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Exercise caution when going to public dog parks

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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Pet owners who are fortunate enough to live in communities with dog parks can be passionate about these facilities. Some of the parks cropping up nationwide and in Europe are town or county maintained. But the vast majority are independent nonprofit organizations with limited resources and a tall order to fill. They are usually maintained by a loyal group of volunteers and frequented by "regulars."

Ideally, dog parks provide a reasonably safe environment for dogs to socialize and run off-leash legally. They are usually at least an acre, often quite a bit more so dogs are not necessarily right at their owners side and under their control. You need to be sure that you are able to control your dog regardless of what other dogs are doing. It's hard to sprint across more than an acre in time to physically intervene in a problem that is accelerating. Any time there is a gathering of multiple dogs, there are risks, not least of which is the potential for dog fights.

I'm always nervous when small dogs and big dogs who don't know each other are in the close proximity. It doesn't take long for a lot of injury to happen. What looks like an unprovoked attack may well be the culmination of body language cues between two or more dogs.

We think of overt aggression as provocation, but we often misread cues like tail wagging which we assume to be a sign of friendliness. Tail wagging can also indicate agitation or uncertainty, submission or dominance. It's normal for dogs to chase each other and get excited in play and a great disparity in size can be pretty risky. Most dog parks have separate areas for large and small dogs. Even if your little dog is used to playing with big dogs, keeping this separation is prudent.

There are seldom people patrolling dog parks so it's up to pet owners to take responsibility for their pets at all times. Sometimes this doesn't happen. People get involved in conversation and don't always pay attention to what their dog or other dogs are doing. Often it's simply misunderstanding the hierarchy of dogs. If your dog is unusually apprehensive about being around some of the other dogs, respect it and don't push the issue. There's probably some clear language going on between them.

I've found myself at dog parks where the chemistry just isn't working. We leave for a while and come back. Sometimes it's just a half hour or so before the group has changed and there's a new sense of harmony. If you have an aggressive dog, don't go to the dog park. It makes it tense and dangerous for others.

Always keep an eye on your dog and train it to obedient recall. Most dogs sort things out themselves but a watchful eye can keep bad behavior from ruining everyone else's good time. Unaltered males and females in heat should not be at dog parks. Pheromones from either can cause unpredictable behavior in other dogs.

Clean up after your pet. Most dog parks provide poop bags but I like to come prepared with my own. Keeping pet play areas poop free is critical to the health and pleasant experience for all concerned.

Unvaccinated pets or pets that have compromised immune systems are at risk so make sure your pets are healthy, clean, immunized and licensed before you take them to a dog park. Afterward, check them thoroughly for fleas and ticks or anything that might be passed on through contact with other dogs.

Despite the risks and sometimes controversy, dog parks can offer a valuable community service. The use of a dog park is a privilege, not a right, and success is entirely dependant on the responsible behavior of pet owners. Dog parks need to be used respectfully, courteously and with a keen eye out for safety. As someone who travels with three active dogs, I'm grateful for their existence.

Paws Around Town was written this week by Nadia Caillou, an animal care specialist and co-owner of a pet store in Sedona. She is the founder of Golden Bone Rescue and Rehab and has over 30 years experience helping distressed animals and helping pet owners, shelters and pounds overcome problem behavior in animals.

Copyright 2015 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: March 11, 2015

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