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I’d rather be wrong

June 12, 2014

For many years now I’ve been advising all my Dialogue® students to consider all off-leash dog parks as very possibly a tragedy waiting to happen. I wish I’d been proven wrong.

Off-leash dog parks are a wonderful concept. I’ve visited them. I’ve watched the dogs there who are so happy to be free to run and play, to read pee-mail and investigate at will. But the very basic premise of the need for Dialogue® for dogs is that all dogs have, to some degree, anxiety which drives their behavior; and that without the help of Dialogue® to reduce that anxiety, all dogs are somewhat mentally unstable rather than peaceful. This translates into a tragedy waiting to happen at an off-leash dog park.

In just March and April of this year there were news reports of three incidents that, sadly, confirm my contention. In late March at an off-leash dog park in Missouri an 11-year-old Golden Retriever was caught off guard, as he sniffed the ground, by a Great Dane who attacked and killed him.  In April, at an off-leash dog park in the state of Washington,  a 6-month-old small breed puppy was chased and mauled to death by a large husky-type dog. The reports say the owner of the attacking dog failed to even apologize. Before April was even over, I read of a Papillon at an off-leash dog park in Oregon being attacked and killed by a large breed dog whose owner was not present with the dog at the time of the attack. Off-leash or not, dogs should always be under the supervision and control of their owners, but this does not always happen at these parks.

In discussing this issue with students, I explain it this way: If you knew of a children’s playground to which emotionally disturbed children regularly went to play in an unsupervised way, would you want to take your toddler to that playground? While I firmly believe that every one of those children is beautiful and deserves love and support, it would not be a place where I would want to take my toddler grandson for unsupervised play. Or consider whether you would feel good about your children attending a school with an open-carry policy about guns. Dogs all have their weapons with them at off-leash dog parks, and there are no background checks before they enter.

My point is, I would not feel confident of the outcome if I take my dogs to an off-leash dog park unless I could have long acquaintance with the other dogs that will be there. And that acquaintance is not possible because newcomers frequently come and go at these parks.

I can’t even imagine the trauma for the unsuspecting owners of these three dogs who were lost in the parks this spring. It’s heartbreaking. All dog owners can take warning from these tragedies and consider very carefully any visits to off-leash dog parks.

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