Where does your dog go when you have to leave him/her during the day?

16 May 2010

(Dog) Parks and Recreation

Cinderella (above) and I have pretty much been addicted to the off leash dog parks in my area. In fact, I didn't even realize how many there were in close proximity to where I live. Off leash dog parks seem to be getting more and more common throughout the US. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of dogs kept as pets in this country are city dogs, or suburban dogs at best. It is rarer and rarer for a dog to go to a home where he has ample space to run without a leash. For this reason, it seems that a little bit of guilt tends to motivate owners to take their dogs to off leash parks; guilt that their dogs are often cooped up in the house or crated most of the day while they work. In this regard, off leash parks are a dream come true for dogs and owners alike.

Attractions at dog parks vary. If your dog has a particular interest, chances are you can find a park that accommodates. Some have agility equipment set up, some offer fenced in wooded trails, some have access to water either by a beach, pool or lake.
Of course, where there are few boundaries, there is also potential for chaos. But as long as you follow a few simple rules, dog parks are fun and relatively stress free, even if you don't bring your dog! (Ok...maybe that's just me).

For starters, females in season or dogs that are not up to date on their vaccines are definite no-no's at dog parks. The same goes for dogs that have ever shown aggressive tendencies toward people or other dogs. Walking into a dog park with an unpredictable dog is asking for a lawsuit.

Most vets will administer the bordetella (or kennel cough) vaccine if you let them know that you plan on taking your dog to public places that other dogs frequent. But it may also depend on your area. The topic of vaccines has become somewhat controversial in the animal world lately, so be sure and run it by your vet to get their opinion.

Some parks have different rules than others. It's always wise to check the website of the specific park before you go, so you don't make a wasted effort. A good website for finding off-leash parks in your area:

Dog Fun Directory

Know your dog
An off leash park is not the place to experiment with your dog's temperament and behavior around other dogs. If your dog doesn't get out of your yard or neighborhood often, don't throw him into a situation where you're not sure how he'll react. Start by walking your dog in more public places, or taking him/her to some kind of supervised play group held by a training facility. A play group will have a trainer on staff who will be there to monitor behavior and break up any fights should they start, whereas at a dog park, you're on your own. Know what type of behavior is normal for your dog and get a sense for whether or not he would be comfortable and safe for others at an off leash park. It's also helpful if you feel confident that you can control your dog. A reliable recall and a trusting relationship goes a long way when it comes to letting your dog off his leash.

Know Dog Behavior
Dogs have their own language. Learn the difference between a dog that is saying "please leave me alone" and one that is aggressive/dominant. It is not unusual or unacceptable for a dog to snap at another dog to tell them to leave him alone. However, a dog that is actively seeking out confrontation is another story. Generally you can tell the difference by reading body language. A dog that just wants to be left alone will usually have his tail down or in a neutral position and may snap and bark, but quickly retreat. If your dog does this, don't scold him. Most likely the offending dog is the one who needs to learn proper manners. However, a dog that reacts this way every time he meets a new dog, regardless of the other dog's politeness, may be overly nervous and insecure and not a good candidate for off leash parks.

Watch For Bullies
A problem you will run into often at off leash parks are dogs that are being bullies with no one to hold them accountable. But it's equally important to recognize aggressive behavior in your own dog as it is in others. Many owners mistake dominance for playfulness. Be observant. If a dog your dog is playing with begins to appear fearful with tail tucked between legs, snapping, or crying, it's time to re-direct your dog's attention. Don't be the one with the bully dog! Likewise, watch for other dogs that may try to heckle your own and stop it before it escalates. The most effective way to stop a behavior from getting out of control is to simply re-direct the attention of one or both of the dogs. Don't contribute to an intense situation by screaming or yelling.

Monitor Group Play
Surprisingly enough, fights rarely break out at dog parks. But there certainly are horror stories of smaller, more timid dogs getting injured or even killed by a group of more aggressive dogs. If your dog is nervous, he may be a target for getting ganged up on. So it's important that owners keep their dogs from grouping together and trying to intimidate others.

Have fun!
It might sound silly but walking confidently, not over-babying your dog, and generally being happy will greatly impact the way your dog behaves at an off leash park. If you're nervous, your dog will be too. If your dog is very afraid the first time at a park, don't give up just yet. Most dogs are anxious at first and calm down with time. Others may need to come back to the same park several times before they begin to feel comfortable, but even very shy dogs can surprise you and break out of their shell if you're willing to practice some patience. Even better, most dog parks have a "shy dog" or "small dog" area for those that are new or less outgoing than the majority.

Remember, you're the leader. Focus on being the cool and collected role model your dog needs!

Do Bring
- Treats, in case you need to re-direct a behavior or entice your dog back to you if he doesn't come when called (but I have yet to see a dog that doesn't keep check with its owner!)
- Extra bags! Most dogs eliminate themselves more than once at an off leash park!
- Water, especially if you plan to stay for a while

Don't Bring
- Toys. Toys can actually be a source of stress for a dog in a group environment. Dogs that have their own toys at dog parks will be more likely to become possessive and unsociable. There are exceptions to this rule however. If your dog is a focused retriever for instance, a ball or frisbee can be a great thing to bring to an off leash park. Just keep in mind that other dogs may take your dog's ball, so you may want to bring extras!

Lastly, as demonstrated by the first picture in this post, expect your dog to be a bit messy after a trip to the park. It's not a bad idea to bring towels for the car ride and plan on bathing your dog when you get home!

The benefits to the dog parks far outweigh the potential hazards for me. The socialization aspect alone has been great for my dogs. It's also excellent for burning off excess energy. Cinderella is always more content being in the house after spending a couple hours at an off leash park. She gets twice as much exercise there than she does on a walk with me. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit selfish in taking her to the dog park. Truthfully, I'm not sure who enjoys going to them more; me or her.

(All photos taken by Tory Cobrea)

04 May 2010

Clicking With Your Dog 3

Sitting is not the most natural position for a dog to be in. If you observe dogs or wolves in the wild, they are most often standing or lying down. Because of this, teaching your dog to lie down is a useful command, especially when you need your dog to hold the position for an extended amount of time. Your dog will be much more comfortable than if he or she was required to hold a sit stay for the same amount of time.

As I stated in my previous clicker post, there are various ways you can go about teaching your dog a new command. For a 'down', luring typically works the best. Most dogs naturally follow a bit of food with their eyes and nose. Therefore, by using a treat to lure your dog's face towards the ground, that alone is most often enough to achieve the proper result. As with any clicker training session, immediately click and reward a successful down. I never advocate forcing a dog into a position. However, if luring does not seem to be enough, you can also mold your dog by gently massaging his or her shoulder blades to help encourage them to lie down. The leash can also be a gentle guide to pull your dog in the right direction, if extra help is needed. It is important to keep in mind that a 'down' is the most submissive position for a dog to learn, so it is best not to start with this command until some other training has happened and the bond between dog and handler is established.

One problem that people frequently run into with luring is that they have trouble moving away from it. Meaning, their dog will not perform a command unless the lure is there. The key to getting rid of a lure is to do it gradually! So, if you have been holding the treat all the way near to the ground and your dog is consistently lying down, try holding it an inch or so above the ground instead. If your dog can still lie down consistently, hold the lure two or three inches above the ground. As your dog becomes consistent at each modified way of luring him/her, you can add more and more space between the lure and the ground. The ultimate goal is that, eventually, your dog will lay down on command, even when you are standing up straight.

Do not attempt to increase the duration of your dog's down stay for more than a moment until he or she is really grasping the concept of the word. If you try to step away from your dog too soon, they will surely get right up, and it is easy to become frustrated. Focus first on the simple concept of what a 'down' looks and feels like for your dog - and allow their muscle memory to kick in as well. You always, always want to set dogs up for success!

Luring Gabe at a beginner's level

Luring Gabe at an intermediate level.

Excuse my very unprofessional pictures - I had to use a self timer and also hope that Gabe's timing would be accurate!

01 May 2010

Abby - May's Dog of the Month

My friends Laura and Jeff are such a great couple. They are two of the nicest people you'll ever meet, and their hearts reflect that in how they care about each other as well as the people around them. Their loving nature was also made apparent when they picked out their first dog together - a rescued mutt named Abby.

Abby was not a clean slate when they adopted her - other people had already shaped her in certain ways or neglected to nurture her in others, leaving her in great need of stability and patience. And yet, Jeff and Laura opted to give her a chance at living out a happy and full life. With that time and patience, Abby has made great strides! That in itself is reason to celebrate Abby and other dogs like her. So, for the next month we will get to look at Abby's smiling face and her radical ears! Thanks for sharing, Jeff and Laura!

Age: is TWO
Breed: Mutt (we think Basenji, Lab and something else.)
Where did you get Abby? We picked her up at Wayside Waifs. She was a two time pound puppy where she had been brought back by a former owner. Poor thing.
What made you choose her? We picked her because of her stupid big ears and her huge tongue. We also liked her high energy and her playfulness. I have always loved mutts and talked Jeff into getting away from the pure breed dogs. We went to the pound and fell in love at first sight.
How did you name her? Her name at first was Jolie but we thought that was dumb and Jeff named her Abby. It seemed to be just right. When she's bad we call out Abigail and she puts her head down and her tail down. It's pretty pathetic. Her top three favorite things in the world are 1. Squirrels 2. Other dogs 3. Jeff and me!
Describe Abby in 3 words: Smart, Strong, Energetic