Category Archives: Blog

Say “No” To Dog Parks: Here’s Why & Better Alternatives

Say “No” To Dog Parks: Here’s Why & Better Alternatives

By Kimberly Archer
Dog Behavior Technician

As a dog parent you just want the best for your pup, and as such most of us want to provide our dog with a rich social life. The easy way to do this is to regularly take your dog to the dog park… or is it? Though dog parks are technically designed for this purpose, dogs having amazing experiences at the dog park before coming home to happily sleep on the couch is more fantasy than reality. Unfortunately, dog parks actually present lots of problems for dogs and their parents, ranging from behavioral repercussions to health dangers. Fortunately, there are better options. 

Potential Behavioral Issues

The types of experiences your dog will have at a dog park are completely unknown making it impossible to carefully create positive socialization experiences.

It may be strange to hear a dog professional mention dog parks as a potential behavioral nightmare, as we constantly tell you that continued socialization is imperative for every dog. However, when socialization isn’t carefully controlled and crafted out of happy and stress-free experiences, it leads to the opposite of the desired effect: traumatic experiences causing your dog to lose confidence rather than build it. A dog park is incredibly unpredictable, and the types of experiences your dog will have there are completely unknown, making it impossible to carefully create positive socialization experiences. To make it worse, you have no idea what experiences the other dogs there have had. You may enter a dog park seeing that all of the dogs in there look to be happy and friendly without realizing that one of the dogs actually has a serious fear of golden retrievers, the breed which you are currently bringing in. In a matter of seconds a playgroup can go from happily playing to completely stressed out and dangerous, leaving you without much time to intervene to protect your dog. Furthermore, most parents just aren’t familiar with dog behavior, and even if their dog was giving off signs that it was stressed they likely wouldn’t notice these signs until the stress has developed too far to appropriately redirect. 

Even if every dog is friendly and well socialized to the point where they typically do well in group environments, dogs playing have many different playstyles, arousal levels, likes, and dislikes. Your herding dog may love to run circles around the other dogs, whereas the boxer there hates being herded and would prefer to run up and paw at your dog. There are many different appropriate playstyles between dogs, but they are not all compatible with each other.

These are especially important points to consider for working dogs as they need to only have positive experiences. This is to ensure the working dog is never concerned and is always perfectly confident and happy to do their job. As Courteous Canine’s head dog behavior consultant, Angelica Steinker takes on the most challenging behavior cases. These especially challenging behavior cases tend to have one or many distinct dog park experiences which have led to their issues. She goes on to say that service dogs are generally never allowed at dog parks due to the high incidence of people mistakenly taking dogs with issues to dog parks for socialization – it only takes a single event to cause life-altering trauma, and service dog owners know better than to take that risk. In Angie’s words, “all dog owners must practice defensive dog parenting, just like service dog users, and avoid the use of unregulated and unmanaged dog parks.”

Even if every dog is friendly – dogs have different playstyles.

Another thing to consider is your dog’s specific personality. Some dogs may be incredibly extroverted and love playing with new dogs. But for the most part, it can be a lot of work and potentially stress to figure out the playstyle of each new dog, and many dogs are happier making specific friends and sticking with them. Just as humans make friends and mainly socialize with them, if you already know a few dogs that yours loves to play with, then why roll the dice with strangers? 

Health Risks

Moving past all of the behavioral challenges that dog parks pose, health dangers may also present themselves. Even if everyone immediately picked up their dogs’ potentially-infected feces (which they don’t), the dogs may not be up to date on their vaccinations. Even when vaccinated they could still be carrying one of those diseases without knowing, or a number of other diseases. Frequently interacting with dogs that are not in your regular play group greatly increases the chances that you’ll come into contact with a sick dog, especially considering the other dogs at the dog park are likely regular attendees who also frequently come into contact with other random potentially-sick dogs.

Alternative Options

Though reading this information may leave you feeling sad that your dog will never be able to play with another dog again, that’s not the case! There are many safe ways to allow your dog to socialize with other dogs and get their necessary exercise.

Great options are forming a playgroup or joining a daycare – ensure to carefully assess daycares first.

A great option to consider is forming a playgroup for your dog. Talk to some friends and neighbors about their dogs’ breeds, playstyles, and health history in order to find other dogs that would make good candidates as new dog friends. If your dog has never met one of these dogs before, be sure to introduce them slowly and don’t force them into anything. If they seem to get along, then great, you found a new friend! If not, there’s no need to coerce a friendship, just move on to the next candidate.

Once you have a few dog friends you’ll need a place for the dogs to play. If someone has a large fenced yard then that is a perfect place. If not, you can go to the dog park when it is empty so that you’re just using the space rather than meeting new dogs. If this seems like a lot of work, consider a doggy daycare! You’ll want to carefully assess daycares and find one that keeps mostly the same dogs in playgroups, employs small playgroups, gives them lots of space, has a knowledgeable human ensuring appropriate play, requires vaccinations, and uses lots of toys and force-free methods to redirect any uneasiness. Here at Courteous Canine, we have an excellent playgroup which is constantly monitored and adjusted to ensure all dogs are happy and enjoying play with their friends.

Or maybe your dog is not very social, so you have been using the dog park mainly for exercise. If this is the case, consider an option that doesn’t include other dogs. Even if you don’t have access to a fenced area you can use a long line (a very long leash) to still play sports like frisbee with your dog. You could also consider jogging or running with your dog, and even dogs without much obedience training often stay close to their human and have a great time running beside them. Your dog may also enjoy a dog sport like agility or dock diving which are both excellent ways to keep your dog fit. And just as the more social dog playgroups may do, you could always just take your dog and some toys to the dog park when it’s empty. 


Moving Forward

When deciding where and how to play, ensure that you keep your dog’s personality and well-being at the forefront of your mind. You also want to carefully observe potential play areas for any safety concerns such as obstructions, feces, toxic plants, anthills and nearby dangers. Parks equipped for positive experiences would typically have shade, a sturdy fence, lots of space, poop bags, small pools, and access to fresh water. The dog park in my personal neighborhood actually has metal agility equipment “designed for dogs,” but I would never encourage a dog to jump over or through a heavy metal object for fear of hurting their leg if they don’t jump perfectly! Keep little things like this in mind when you’re choosing what’s right for your dog. 

 

Happy playtime!

Tampa Dog Trainer Brenna Fender: What is UpDog?

4 Way Play Frizgility 10361263_1512780378945583_2448123466868105570_nTampa Dog Trainer Brenna Fender: What’s UpDog?

UpDog is a brand new dog sport organization created by Kat and Jack Fahle, Andrea and Jason Rigler, and Babz Mahony. These dedicated disc doggers wanted to expand their favorite sport to include a wider variety of dogs – and people – than seen at typical disc dog events. Traditionally, while many people enjoy games with discs in their yards, only athletic dogs of certain body types and handlers with great disc throwing distance and skills are very successful at disc dog competitions. UpDog organizers wanted to change that. “We feel that everyone should be able to participate in the game of disc. It’s one of the most fundamental things people do with their dog – play fetch. As such, we’ve created games that allow all levels of people and dogs to play. We’ve helped make the sport more beginner friendly by creating games that incorporate short tosses, by allowing the use of soft discs, rollers [discs that are rolled on their sides rather than thrown in the air], and, in many games – multiple discs,” says Kat Fahle. UpDog’s website says, “UpDog is dedicated to expanding the awareness and participation of people and dogs in athletic endeavors. We want more people and more dogs having fun, playing together. So we designed some fun games built around the opportunity for every dog and human to work towards their own personal bests. You will have fun (Play), you will earn achievements (Achieve), and you and your dog will learn and grow (Expand).”

UpDog offers a variety of games that incorporate elements of agility and flying disc. But extensive training in either sport is not required. If your dog can catch a thrown or rolled disc and/or can do agility jumps and tunnels, you can have a great time at UpDog events. The games offered through this venue are fun in and of themselves, but they also provide a stepping stone to other dog sports. Fahle says, “Not only is it easier to get started in disc via UpDog, the other great thing is that as you play our games you are building foundation skills needed to play Freestyle should the day come you want to try that out. So you and your dog are learning while playing!”

Everything about UpDog is “beginner friendly,” as Fahle says. “If your dog is at the point in his training where he will only return a disc if you have another disc, we have some games that allow multiple discs. Say you can’t throw more than six feet; we have games where short tosses are all that are needed and then once you build your skill set there are more games and more levels to explore. We also allow you to roll the disc, which may allow for a new person to get more distance at first while they learn better throwing mechanics.  For dogs not yet used to hard discs; we allow soft discs!  Say you have a physical limitation that doesn’t allow you to ever throw farther than 6-10 feet; you can stay in level 1 for as long as you need. Simply because you earn enough Ups [qualifications] to move to level 2 doesn’t mean you have to move to level 2.  Conversely, the games and levels offer challenges for even the most skilled disc dog teams as well.  In UpDog, there is something for everyone at every level of play,” says Fahle.

Unlike most disc events, you don’t have to place in your class to “win.” Fahle says, “We’ve built in a system of achievements and UPs so that every person who earns even just one point while playing is rewarded. Each game has achievements that can be earned. Starting this fall, when a team joins UpDog, their achievements will show on their digital profile, which can be shared via social media, linked to on websites, et cetera. Then, as they accumulate achievements, those count towards UPs. These are physical rewards somewhat like dog tags that participants can earn and collect. The earning of UPs also allows teams to move up from one level to the next somewhat like titles in agility.”

UpDog has been very well received in the disc dog community, and it is beginning to make waves among dog sport enthusiasts of all kinds. Even though the first UpDog classes were offered just this spring, the upcoming UpDog event, planned for August 9th in Plant City, filled up all available competition spots in just 13 hours (spectators are welcome). The UpDog team traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan, recently to present the sport at the United Kennel Club’s national event, the Premier, and it was very well received. The fall will bring UpDog competitions to Illinois, New Hampshire, and Canada. Pretty great for a brand new organization born right here in central Florida!

For more information on UpDog, visit their website at http://updogchallenge.com/ or find them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UpDogChallenge.

Courteous Canine, Inc. offers dog training, puppy training, working with aggressive dogs and rehabilitating fearful and shy dogs.  In addition we offer cat training, agility, pushball, Fun Scent Games, disc dog sports and dock jumping. Courteous Canine, Inc. is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boarding!

Tampa Dog Trainer Brenna Fender: New Trainer and New Class at Courteous Canine, Inc.!

lisaNew Trainer and New Class at Courteous Canine, Inc.!

By Brenna Fender

Did you ever see a dog do some really cool tricks and think, “Wow, I’d love my dog to be able to do that”? Do you just know that your dog could do amazing tricks if you just knew how to teach him? Courteous Canine DogSmith of Tampa can help you do just that!

Certified trick dog trainer Lisa Morrissey will be bringing her trick training expertise to Courteous Canine DogSmith of Tampa this fall with a new trick training class. This class teaches handlers how to train their dogs to do basic tricks and how to build on them to create more elaborate tricks by luring, shaping, capturing and chaining tricks together. Through the class, owners learn how to teach their dogs enough tricks to earn a Novice Trick Dog title through a sanctioning organization called “Do More with Your Dog.”

What tricks could you learn to teach your dog in this class? Spin, leg weaves, figure eights, paws up, say your prayers, shake hands, wave, take a bow, jump though a hoop, soccer, wipe your feet, and more! Morrissey has extensive experience in training tricks and has won trick competitions with her rescued Border Collie, Brody, who has also appeared in television commercials and on the news. Learn more about Brody in his online resume here: http://brodythebordercollie.weebly.com/brodys-resume.html

Trick training is fun, but it also has lots of value for dogs that compete in dog sports or participate in family life. Teaching dogs tricks provides mental and physical stimulation and exercise, builds canine confidence, and improves the dog/owner bond.

For more information or to enroll in the class, contact info@CourteousCanine.com or visit our website www.CourteousCanine.com.

Courteous Canine, Inc. offers dog training, puppy training, working with aggressive dogs and rehabilitating fearful and shy dogs.  In addition we offer cat training, agility, pushball, Fun Scent Games and dock jumping. Courteous Canine, Inc. is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boarding!

Tampa Dog Trainer: Dog Travel Safety

dog traveling

Dog Travel Safety is an important concern

Tampa Dog Trainer: Dog Travel Safety

By Brenna Fender

Dog owners often travel with their pets to competitions, on vacation, or just about town while on errands, but they may not realize that the way they travel can mean the difference between life and death.

Do you drive with Fido loose in the back seat or running around your RV?  Do you pile your gear on the passenger seat?  Things like these can make a big difference in the event of an accident.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association states that a 60-pound dog riding in a car traveling at 30 miles per hour becomes a projectile which can hit the windshield – or the driver – with the force of 1,200 pounds. While 82% of Americans wear their seatbelts, only a fraction secure their dog during car travel, which means that, in an accident, a canine companion can become a deadly missile. This endangers your dog, your passengers, and you.

Owners can travel much more safely by securing their dogs (and other loose objects) in their vehicle. One way to do this is by purchasing a crate. The safest crates are made of either hard plastic or metal.  There are pros and cons to each – plastic might be less strong, but metal wires may bend and injure a dog. Noted conformation handler, breeder, and American Kennel Club judge Pat Hastings says, “I believe that a quality fiberglass (plastic) crate is the safest way to travel with dogs. We have stopped at two accidents where the dogs were in wire crates and the impact of the accident broke the wires at the welds. Some of the dogs were killed by the wires and some were just injured but it was very difficult to remove the dogs as the wires were bent inward.” Ruff Tuff Kennels are the latest innovation in travel crate safety, designed specifically with car travel (and accidents) in mind. (Learn more at http://www.rufftoughkennels.com/)  Fabric crates, while better than nothing, provide far less protection than a solid crate.

Placing a crate in your vehicle isn’t enough to make your dog safe – that crate must be secured so that it doesn’t become a projectile in a crash. While the gold standard used to be to use bungee cords, ratchet straps and other methods are now considered to be better suited to assure that a crate will remain stationary.  Do not place loose objects in a crate during travel because these can strike the dog during an accident.

Another way to keep your dog safe is by using a specially-made seatbelt. A properly fitted belt will allow your dog to change positions but will keep animals from being thrown during an accident. Proponents of seatbelts believe that these are safer than crates because animals can impact the wall of a crate during rapid deceleration. However, seatbelts will not shelter a dog from projectiles like a crate will. If you’re purchasing a seatbelt, make sure it is crash-tested and guaranteed.  Recent tests have shown that many seatbelts are useless or downright dangerous in an accident (http://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahelliott/2013/10/28/the-best-seat-belts-for-your-dog/). The new crash-tested car seat might be a better bet for small dogs, but the product is very new. (http://www.mightymitedoggear.com/dog-supplies/crash-tested-dog-car-seats-pupsaver)  Other crash tested options can be found here: http://www.mightymitedoggear.com/mighty-mite/dog-care-travel-gear/car-accessories/safety-harnesses-dog-seat-belts. Be sure that dogs in vehicles are not seatbelted near airbags, which are dangerous for animals and small children.

Many of the crash-tested crates and seatbelts are very expensive and owners may think that there is no use trying to keep their dog safe if they can’t afford these options. But securing your dog in some way is very important to the safety of all involved, even if you have to do so with a garden-variety crate.

Don’t forget to secure your gear as well.  Collapsible chairs, spare crates, training bags, luggage, children’s toys, and other items can all be dangerous if an accident occurs.  Use straps to keep items stationary or pack them in stow away areas within the vehicle.

Other tips for safe travel involve keeping your dog’s head inside the vehicle, never allowing an animal to ride loose in the open bed of a truck, and never leaving any pet in a parked car. These situations are all documented risks to animal safety, with the potential for injury or death.

Many dogs are part of the family. When traveling, treat them like you would treat a family member. Make sure that your dogs are safe and secure.

A version of this article first appeared on USDAA.com.

Courteous Canine, Inc. offers dog training, puppy training, working with aggressive dogs and rehabilitating fearful and shy dogs.  In addition we offer cat training, agility, pushball and dock jumping. Courteous Canine, Inc. is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boarding!