her 5th session she could perform every one of her commands even with other off-lead dogs about 5 feet away. But she was still uncomfortable with dogs touching her and sniffing her hind end so we did 2 full sessions focused entirely on getting her to tolerate other dogs at this close range. All we did was go out with Shelley, a clicker, and a pocket full of treats and engage her in some of her favorite clicker exercises. When dogs came up close or sniffed her we’d typically ask for her easiest command, “look” and then click-treat her for successfully executing that. Again, Shelley was a champ and by the end of session 7 she was keeping her focus on us and ignoring the dogs who sniffed her.

So that brings me to the story I really want to tell you about what happened on our 8th session. We were out at the park working with Shelley early in the morning. Initially there were no dogs present. Then, in the distance, we saw an owner being dragged to the park by his Jack Russel Terrier. The instant he entered the park he immediately unhooked the lead from his dog who proceeded to charge at full speed right at Shelley. Normally this would have triggered her aggressive display but Shelley kept her cool. We asked her for the “look” and she obliged. Click treat. Then we asked her for the “heel” and she obliged. Click treat. Then we asked her for the down-stay and once again, she obliged. Click treat. All the while this Jack Russel was chasing her and circling her and assertively sniffing her bits and barking. He just wanted to play but of course Shelley did not. She tolerated him, but it was obvious she was going to be relieved when he left her alone.

The Jack Russel was not quite this forward, but pretty close to it!

The Jack Russel was not quite this forward, but pretty close to it!

After about 4 minutes of being chased and barked at and followed by this dog we had all had enough. Shelley had done an incredible job. She performed every command as asked and never once gave even a hint of her aggressive display. I asked the owner of the Jack Russel if he could please recall his dog. He replied “what’s the matter? just let them have a play, that’s all he wants.” To which I responded “I understand but she doesn’t really want to play with him and he won’t leave her alone.” The Jack’s owner was not impressed. He replied “what do you mean she doesn’t want to play with him? They’re dogs. Why don’t you let her off the lead so they can get on with it?”

This guy wasn’t getting it, so I said “look, my dog has issues with aggression. She has tolerated his sniffing and pawing and barking for 5 minutes now. All I am asking is for your dog to leave us alone.” The Jack’s owner mumbled something unflattering about me and then began calling his dog, but of course, his dog did not recall to him. So he started chasing his dog shouting more and more loudly for him to come. Then, and this was really rich, the guy blamed US for his dog’s failure to recall by saying “have you got treats on you? he’s never going to come away if you’ve got treats on you!”

Can you see where I’m going with this story? Do you think it was fair of me to ask this man to remove his dog after 5 minutes of being hounded (pardon the pun)? Was it appropriate for his dog to charge at us full-tilt and accost my dog for 5 minutes? Should an owner allow his dog to run up to strangers at the park? Was it my fault his dog wouldn’t recall simply because I had treats in my pocket?

The fact is, there are two types of dog owners out there: people who come to the park, unhook the lead, and want to let the dogs do as they please, and then there’s the rest of us, who don’t want to be accosted by every other dog at the park. It is my belief that the etiquette should be as follows: if you or your dog want to meet my dog, you ask ME first! And If I say I no thanks, that my dog doesn’t want to play, you make sure your dog does not pester us. For the people who disagree, who think that all dogs should be able to run up to every other animal and person at the park and we should all just tolerate it and “let them get on with it” I support the creation of dog parks.


To be clear on terms, a dog park is an enclosed outdoor space, usually a section of an existing park, that is specifically designated for the off lead exercise of dogs. Personally, I hate dog parks. What you find there are people who have no control over their dogs who are just looking for a place where they can go, let the dog off lead, and ignore him while he does as he pleases. There are always plenty of fights at dog parks because frankly, letting dogs “get on with it” is a generally terrible idea. But here’s the thing, there has to be a place for all these people who want to do this, who want to unhook and then ignore their dogs, and they should NOT be allowed to do this in the park at large. It is not fair to people who do not want to meet their dogs.

So let’s create dog parks. Let’s have the etiquette in regular parks be that you have to ask an owner first if it is ok for your dog to approach theirs, and if they say no then you are obligated to keep your dog away from them. And for everyone who doesn’t want to interact this way, no problem, go let your dog run up to and accost whoever he likes AT THE F*CKING DOG PARK!


  1. Harley / April 17th, 2014 at 12:22 am

    That was hilarious, great picture, that is one way to get over a fear. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Maureen / April 27th, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Just so you know there is a yellow ribbon campaign that tries to tackle this issue exactly. The yellow ribbon means this dog needs space for a variety of reasons: in training, recovering from an operation, arthritic, nervous around other dogs, etc.

    Have a look and might make sense to get a yellow ribbon to indicate to people that your dog needs some space because they’re in training:

  3. Magalie / May 8th, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I don’t agree with you. You don’t want your dog to play with other dogs/your dog display aggression toward other dogs? You don’t want to meet other dogs? Don’t go to a freaking dog park! It’s what they are there for. Off leash dogs playing with each other. If you just want to chill around alone with your dog, just go to a regular park or a wooden area and stop annoying people that really have a use for dog parks.

  4. Nicole / May 9th, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Magalie, I think we are saying the same thing actually. Here in the UK we do not have “dog parks” and many trainers oppose their creation. I am a rare exception who supports the creation of dog parks in the UK for exactly the reason you describe. People who want their dogs to play together should use them, and the “regular park” should have a different etiquette where dogs only interact if the owner has first agreed to it. So I think we actually agree on this issue.

  5. iwona / June 1st, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    I like your post. It is a fact that not all the people bringing dogs to the off leash areas had their dogs trained first. There are also some very irresponsible people that are bringing their females in heat or groups of dogs that surround, intimidate and or chase single dogs. I personally like dog off leash areas, as it is good place to provide enough exercise for the dog and the owner. Owners though should understand that good training is a must before releasing dog off leash

  6. Sam / August 17th, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    hahaha this pics make me smile :)

  7. Mia William / September 28th, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    How to quickly introduce your pup into your home and avoid the mistakes that new dog owners make

  8. England and Scotland Information on Wiki / October 1st, 2014 at 4:25 am

    Yourr method off explaining everything in this piece of writing is really nice, every one can efforylessly know it,
    Thanks a lot.

  9. Laura Brill / November 19th, 2014 at 12:05 am

    As the owner of a rather boisterous and playful dog myself I am all too aware of the problems such dogs can cause for other owners and their dogs. I personally am always very conscious of this when walking my dog and always make a point of being aware of what my dog is doing, where he is and who else is also in the park – it’s about respect for others really. However, I know that not all dog owners share these sentiments and I have on occasions encountered the kind of dog owner as described above!

    I enjoyed reading about your experiences with clicker training as I too find it to be a very effective method of training which dogs enjoy. I provide some useful tips on how to clicker train your dog on my own dog training website

    Great pic, by the way ;-)

  10. Ray Lewis / January 19th, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Dog parks are vital.
    I lived in NYC with a dog for ten years, and the dog run in Thompson square Park was a daily activity. In a city like ny, all the owners know each other, dog have all, for the most part acklamated to this social situation. Most have grown up in this city pack. Sounds like a dog like yours who has issues with aggression is the odd one out with social problems that you should not inflict on others. What if your dog had the capacity to cause great injury to the dogs, and with its “aggression” issue? Would the jack Russell be to blame, or your dog with anti social problems? Think about it.

    • Nicole / January 20th, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      I think we mostly agree here Ray, dog parks are vital. I know the Thompson square dog run and it is a great place with many responsible dog owners who frequent it. Here in London we do not have dog parks like the one in Thompson square, we just have regular old parks. Imagine if everyone in NYC with a dog went to Central Park and just let their dogs off lead to do whatever. Imagine you were walking a dog on lead in Central Park who would only bite if relentlessly pestered for minutes on end. That’s what we have here in London. The dog referenced in this article generally wears a muzzle because that is the only way to be absolutely sure everyone will be kept safe, but it’s not entirely fair to her. She only gets aggressive if she is rudely and relentlessly pestered. If we had proper dog parks, then I could take the dog in this article (who has no interest in playing with others) to a regular park, keep her on the lead, and be assured nobody would bother her.

  11. Hannah / April 8th, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Great post and i agree with a lot of it. There are so many inconsiderate dog owners who think that letting their dogs behave however they like is their god given right! I do have a very friendly but rather boisterous dog and for that reason am careful where i let him off and always check with the owners to see if he can play first. However i would like to see a dog park for well mannered dogs! Whilst my dogs recall is brilliant in pretty much all situations he does have a very high prey drive and i find it near impossible to call him off from chasing a squirrel or rabbit. This severely limits where i can let my dog off the lead safely and i would really value a place where i can let my dog off lead, knowing he couldn’t get into danger if a pesky squirrel did appear. Not all of us are fortunate to be able to afford land /big enough garden to let your dog have a good run safely off lead! I appreciate this is a training issue but even Jean Donaldson acknowledges that the chase drive is the hardest to control and shes a world class trainer!

  12. Folkner / May 17th, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you, great article about dog’s training. I found more about obedience training specifically here:

  13. Sam Ivy / May 22nd, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    haha I understand your frustration. I once took my brothers dog to the park (an aggressive Staffordshire bull terrier) and a hyperactive bull mastiff ran over and pestered her. Rio certainly didn’t appreciate a dog the size of a baby horse running over and acting crazy. The owner was so far away they couldn’t even hear me when I shouted for them to recall their dog.

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  16. Tony Cruse / April 5th, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Love your website by the way. One of the best in this industry!
    Regarding the blog…could requesting Shelly into a down-stay when a ‘scary’ JRT is chasing at her be a potentially fearful place for her? Would it be better to give her the choice to move away?

  17. nick parkinson / May 30th, 2016 at 3:55 am

    She was brilliant to tolerate that dog so well done for the training. We have 2 very big fields 6,8 acres to rent by the hour starting at £6.00ph. Totally secure with 6ft fences and covered by cctv. No distractions like the parks just you and your dog to chill out. water and poo bins

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  23. Dog Beds / January 24th, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Well done to Shelley for keeping her cool – Can’t believe the man could be so insensitive!

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