Many people use dog parks and dog day cares, and while they my be appropriate for a small minority of dogs, they can be incredibly damaging to many more. In this week's podcast, Emily and I highlighted our concerns regarding daycare and dog parks.
We discussed a multitude of options for folks who want tired dogs, that do not compromise the human/animal bond, risk your dog's health, or cause our dogs to spend too much time in a heightened state of arousal.
Emily mentioned an app call Sniff Spot, where dog owners can hook up with local land owners to access fields for play and other activities.
We also discussed the app Rover, which is where I find ranch sitters, though I do caution everyone to use these apps with caution and really take your time vetting the person who will be caring for you pet. Rover offers in-home pet sitting, daycare, and dog walking.
If you live in Tucson, I offer a Sunrise Dog Gym which is an hour long mental and physical workout that you and your dog can do together. I also offer Adventure Day Camp, where instead of teaching your dog that other dogs are the best part of their day, we play with your dog, practice existing behaviors, go on sniff safaris (very similar to the decompression walks mentioned by Emily in our podcast), and more.
Also in Tucson, fellow trainer Xena Carpenter has pool dates, and Brittany Brauer dog large field socialization for young puppies.
Dog trainers and veterinarians recognize the need that people have when they use day cares and dog parks, and many have found creative solutions to help meet owner's needs for their dogs to have an outlet to play during the day, coupled with the safety and benefits of more targeted play dates.
We understand the appeal of dog parks, but we urge people to carefully weigh the risks inherent in such places:
Dog fights are real, and can escalate with startling speed resulting in fatal outcomes - keep moving and pay attention to your dog to mitigate the risk of catastrophe. Become a student of canine body language, and become proactive.
Do not bring a toy for your dog to a crowded dog park - it's a recipe for a dog fight. It can also teach your dog to become a resource guarder, or destroy their toy drive if a more aggressive dog snatches their toy away.
Pay careful attention to size differentials - a large dog can seriously injure a small dog by accident. No intent to do damage is necessary to seriously injure a small dog. A dog intent on attacking a small dog can kill it before anyone has a chance to respond. Small dogs have no business mixing in with large dogs in a dog park setting.
Puppies do not belong at dog parks. Never. One bad experience can destroy your puppy's confidence for life. No dog under the age of two should be attending dog parks with unknown dogs (known friendly dogs is fine)
Disease - In recent years in Tucson we've had a puppy with rabies that exposed multiple people; an outbreak of leptospirosis which is unheard of here, and therefore not vaccinated against; parvovirus; and various parasites being spread through the artificially humid conditions found at dog parks.
Relationship - this to me is huge. I want my dogs to think I'm the coolest thing in their world. I do not want my role in their life to be limited to my ability to deliver them to the dog park or daycare where they get to ignore me and have a wonderful time where I play no part. Many people struggle with connecting with their dogs, and dog parks can make that struggle much more pronounced.
Arousal State - I don't want my dogs to spend their fun time zipping around like a kid at Disneyland hopped up on caffeine and sugar. I want my dogs to spend most of their exercise time on a moderate state of arousal that I can control through play and training.
Wherever you live, your local trainers and veterinarians will have creative alternatives to Lord of the Flies-style free-for all day cares, or dog parks. It may take some additional effort on your part top find these outlets for your dog, but by skillfully ensuring that our dogs receive the mental and physical exercise they needs, with the safety and relationship building skills not provided by most day cares and dog parks - we can absolutely help build our dog's best life!