Changing Behaviour Through Environmental Design
Understanding the behaviours and needs of the primary users of a space is essential to creating one that is accessible, usable, safe, and attractive.
Creating a dog park involves much more than putting a fence around a section of open space. It’s essential that architects, city planners, developers, etc. consult a professional educated in dog behaviour early in the design phase because the problems that plague dog parks can be dramatically reduced (even prevented) simply by altering its design.
Common Dog Park Problems (That Can Be Addressed Through Design):
- Dog Conflicts
- Dog Owner Behaviour
- Damage to Landscape
- Problems for Nearby Residents
Many of these problems can be addressed in the design phase
UPDATE: On June 24, 2019 Regina City Council voted in favour of keeping the area as a green space for recreational activities and including two off-leash areas as well.
There are many groups opposed to the idea of redeveloping the Regent Park Par 3 Golf Course into an area with housing options because of risks to residents: specifically flooding, increased crime, lack of green space and low-cost family-centred recreation and its connection to child poverty.*
After reading the concerns brought forward by the delegates presenting to City Council, I would hope that Council will be unanimous in voting to keep the area as a green space with a vast number of 60 year old trees (over 300 of them) and incorporating hiking trails, some fully-fenced off-leash areas, and family- centred amenities such as picnic areas, spray pad, disc golf, a toboggan hill. As well, since this area is on Treaty 4 land and within the traditional territory of the Metis, the entire project should include in some way, a respectful homage to the First Nations and Metis. This solution has been suggested by one of the delegates and supported by many of the others because it will address all of the risks outlined by the delegates presenting.
Including some fully-fenced off-leash parks will be instrumental in the success of this redevelopment idea.
Flood Risk: getting rid of the trees and building on the green space will cause severe flooding for the residents in the area. This is supported by engineer reports. For this reason alone, the space should be kept as a green space with the water absorbing trees. Green space and trees are perfect for off-leash areas.
Crime Prevention: A fully-fenced off-leash park that has trees and a lovely green space will be supported by a lot dog owners from all over the city. Off-leash parks are a crime deterrent because they bring more eyes to the area, so to speak. New York proves this to be true.
Green Spaces and Child Poverty:
Environmental research reports that children’s academic performance, creativity, and emotional development are all supported when they grow up in areas with green spaces and these traits might help children rise out of poverty.
What if the area could be developed in such a way that the community is able to generate income and jobs from the space?
This may sound crazy, but what if this idea for a “Family Park & Hiking Trails with Off-leash Areas” provided residents opportunities for employment and/or to generate income for their community programs. Some ideas could include a concession shop to buy dog treats, a pay-per-use dog wash station, a doggie swimming pool area (pay to use), a private off-leash area (pay to use), and selling advertising space on the dog park fencing or amenities within the dog park?
Incorporating some fully-fenced off-leash areas into the Family Park and Hiking Trails proposal is a win-win for all community stakeholders.
We can dare to dream!
*All but one of the 4 proposals include a high-density housing development (townhouses and low-cost senior housing). According to some of the delegates speaking, there is no guarantee that the developers will build low-cost housing for seniors, and some have suggested that this proposal is merely a smoke-screen for building low-cost housing that is smaller than standard housing and/or rentals — in an area where there is already a high vacancy rate. According to some of the delegates’ notes, the existing senior housing in the area has a low percentage of seniors living there, and high-density low-cost housing attracts crime and keeps people in poverty.
Does Regina needs more off-leash spaces?
Many dog owners want a space to run their dogs off leash, and I would argue that many dog owners need a space to run their dogs in order to help improve the safety of their neighbourhoods. The two current dog parks are over-crowded and are located too far from many areas of the city. The seasonal off-leash areas are somewhat helpful, but more off-leash areas are needed. The chronic and increasing problem of dog owners using on-leash areas to run their dogs off-leash is a clear indication that Regina’s current off-leash offerings are insufficient (rather than a symptom of lawlessness or laziness).*
Some would argue that because of the problems in the existing off-leash areas, dog owners don’t deserve more off-leash spaces. I argue that most of these problems are because the off-leash areas are over-crowded, over-used, and not designed with dog behaviour in mind. For example, a common criticism of the existing dog parks is that dog owners are not picking up their dogs’ poop. Asking for 100% compliance for any Bylaw is unrealistic: there will always be a small percentage of the general population who will speed through construction zones, park in no-parking areas, ride bicycles on the side walks at times, or water their lawns on non-designated days during water restriction. In the case of the existing dog parks, this small percentage of rule-breakers begins to look like a much larger problem because the parks are over-used. If 5% of the users don’t pick up poop, it can amount to a lot of poop when there are 1000 dogs using the park each week.
Clearly, Regina needs more off-leash spaces, but these need to be a variety of spaces that meet the diverse needs of dogs and dog owners.
City officials must consult professionals educated in dog behaviour when creating future off-leash areas. Land developers, builders, city planners, engineers, etc. are not experts on dog behaviour.** Consider the problems if playgrounds are created without understanding the behaviour of children and childhood development. Many problems that plague off-leash areas can be mitigated and even prevented through design.
A single dog park cannot meet the varied needs of dogs and owners. Some dogs need large open spaces, while other dogs are more suited to smaller spaces, especially dogs that do not have a good recall. Not all dogs have excellent social skills and are able to get along amiably with every dog, so there needs to be some off-leash areas that can be used privately for short periods. Some dog owners enjoy letting their water-loving dogs splash around or swim and leave the park filthy, while other dog owners prefer that their dogs not enter the water for health and safety reasons (e.g. perhaps the dog has a tendency to get ear infections or the dog consumes too much water when fetching or swimming and is at risk of illness, injury, and death due to water intoxication). Currently there are no off-leash areas where small dogs and large dogs can be separated if desired, and no spaces where children are not allowed (not all dogs behave well around children).
There is not ONE solution for dogs and owners. There must be multiple options to meet the needs of dog owners and their dogs, and those who are developing the options need to consider the behaviours of dogs and dog owners.
Dog owners will take what they can get.
Certainly, many dog owners are grateful for the off-leash areas that currently exist, despite their problems, but these are not suitable options for many dog owners. Those who cannot make use of the off-leash areas (for very good reasons) will continue to risk fines by letting their dogs off leash in on-leash areas. This makes the situation unpleasant for everyone: for people walking leashed dogs, residents nearby, cyclists, children, wildlife, etc.
Clearly the status quo is not meeting the needs of many Regina residents.
The current situation is not satisfactory to many taxpayers: not dog owners who tolerate the current off-leash areas, not dog owners who can’t/won’t use the current off-leash areas, and not the residents who have to put up with dog owners trying to meet their dogs’ needs by using on-leash areas as off-leash areas.
* The fact that there is a chronic problem with dog owners running dogs off-leash in on-leash areas should be seen as a symptom of the larger problem. More policing of this is not going to make it go away. How many Bylaw officers are needed to police the entire city 24/7? Surely it makes more sense to create suitable spaces that will meet the needs of many of these dog owners.
** Entrusting the creation of off-leash areas to builders, land developers, etc. has not worked to get more off-leash areas, and it certainly isn’t going to help ensure the off-leash areas are designed to function well for the people who use them. Perhaps stakeholders whose primary interest is profit should not be the only decision-makers regarding off-leash spaces (NOTE: There is some growing evidence that dog parks increase real estate values, so maybe there is hope that things will change soon.) Do dog owners have to pool their money to purchase land from the City and then build it and run it themselves? Do parents have to do this in order to get sufficient and well-designed parks and playgrounds?
Designating more outdoor boarded hockey rinks as seasonal off-leash areas is not a suitable solution for a city that needs more off-leash areas. Hockey rinks can be a small part of the solution, but they do not make great places for off-leash play for dogs.
Many neighbourhoods have boarded outdoor hockey rinks, so letting dog owners use them from spring to fall seems like a simple, low-cost solution to creating more off-leash areas. However, when considered more closely, it becomes apparent that this is not a suitable solution.
For one thing, there are only 23 boarded rinks in Regina (according to what is listed on the City of Regina website), and many are inappropriate because of play structures nearby or because the rinks are on school property and cannot be used during school hours. Even if there were as many as a dozen suitable boarded rinks in Regina, it would still not be nearly enough to serve dog owners in Regina. It’s a start, but it’s not enough.
A boarded hockey rink is adequate for a quick 5 minute romp or some ball tossing, but not for much else unless the dogs there are well-suited to each other for play (e.g. size, play style, social skills). A rink is certainly not big enough for a large dog or a breed that needs to run. As well, the crusher-dust type substrate in many rinks is hard on a dog’s footpads and will cause cuts/abrasions if the dog spends too much time running on it or making sharp turns and skidding stops.
The inside of a hockey rink is not a mentally stimulating environment and this leads to problems. Unless a dog is meeting dog friends there for play, after a dog has sniffed the interesting spots, done some “business”, and left some pee-mail, a dog will generally stand around (along with their humans who are standing around in the barren hockey rink). A similar thing happens with children in an empty, boring playground or in a room without toys. It’s not hard to visualize the problems that will occur when dogs (often with mismatched play styles) are enclosed in a small, boring space and then forced to interact by owners who want them to play or get tired out.
Dog owners deserve a sufficient number of locations with sufficient space to allow their dogs to run off leash. These locations should be safe and pleasant for the dogs and the humans. An empty hockey rink can be useful but a empty hockey rink is not a “park” as some may suggest.
Links referencing hockey rinks as dog parks:
City is inconsistent in terminology, sometimes using “off-leash area” and sometimes using “dog park”. Seasonal off-leash areas (hockey rinks) are listed under the headings “Dog Parks” in the text and on a map.
This is general information only gathered from various resources and is not intended as veterinary advice. Please consult a veterinarian if you have concerns about the health of your dog.
Dogs that are at higher risk for heat exhaustion and heatstroke include breeds with shorter snouts (e.g. Shih Tzus, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bulldogs) and those with weaker bodies like older dogs, young puppies, and ill dogs.
Dogs cool themselves by panting to maintain their normal body temperature (101 to 102.5 F ; 38 to 39 C). Dogs can sweat through their noses and pads but this doesn’t do much to cool them. Overheating can cause severe tissue damage in minutes, affecting important organs like the brain, kidneys, liver, and the digestive system in minutes.
Heatstroke occurs when the dog’s temperature reaches 109 F (42.8 C) or above.
Symptoms can include:
- Heavy panting (often accompanied by a refusal to drink)
- spoon-shaped tongue can be an early sign of dog overheating
- Excessive thirst
- Glazed eyes
- Vomiting and bloody diarrhea
- Bright or dark red tongue, gums
- Elevated body temperature (104ºF and up)
- Weakness, collapse
- Increased pulse and heartbeat
- Excessive drooling
What to do:
Move dog out of heat and to the shade or air conditioning. Keep offering water. Sometimes dogs are panting too heavily to want to pause for a drink, but keep it available for when the dog wants it.
If the dog can stand and is conscious,
- give small drinks of water (too much too fast can cause vomiting)
- Take temperature. If the dog is 104 F (40 C) or lower, continue to monitor temperature
- contact vet for further instructions even if dog seems recovered
If the dog cannot stand, seems unresponsive, or if the dog is having seizures:
- confirm the dog is breathing it has a heartbeat
- stay with dog (don’t try to immobilize a dog having seizures, just supervise to keep the area around the dog clear to avoid injury to the dog and anyone nearby; time the seizure and observe details that your vet may ask you about)
- notify vet that you are bringing in the dog
- begin to cool the dog gradually with COOL water (NOT COLD water) by placing wet towels or gently pouring COOL (NOT COLD) water on belly area, back of head and the underside of neck. Do not pour water into dog’s mouth.
- DO NOT PUT DOG IN A POOL OR TUB OF COLD WATER
- Take dog’s temperature. If it is at 104 F (40 C) or lower, STOP THE COOLING PROCESS (to avoid risk of blood clotting or temperature dropping too low)
- Take dog to vet ASAP even if the dog seems to be getting better
PREVENTING HEAT EXHAUSTION & HEATSTROKE:
- Provide LOTS of fresh, clean water at all times.
- On warm days, dogs outside should have access to shade.
- There is mixed opinion on the effects of “summer haircuts” (not suitable for all dogs). It has been suggested that in order to protect the dog’s skin from the sun, the dog’s fur should be trimmed no shorter than an inch (a few centimetres).
- Exercise dogs during the coolest parts of the day. Stay in the shade when possible.
- 32 C or hotter, dog should be kept indoors.
- Limit exercise or play sessions; keep them short; take lots of breaks to cool down.
- The heat from the concrete or asphalt can overheat your dog (and burn paws).
- Never put dog in a hot vehicle (parked or being driven). It’s better to leave the dog at home where it’s cool and there is fresh water to drink.
- Cooling Vests for dogs may be an option. The Whole Dog Journal shares some feedback on these vests (halfway through the article).
Dogs use many signals to communicate and these are often used in combination. It would be unrealistic to ask people to become fluent in complex canine body language, but learning to recognize a dozen signals is a reasonable task and can make a world of difference, especially in situations where children are involved.
Every dog is different and each will have signals they favour more than others, but listed below are twelve common signals dogs use to indicate stress (i.e. excitement, confusion, anxiety, fear). Some of these behaviors are deliberate signals to others, some are physical responses to stress, and some are used to self-calm. When you see any of these, take note that your dog is probably under stress and you may need to intervene on his/her behalf to prevent problems.
Look away or turn away
Half-moon eye or whale-eye (white of the eye is showing)
Shaking off as if wet
Yawning when not sleepy
Breathing changes (holding breath or begining to pant when there is no temperature change or exertion)
Increased hair loss and/or exfoliation (dander)
Meticulous grooming or frequent checking of body part
Excessive salivation (when no food is present)
What can people do to manage a situation when a dog is stressed? In many cases, the dog will require extra distance and time to adjust to whatever is causing the stress, sometimes needing to be removed from the situation entirely. If children are nearby, the dog should be moved immediately to a safe distance. Many people make the mistake of assuming that because a dog isn’t growling or using other obvious signals of distress the dog must be fine with a situation.
In her book Kids and Dogs: A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families (2009) Colleen Pelar highlights this problem and suggests dog owners think of a traffic light analogy when reading their dogs. In her experience, many dog owners describe their dogs as being “fine” with something yet what she sees is that the dogs are showing early warning signals. She points out that there is a difference between enjoyment (“green light” signals) and tolerance (“yellow light” signals), and that a dog’s tolerance can quickly be exhausted and cause him to start using “red light” signals. She cautions adults to intervene immediately upon seeing the dogs giving “yellow light” signals.
Many dogs have learned to stop using subtle calming signals and jump quickly to more extreme signals like lunging, growling, barking, and even biting. In many cases dogs have learned to do this because the subtle signals aren’t working for them: the “scary thing” goes away only when they use the extreme signals – signals that read as aggression. Dogs don’t generally start off this way but become “growly” when the humans around them haven’t been picking up on the lower level signals of stress and dogs are put into difficult situations: the dog is pressured to continue to let the child lay on him; the dog is required to get closer to the other dog before he is ready to do so; the dog is forced to be held by a stranger. Dogs eventually goes over their thresholds and this is when humans finally seem to pay attention and intervene. The child is removed from the dog; the other dog gets farther away; the stranger stops holding the dog keeps her distance.
To complicate this problem, many people also make the mistake of scolding or punishing dogs for using warning signals like growling, lunging, and barking. They address the symptoms rather than the cause. The problem with this approach is that the dogs learn to suppress their signals and people think the problem is solved, when in fact what they’ve created are dogs that bite without warning. Sometimes it makes more sense to people if they consider a similar situation for a young child: if a child is scared of something, then scolding or punishing will only increase the child’s anxiety. Instead of scolding or punishing a dog for growling, lunging, or barking, people should look for the causes of these behaviours. The dog is giving information about his emotional state and this is where the training should focus; a positive reinforcement program of desensitization and counter-conditioning will help change the dog’s emotional responses to the “scary thing” and as a consequence, the growling, lunging, and barking will no longer be necessary.
When people learn to read their dogs better, their relationship with their dogs can only improve. Dogs will learn to trust their people more, their reactivity will decrease, and as a result, people will want to spend more time with their dogs.