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 that helps explain some simple ways to use any dog park to help avoid dog-dog conflicts. Stay tuned for a more complete article 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
There have been numerous social media comments over the years about the problematic “dog owner culture” at my local dog parks. 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.
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),
- Dog Park Ambassadors (volunteers who use the parks frequently) that have been trained by the City to help educate park users on the rules and Bylaws for using the park safely, an overview of dog behaviour/communication as it relates to dog parks, and how to interact with people at the park to help keep the experience positive.
- optional 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 because the dog training industry is unregulated. The CCPDT is the leading certification program for the dog training industry.)
The consequences of behaviours modify future behaviours. If people like the consequences of their own behaviours, they are more likely to repeat them in the future. 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.
Unfortunately, park users can purposefully or inadvertently behave in ways that make the dog parks unsafe and unpleasant for others. If these behaviours result in consequences the park users like (e.g. their experience at the dog park was pleasant from their perspective), then these undesirable behaviours are likely to be repeated in the future. For the park users who are behaving in this way due to a lack of knowledge, Dog Park Ambassadors can be very helpful. For the park users who are intentionally behaving in ways that make the parks unsafe and unpleasant, making them accountable for their behaviours can help. In many cases, this intentional misbehaviour of park users can be reduced by Dog Park Ambassadors who are empowered and trained to speak up in these situations (while keeping things as conflict-free as possible). Sometimes misbehaving park users may require other consequences to change their behaviours, such as prohibition from using the dog park, monetary fines for Bylaw infractions, or court orders relating to limits put on their dog ownership.
Changing behaviours and a “dog park culture” will take time and an effective approach.