Reducing Dog Conflicts at Dog Parks

What can dog park users do immediately to help reduce the chances that their dogs are involved in a dog-dog conflict?

Here is a podcast and an article from the APDT Chronicle of the Dog Summer 2020 (see page 44) outlining some simple ways park users can change their own behaviours to drastically reduce the risks. 

Recently, a small dog died from wounds it received from a larger dog at my local dog park. I cannot comment on this particular situation, as the details are not entirely clear. My heart is breaking for the owners of this dog. I can’t even imagine how traumatizing this is.

Changing Human Behaviour

Problematic dog owner behaviour at dog parks is not rare; one only has to look at the posts on a dog park page on social media for a week to get a glimpse into the problem.  But how much can dog owner behaviour influence dog-dog conflicts at dog parks? Well, a lot, actually.

One of the biggest factors influencing dog-dog conflicts at dog parks is the behaviour of human park users, and the two most effective ways to change the behaviours of park users are Education and Accountability.  Many Cities rely on Bylaw enforcement to address the unwanted behaviours of dog owners, and there is a place for this: holding people accountable through heavy fines can be effective, but this requires a lot of resources (money) to enforce the Bylaws. And as anyone who studies the science of behaviour knows, punishment and coercion are not the most effective methods to changing future behaviours. It’s essential that Cities put efforts into helping to educate dog owners and give them some tools to help them change their behaviours.

Dog owners need to be educated in how to read dog body language — particularly canine stress signals — and how to use dog parks in ways that will mitigate the risks to all the dogs present. Here are three simple and effective ways to educate of dog park users:

  • posters at the park illustrating dog-body language to watch for (here are some good examples of dog park signs), Any municipality in Canada wanting the rights to use this artwork for dog parks (for no charge) can contact the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
  • Dog Park Ambassadors (volunteers who use the parks frequently) that have been trained by the City to help educate park users about A) the rules and Bylaws for using the park safely; B) dog behaviour/communication as it relates to dog parks; and C) how to interact with people at the park to help keep the experience positive.
  • optional and free dog training lessons for dog park users taught by Certified Professional Dog Trainers hired by the City. (Calgary’s award winning Responsible Pet Ownership model used CPDT certified trainers to help avoid the problem of improperly trained or unprofessional dog trainers. The CCPDT is the leading certification program for the dog training industry.)

Education can help empower park users to use the dog parks in ways that help make them safe and positive for everyone, and adding “perks” can further motivate and reinforce dog owners for their “good” behaviours.

Changing behaviours and a “dog park culture” will take time and an effective approach.

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