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Take It Off Leash

Pam Ore, One of my partners in Fauna Collective, wrote a swell article about the value of dog parks in keeping dogs healthy and happy: “Dog parks give dogs the mental challenges and physical exercise they need to stay healthy, fit and socially well adjusted”. Below is a copy, posted with permission of course.

Dog parks give dogs the mental challenges and physical exercise they need to stay healthy, fit and socially well adjusted.

Annie & Cassie

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A standing date for the blue hour

Your loyal dog has stayed home all day, guarding the house from mailmen and meter readers, keeping the floor warm and the appliances company. When you get home from work, you’re ecstatic to see each other, but chances are you’re dog-tired and your dog’s really wiggly and ready for fun. A local, neighborhood dog park is just the solution: The dog gets physical and mental exercise, you get to decompress. And as you visit with your neighbors and their dogs, both of you are socialized, and happier.

Physical benefits of exercise off leash

The kinds of exercise dogs can give each other through playing and chasing is generally better for them than walking on a leash or jogging along at a steady rate with a person. A dog’s physiology requires intense, short bursts of exercise, followed by brief rest periods to stay healthy. Off leash, dogs pace themselves and tend to exercise in ways determined by their dominant breed(s). Many dog parks even have fenced play areas that separate the little dogs from bigger ones, allowing the dogs to exercise and play at full capacity with each other without as much risk of injuries and accidents.

Behavioral benefits of activity with other dogs

Most of the time, dogs are living in another species’ world—the human one. For an hour or two a day at a dog park, they can just be dogs. Dogs that have access to each other seem happier, are less reactive to strange dogs when they are strolling about town during the times they are on a leash, and generally know how to behave better. Puppies that go to dog parks learn more than we can imagine from other dogs about how to behave as a dog and how to behave with people—in addition to getting the exercise at the level many require. It’s really a lot of fun to see a dog express behaviors not seen with people during the play that’s possible at an off-leash park with other dogs.

For us humans, there are many social, neighborhood benefits of regularly visiting dog parks. In an age when people may or may not know who lives next door, dog parks can provide an instant social group and help us rebuild our sense of community. Other dog park users are great resources for advice about dog behavior, toys, nutrition and referrals for services like veterinarians, boarding facilities and dog trainers.

Check out a resource such as Roger Abrantes book, Dog Language, for previews of some of the meanings of many behaviors dogs display.

Courtesies and good things to bring

If you haven’t been to a dog park before, and would like to try one you’ve found in your area, check it out first without your dog, to make sure it will be right for both of you. When you do go with your dog, it’s a good idea to bring:

  • A leash—For the trip between the car and the park, and in case you need to control your dog.
  • Poop pick-up bags—Picking up poop is the number one rule of good dog owner citizenship. Take plenty. When a dog exercises, they “lighten their load” more often than usual. Loan extra bags to other dog owners caught short by their dog’s output. One day they’ll return the favor.
  • Water—Dogs can get thirsty or overheat, and will play longer if they can take a drink and rehydrate.
  • A toy, like a ball or flying disc—Fetching games are great for exercise. Dogs may also hold toys in their mouths and use them to solicit chase games with other dogs.
  • Small training treats—Reward your dog for the behavior you’d like to see more often. Treats are great ways to remind your dog to listen to you when there’s so much competing for his attention. Before giving treats to other dogs, ask their owners first so a dog with food allergies isn’t fed something dangers and a
    dieting dog doesn’t go off his diet.

Check out a few great citizen models and resources, from our part of the country:

Get involved

Most dog parks are created and organized by dog-owners. Because city and regional governments dedicate space and maintenance for recreational activities like sports and parks, dog owning citizens are successfully lobbying and working to create distinctly separate recreational areas for off-leash dog parks, too. Mixing children’s sports and other activities with dog parks just doesn’t work for many reasons—as you can imagine. If you don’t have an off-leash dog park in your area, chances are there’s a group working on it. If there isn’t already a group you can join, start one!

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Sonny, Daisy & Murphy


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