Monday, February 14, 2005

A SUPER Dog Park Website in Ontario

I found a website from Ontario that has a page that says just about all the stuff that I've been saying about dog parks for the last couple years about how dogs should relate to each other - and how our fair city's dog owners are stuck so far up their own ass-holes that their dogs aren't allowed to even look at each other anymore. I found the site absolutely refreshing and emailed the president of the group to say so. She emailed me back to say thank-you. I love it when I find confirmation of what I think and believe - because I know that my dogs aren't bad dogs - and my #1 concern is safety for everyone and my #2 concern is for them to have fun. It seems that everyone else's concern for fun for their dogs is about #500. But I may be saying that because I've been in a generally bad mood. But anyway - the website is for a dog park in Waterloo Ontario and the page is specifically at

Here's the text of the page. It's brilliant:

In order to improve your enjoyment of the Leash Free Park (LFP) we have put together the following guidelines.

It is up to park users to negotiate amongst themselves their comfort level of their dogs' interactions within the LFP.

We all love our dogs and that is why we take the time to go the LFP. Some people appear to be more protective of their dog than others and this is usually the result of conflict between dog owners. Apparently, the conflict amongst dog owners is HIGHER than the conflict amongst the dogs. Some dog owners may or may not have a sound level of understanding dog behavior. Therefore, it is up to the individuals to decide what they are comfortable with when it comes to their dog's interaction with others in the park.

We acknowledge that at the extreme end of the continuum, some of these behaviours will be considered unacceptable by dog owners as they may lead to injury or spark defensive/offensive behaviour in other dogs. However, we stress that this is up to the owners to negotiate the level at which they are comfortable with these behaviours, because most of the time, such behaviours are normal, and sometimes necessary.

Charging - Dog or dogs quickly race up to single dog. If your dog is charging, you should do your best to call him back. If your dog is charged by another, don't panic-it will take some time for the dogs to establish their new place in the hierarchy, given the newcomer.

Mass greetings - No, we are not talking about taking your dog to church although some dogs are angelic and others seem devilish. New dog enters the park and two or more dogs approach to greet. Many dogs are uncomfortable with this type of welcome. Some will receive it in a submissive manner, choosing to roll over, lower their head, submissively urinate etc. Others will just stand and tolerate it. Some will try to run away resulting in a chase and unfortunately a few will behave defensively, which could result in the new dog snarling, snapping, growling or even biting. As a courtesy, it is recommended that you recall your dog and temporarily distract him from the new dog.

This is most often likely to occur at the gate. Dogs do not like enclosed places. As such, the park itself, and the gate in particular, will promote territoriality. Please do not encourage your dogs to greet others at the gate, and please do not stand by the gate-KEEP MOVING, DO NOT STAND IN ONE PLACE.

Humping - For some dogs, humping is part of their play and mutually acceptable to owners. Some owners however are offended by this, more so than the dogs. If it is not mutually acceptable, do your best to separate the dogs. If the dogs return to each other to continue play, this may indicate they are both happy in their play.

Dogs hump for the following reasons; to mock behavior seen in other dogs, because it feels good, to gain higher ranking, due to hormonal responses and/or because it is self-rewarding or has been inadvertently rewarded by their owners. Some dogs may have hip problems and cannot cope with the added weight, therefore they react in an unpleasant manner. Regardless of the reason, humping can trigger unwanted behavior and again, as a courtesy, you should interrupt your dog's humping actions. You will notice that some dogs continue to hump (the air) even after they have been pulled off the other dog. This is because humping is involuntary, just as your heart beats.

Posturing - Some dogs will stand tall over another dog always trying to keep their head over the other's body. Hackles or guard hairs may rise up between the shoulders and may even extend down their back. The tail may be stiff or may be wagging in short but fast left/right movement(jerky kind of movement or no movement at all, just straight and stiff). (wagging tails do not always mean happy tails!) The ears may be forward (confident) or may be back (fearful). Do NOT interfere with this communication. More often than not, human interference will result in the two dogs engaging in a fight that likely would not have happened otherwise. Stand back and happily call your dog away if you are uncomfortable with it. If you don't permit your dog the opportunity to establish himself and communicate with other dogs, you will leave him in a state of conflict whereas he will not know where he stands. If you interfere with this behaviour, you ris placing your dogs in conflict, and dogs in conflict are the most likely to fight. 'Alpha type' dogs NEVER have to fight. Lower ranking, submissive dogs will not fight and often, but not always, not even try defend themselves. Overall, most dogs really do not want to fight and the majority of conflicts rarely result in injury.

Smaller dogs being carried by their owners- Simply put, it is like dangling bait. This usually results in dogs wanting to nip at the dog being carried. It is not recommended that you carry your dog.

Play biting - This is a common form of play and is necessary. It helps puppies to establish a soft mouth. Adult dogs engage in play biting as well and most of our domestic socialized dogs will have a soft mouth and not result in any harm. If you are not comfortable with your dog engaged in acceptable play biting with another dog, that is unfortunate (for your dog) but it is your right to cease your dog's interaction and leave the park. Humans use their hands to touch, grab, feel etc. Dogs use their mouths.

Rejecting other dogs - Barking, snarling, snapping, body movements, growling, raising lips etc are all forms of communication that dogs use to relay messages to others. A dog that is barking, snapping (the air but towards another dog) and or growling is communicating his demand that the other dog leave him alone. There is nothing wrong with communication. If you reprimand the dog for 'communicating' you are essentially teaching them to skip the talk and just engage physically(shoot first ask questions later). If your dog is being rejected or 'told off' by another dog, it should be your responsibility to call your dog away if YOU are uncomfortable with it. Your dog needs to learn to respect other dog's space and learn its boundaries. o

Finally, please continue to move in the park. Dogs standing still, with the owners will begin to feel more territorial about their area.

It is one of the most often misunderstood and incorrectly used words in the K9 vernacular. There are over a dozen types of aggression and this label is best left to experts in Canine Behavior to assess. If your dog endures an injury, as the result of an altercation with another dog, and it requires medical attention, it is your choice if you choose to report the incident to the City of Waterloo. THIS IS A "USE AT YOUR OWN RISK" PARK-IF YOU ARE NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THE RISKS OF DOG INTERACTION, PLEASE RECONSIDER YOUR USE OF THE PARK.


Isn't all that brilliant? I bloody love it!


  1. Melissa, Bear, and Trixie9:38 AM


    Thanks for this. I wish everyone that goes to a dog park would read it. As the "mum" of a "humper", I am tired of having owners give me a hard time about it. I try to be careful about when I go to the park, if I do anymore, because I am tired of hearing "he/she doesn't like that". If the other dog doesn't like it, the other dog will take care of it. I have had other dog owners try to pull my dog off and try to tell me that my dog is dominant. You've met Bear -he is definitely not dominant, just a total goof-off.

    Again, thanks, as this in particular is a pet peeve of mine.

  2. A good example of a reasoned and knowledgeable view of dog behaviour.

    I was just telling my husband that I quite like my role as calm, non-reactive parkgoer. I run into all kinds of dog behaviours, that are usually preempted or followed up by the owner's apologetic excuse.

    Today, for example, I saw a Goldendoodle (a mutt) lying in wait for my dog and I to pass by on the trail. I was busy trying not to break my neck on an icy part of the trails and, having some expertise in dog behaviour, I didn't even bother to look up when I heard what was clearly the 'doodle bark, snarl, and charge my dog.

    I wasn't the least bit concerned because my dog is perfectly socialized. I have zero concerns about her safety, because I ensure she meets dogs of all different temperament types. She knows how to respond in a way that won't elicit an aggressive response from the other dog. Other dog trainers have commented, "Look at how well-socialized she is!" when they see her turn her head or take an easy step or two to the side, to avoid a charging dog.

    The best part of maintaining a well-socialized dog is the ease with which I enter new situations. She can calm excitable dogs and placate fearful dogs.

    Getting back to my story, I was still expecting the Looney Tunes theme to play as I gingerly made my way over the slippery path, when I heard the Goldendoodle growl/bark/charge again. I glanced up just to check on my dog, but immediately went back to checking my footing.

    Then, the 'doodle growled/barked/charged about a foot away from me, when I was just about to slip down an icy slope. I said, "Hi Sweetheart. Give me a minute."

    Then, when I got back to safety, I started towards my dog, who was further along on the trail. That's when the owner offered his apologetic account of his dog's (harmless) if-not-commonly-misunderstood behaviour. "Oh, he gets a little intimidated when he meets dogs that are larger than him."

    I just smiled. I then welcomed his dog when it ran up to me, and said, "Go chase my dog! Go get her! Chase her! Go on."

    The other dog's owner finally smiled.

    I like being able to provide an environment that is free of blame or guilt. Having practiced this many times, one of my favourite phrases is the one I used today. When a dog owner seems a bit embarrassed or upset by his/her dog's behaviour, I welcome that dog and suggest it go play with my dog in some way. "Go chase my dog, please." seems to cut the tension nicely.

    If I had any advice for people going to dog parks it would be this:

    * You are not your dog, nor are other people their dogs.

    * If no blood has been shed, it probably wasn't serious aggression.

    * Anything you can do to make the park-going experience better for others will probably also make it better for you and your dog.

    Finally, I consider public off-leash parks to be a vital part of maintaining a good canine citizen. If your dog can't go to a leash-free park, ask yourself why, and if the answer is [honestly] conducive to being a good canine citizen.

    Thanks for posting these dog park guidelines, Joan. All parkgoers should read it.

    - Marjorie

  3. Boy Joan, you've been at this for a long time.

    This is a marvellous statement about dog behavior.

    All the best, Sybil

  4. Anonymous8:47 PM

    Hi Sybil - thanks for noticing!