“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!
- Posted on April 1 2014
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.
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!