Two professionals are hoping the community and dog lovers will use the short time frame they have to demonstrate the value of a community dog park and dispel some of the concerns that arose after the Town of Amherst approved the pilot project.
Brandi Higdon runs Dogs to Divas Grooming and Training here in Amherst, and her mother Debbie Ryan is a grooming salon manager and dog trainer specializing in aggression and phobias now living and working in Ohio. Both were disheartened with the negative backlash that came after the pilot project to convert a little-used ball field inside Robb’s Centennial Complex was approved, but they were especially concerned with some of the arguments put forward against having a dog park in the community. Questions of dogs attacking bystanders and other dogs and allegations of the park turning into a field of feces, they say, do not reflect how dog parks in other communities are operating.
“People are pretty good at self-policing. It is a privilege. This something they really want for their dogs and they want to make sure that it’s not abused,” Ryan said. “If your dog goes to the bathroom and you forget to pick it up, it's very common for somebody to come up and ask ‘Did you forgot to bring your bags? Here, I have one.’”
And in her own research, Ryan says the veterinarians she spoke with reported injuries from one dog attacking another in communities with dog parks were on par with those without.
“They don’t see any more disproportionate amounts. They see dog attacks, but not any more from dog parks than people walking their dogs down the street or dog daycares or anywhere else,” Ryan said.
Dog parks, Ryan said, is a positive for any community because it brings owners together and best practices to the forefront, creating conversations about training, grooming and behaviour. Much like a skateboarder going to a skate park to learn from their peers, without a designated area people start creating their own spaces.
“People are taking their dogs off leash in areas where some people are afraid of dogs. There are people who are afraid of even small dogs. Somebody can, say, take their dog off leash behind Wal-Mart, but what if your dog starts trucking towards someone who is afraid of dogs?” Ryan said.
“People have argued you can take your dog off leash behind McDonalds, but it’s not safe,” Higdon said. “As hard as you train your dog to have a good recall, sometimes if they see a rabbit or squirrel they are going to take off.”
In the aftermath of the decision to convert one of the community’s ball fields into a dog park, public concern and displeasure in losing a ball field saw the town of Amherst announce on its website it is reducing the one-year pilot project to five months, giving dog owners just the primary winter months to prove the validity of the outdoor park.
Ryan and Higdon hope during that shortened time frame the community can look at what it will gain by having a designated dog park, especially as the 2018 tourism season begins. Not only will people visit a community if they have a dog park, they will make it part of their travel plans even if the community wasn’t part of their itinerary.
“If you are taking a long road trip and you’re dog is on a leash most of the times at rest stops, if you can segue a little bit out of your way to a good dog park that has pictures online and has good reviews, they are going to do that just so they have some time off leash,” Ryan said.
Ryan says her impression is Amherst is well on its way to becoming a positive community with a dog park, and hopes some of the things being said to detract having the dog park at a ball field doesn’t become be the be-all, end-all discussion for trying to bring something new to the community.
“Here’s hoping they’ll have a good, solid dog park there soon,” Ryan said.
Our coverage of council approving the pilot project and subsequent change to the deadline can be found at:
Coverage of Amherst announcing the public consultation stages and ensuing meetings before its decision to introduce a dog park can be found at:
Best practices for dog parks
The following is some do’s and don’ts for anyone visiting a dog park either locally or abroad, courtesy of Ohio dog salon manager and dog trainer Deb Ryan.
• Know your dog: Be honest about your dog's temperament. My dog is overly friendly and a little too pushy sometimes. When I see that another dog is irritated by him I distract him away for a bit and I don't get hurt feelings over an occasional growl by a dog he's offended.
• Study body language: There are plenty of videos about canine body language. Learn signs of fear, aggression and play in dogs in general but become an expert on your dog's cues. Is he looking at the tiny poodle in the park like he does a squirrel? Is he scared of the larger dog that's approaching.
• Fight or play: Often dogs will rough house, show teeth, growl and roll around. It's hard to tell if they're playing or about to fight. One easy tell is that when playing, dogs will genuflect. It's often very fast but you'll see them bow down with front legs out stretched to signal that they are respectful of the dog they're about to "attack."
• Leave the house calmly: Your dog will be excited enough. Don't amp it up with "We're going to the park in the car" songs. Highly excited dogs make bad decisions and often look aggressive to other dogs.
• Scan the park before you enter: Waiting several minutes before you exit your car gives your dog time to calm down and you time to scan the park to see if any of the troublesome body language signs are present on the dogs already there. If there are problem dogs go for a ride and come back later.
• Don't rush the gate: Wait outside the entrance until dogs on the other side have calmed down and moved away. If you're inside when a new dog enters bring your dog away from the entrance. Excited dogs funneled in to a small area can be trouble.
• Pay attention: Talking to the other dog parents is great but always keep one eye on your dog and be ready to intervene if he's bullying or getting bullied.
• Breaking up a fight: Smelling salts can be helpful in distracting dogs long enough to break things up. Throwing a jacket over the aggressors head can work too.
• Final thoughts: Don't give in to peer pressure. If others are urging you to come in and your gut says not to, follow your gut. It's better to skip a day at the park than to spend the night at the vet.