Everyday Training - The Dog Park and Human End of the Leash

I said I would never do it, but I've done it twice now.  I've taken Jake to a dog park instead of hiking with my dog.  Now, many people do take their dogs to the dog park.  However, I've always tried to shun them because, well, it's a fact, dogs can contract communicable diseases - like kennel cough. But that's another issue...

This happened to me twice this weekend.  One was at the dogpark: There was a Chi-Yorkie mix that was resource guarding the area where its owner was sitting at a picnic table. As various dogs moved in and out of an area about 10 ft square around a picnic table, this little 6 pound behemoth (note the sarcasm) would come out charging with a bark and a snarl. full frontal teeth bared. Because Jake has been socialized pretty well (thanks Chad Mackin - see my last post, and thanks Jen Freilich - At the End of Your Leash, Riverside) he doesn't react poorly to situations like that. In fact, he's such a goof ball that he thinks he can solve the problem with playing.  I had made a comment to my friend standing next to me about the vicious nature of that dog, and I'm guessing that the owner heard me. She came over and asked me if I could help her fix the issue. I told her she should get a leash and a training collar - yes, even in the dog park. That's not too far from the truth, but I'll get to that.

On Sunday, I brought Jake to a frisbee class, hoping to unleash his inner Disc Dog!  He was ok.  What I was more impressed with was his reaction to the other dog attending the class. He was an Australian Blue Heeler mix with a little Jack Russell. Very cute, about 38 pounds, but overweight. After initially meeting Jake, he charged at him, with a growl at his throat. No provocation. Just because he could.  The dog was on leash, but the owner was not paying attention.  The thing is, when we finally sat down to talk about what we learned in class, she admitted that her dog had an issue with charging other dogs. The frisbee coach...who is also a dog owner and specialized dog trainer (in frisbee!) said that was the reason we had kept her dog on the long line. I was thinking she should have kept her dog on a regular 6-foot lead when he wasn't chasing the frisbee.

Now, I'm a big supporter of rules and boundaries for dogs.  If a dog never learns the rules, how do they know where the boundary is?

Back to the the woman at the dog park. While I was talking to her, her dog snapped at another dog. She picked the dog up and cradled him in her arms and said to me, "I heard that if you put the dog on their back, it shows that you are dominant." I looked at her and said that all she was doing was by holding that dog in her arms is rewarding and reinforcing bad behavior.  I told her to put the dog on a leash, even in the dog park, so the dog knows how it should react in a group setting. It should get a correction for snapping at other dogs and resource guarding her space. And she should not coddle the dog after she gives the correction.  Dogs need time to process events, just like people do.  I also told her that she should sign up for a group obedience class.

David P., of Disc Dog Empire and our frisbee trainer for the day, said the same thing to the girl in our class.  In essence, he said that group classes are great because it puts dogs together in a controlled environment; it forces owners to pay attention to their dog's behavior under the watchful eye of a professional; and dogs learn the rules and boundaries for behavior around other dogs.

I also recommended to the girl in the frisbee class that she should WALK her dog in a pack situation, and David concurred. I invited her to join our pack hikes since she likes being active. It's not that I'm pushing the group, but the pack hike is an easy solution to finding other like-minded individuals who want to socialize their dogs in a controlled way. Since they are all on leash, it is safer than going to the dog park.

So hike with your dog. Find friends, family and/or neighbors with dogs, and ask them if they want to walk with you. It's a great way to meet others, exercise your dog and an excellent opportunity to train - every day.