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Friday, January 11, 2008

One more reason why dog parks just aren't a good idea!

Most of those that know me, know that I'm am not a fan of dog parks. Unless of course I am the only dog in the dog park!

I'm probably not gonna be very pupular writing this article. We are not here to judge or to preach, just to share information about our experiences and those of others that we read, know and discover. Maybe this information will help other pups and keep them from suffering the same fate (or even worse) than I.

We hear stories nearly everyday of dogs getting severely injured, attacked, and even dying from encounters or accidents occurring in dog parks all across the country. I was once one of those statistics.

Back in November 2005, when I was just about 16 months old, I was severely attacked at the dog park. I had been going there all summer, about 8 months at least 2-3 times a week and always had a blast. Never a problem, never a consequence. Then on November 6th, 2005, a beautiful fall, sunny day, we decided to go to the dog park for some fun and exercise.

That's the day that it all went horribly wrong. Mum let me in the park and I was greeted by a couple of pups, we made our way back to where all the humans and other pups were. Just then all the pups descended upon me, at first it looked just like play. But one of the pups bit me, and that's when all the pups ganged up. They bit me and they bit me hard. The human owners were much too far away to do anything. Mum took action and kicked the dogs off me and scooped me up and had to continue to kick the other dogs off her as they were trying to get to me.

She rushed me to the car, ripped off her sweatshirt and patted me down to look for injuries (I'm a black dog and injuries don't show up very well). She didn't find any blood, but there was an incredibly awful smell coming from me - a smell like the worst doggie breath imaginable. That's when Mum found a damp spot on me, looked more closely and found that I had a chunk taken out of my backside, right between my hips.

She sped to the emergency room and we spent 6 or so hours there as they looked me over, performed surgery and got me all stitched up. You see, when a dog bites, all the skin surrounding the place where they bite is pulled away from your body, creating a massive injury. So they had to stitch me up from hip to hip in a criss-cross fashion.

The next few days were touch and go. All the dogs biting on me had bruised my bladder and we had to rush back to the vet several times. Over the course of a couple of weeks, as I was mending, Mum found numerous places where dogs had punctured my skin, and the amount of bruising all over my body was just unbelievable.

But I was very lucky, each dog bite had miraculously missed every important artery and organ. All I needed to do then was heal from my surgery.

I have to say I'm a pretty resilient. Six weeks later with a still shaved, but fuzzy and scarred backside, I was well enough to compete in my first agility trial - a USDAA trial where I came away with 4 Q's out of 7 runs, with three 1st places and 1 second place. It was a good end to a tragic story, but it could have been so much different.

Mum and I learned the hard way the dangers of dog parks. I will never set paw in one again, guaranteed! Being my Mum's first dog, she didn't understand and I don't blame her - she's learned, I learned and we are always learning.

One thing that amazed us is when we talked with the docs at the emergency room, they told us that 80-90% of the injuries they see day in and day out either occurred at dog parks or at doggie day camps. That figure, we both have to admit, was very surprising. Maybe we hadn't been around the doggie world long enough and hadn't heard the stories, but until that time we had never heard of pups getting injured at either of these locales.

After the attack, I was pretty skittish around other pups, but came out of it fine in a few months or so. And Mum paid particular attention to re-socialize me with other pups in a more organized and controlled fashion. Luckily it didn't scar me for life.

Everyone talks about how great dog parks are; your dog gets great exercise, dogs like to play together, dogs love it, and humans don't have to get tired exercising us.

We know that many of our friends visit dog parks and do wonderfully, just like we did for the first 8 or so months. Perhaps they have friendlier dogs at their parks, perhaps the dogs' owners are more attentive, or perhaps their time hasn't come yet.

Now that we've been around the block, so to speak, we've heard way too many stories about injuries and deaths occurring at dog parks. And we've learned you really just don't know the dogs in the park, even if you think you do. You don't know if those dogs in the park are nice dogs, or a bad dogs, or if they are dogs that could have just been adopted, where their history isn't known. And you don't know how much control the humans will have over their dogs, or if they will be paying attention at all.

Dog communication is very complicated to humans. Many, many humans really can't read or understand what we're saying to each other. An innocent looking group play can turn into a gang up situation and dangerously escalate in a matter of seconds, even if you are carefully watching your dog and how the other dogs are behaving, like my Mom was. You can't expect any human to be able to read 10 dogs in a matter of seconds, and then try to break up something before it gets out of hand in a split second. It's impossible.

There is a lot of information found on the Internet about how great dog parks are for you and your pup. We read about it all the time. But what we don't hear much about are the dangers.

For more information about dog parks, check out these links about the dangers of dog parks and suggestions for pup owners if you decide to venture:

Dog Parks: Why they are a bad idea!
Dog Park Violence On The Rise
Dog collision kills pet at Sequim off-leash park
Pet death shows dog park dangers
Board Weighs Changes At Park After Dog Is Killed

Whole Dog Journal's Dog Park Etiquette


  1. You poor pup! What an awful experience. I don't take my pups to any dog parks either, because you never know what the temperment or training of the other dogs is, and with them all running loose, it can easily turn ugly really fast- all it takes is 1 unstable dog. We're so glad you survived that horrible ordeal Johann.
    By the way, we've given you an award, and you can pick it up at http://blog.ourdoglog.com/

    Abby & Rosie

  2. Thanks for helping to educate on the dangers of dog parks. I am in 100% agreement!

  3. That is just awful.. and the reason why my dogs don't go to dog parks.

    They do go to daycare but I'm VERY fortunate to have one that is run by one of the top trainers in the area (who is also my friend)

  4. Johann, I'd just like to clarify what a dog park is. Is it a fenced area that's only for dogs? Or is it a park where people cycle, walk, jog, etc, that also allows dogs off lead? If it's just for dogs, I don't think we have any here in Melbourne in Australia (or not that I know of).
    I go to a couple of local parks to walk but I'm totally not into the scene of standing around with a group of humans while our dogs "romp".

  5. Same thing happened to my friend's sheltie back in San Diego. We've got 2 new parks in our area and I haven't tried them because of stories I've heard like this one. I've been lucky to find my own personal dog park down the street, a fenced in baseball diamond that we've "acquired" all to ourselves! Since I've even had issues among my own 5 dogs, I don't want to even think about adding strangers into the mix. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  6. I thought we were missing out 'cos we don't have dog parks. Maybe not. Glad you made it ok after that horrific incident Johann.


  7. To answer the Australian--it's an enclosed area specifically for dogs, usually 1/2 acre to 2 acres. Usually has benches for humans, water for dogs, often things for dogs to climb on (rocks, logs, natural sorts of things).

    I have mixed feelings about dog parks. It's very, very hard to find places where dogs can run off leash, at least, around here in urban/suburban SF Bay area. Having a legal place to go where your dog can run is a godsend for many folks. And, I think, in small numbers, interaction with other dogs is a fine and good thing.

    I won't go into one if there are more than 4 or 5 dogs. While I'm in there, I walk around as my dogs move around so that I'm always fairly close to them. But I'd much rather--and usually do--sneak into a regular park when no one's around to play frisbee or let the dogs chase the groundsquirrels. I've not been fined yet, but I've been warned off many times that dogs must be on leashes. Some are fanatical about the rules--e.e.g, when I was working on competitive obedience, I got warned off a couple of times for taking the dog's leash off while practicing heeling. Jeez.

    I have seen complete idiot dog owners and near-disasters at dog parks, which makes me very wary of them. I once grabbed a Rottie's back feet and kept hauling him in a circle as fast as I could keep him moving & off balance while a spaniel's owner rescued the spaniel and while the Rottie owner yelled & fretted about what to do. The spaniel was OK, but it could have gone so wrong.

    So--normally, I promote the existence of dog parks because otherwise the dogs have nowhere to go. And, at the same time, I avoid them myself; maybe I'm in one once or twice a year just for the experience.


  8. Wow, Elf! Thanks for that explanation about dog parks. It's most interesting to me because I have a beautiful park at the bottom of my street that I walk in most days. However, even though it is 12 kilometres from the centre of a huge city, it is also a wildlife reserve and it's pretty thrilling that kangaroos have made their way along the waterways, through about 15 kilometres of suburbs, to this park.
    But, inevitably, in my opinion, the first arrival was killed by dogs. There's been a huge fuss ever since and every week in the local papers there are calls for dedicated dog parks.
    I thought they sounded rather good till I read what you and Johann's mum are saying.
    Now I'm worried. I bought a dog so I would exercise, and standing around in the middle of a crowd of over-excited dogs will not be my idea of exercise - or fun.
    (The whole question of whether kangaroos can adapt to life in the middle of a twenty-first century city is another matter of great concern, of course.)

  9. Ever since I got my dog Linus three years ago I've been warned about the dangers of dog parks. We had a German Shepherd in our training class that was working on her socialization. Unfortunately she and her owner were attached by two Rottweilers in the dog park and since the incident was afraid of all black dogs including Linus.

    I'm glad Johann is doing well and has re-socialized with other dogs. I'm afraid the German Shepherd in Linus's class will never be able to trust black dogs again.


Thanks for barking in!

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