Monday, October 4, 2010

Chicagoing: On Chicago Dog Parks

Since most of us here in Chicago don't have our own yards, the city has been nice enough to designate several dog parks, and even some dog-specific beaches, throughout the city.
We have mixed feelings about the dog parks. When used responsibly they can be a great place for the dogs to run and release energy. But at the same time, many of the parks have become too popular and overcrowded. The parks themselves are rather small, and sometimes there will be 40+ dogs in there at at time. Given the excitement of being able to run free, the multitude of dogs being met at one time, owners bringing in toys and balls, and tiny dogs romping among bigger dogs this can be a huge recipe for disaster.
When I first adopted Miss M I would occasionally take her to one of these parks and we saw a couple of things. Some people would come in with their very scared tiny dogs and walk them on retractable leashes in the park. We actually saw a tiny dog get dragged several feet when a big group of larger dogs ran through the leash. We've seen dog walkers come in with several dogs at one time, sit down to read a book, and not pay attention to what the dogs were doing. I was in awe watching one of his dogs, a big English Sheepdog, continue to attack a  white Boxer to the point where the white Boxer had blood dripping down its forehead. While it is fun to come and mingle with other like-minded people, we think there's too much happening in too small of a space to have a comfortable and fun experience.
Chicago also has a couple of designated beach areas for dogs. A small area is near Addison and the lake where dogs frolic and swim. The larger dog beach is at Montrose.
This is a lot nicer because there is much more space and less chances for negative encounters. Part of the area isn't fenced off, and your pooch could potentially run off down the beach, so you need to have a good handle on your dog. I had also taken Miss M here in her youth, and on the few occasions we went she had a good time. However, one time she went running up to meet another dog, who didn't like how Miss M approached, and the other dog grabbed Miss M by the jowls and refused to let go. The owner was shaking this "family-friendly" dog, who refused to release her grip. Poor Miss M looked like a cartoon with her whole lip stretched out and crying trying to get away. Somehow, the owner was able to get her dog to let go, and I found this dog had punctured all the way through Miss M's lip in several places. I decided big dog parks just weren't worth it anymore.
Now we have been lucky enough to find a "secret dog park".
 It's not very popular, and we usually go early in the morning so we're the only ones there. The pooches love running around and chasing the ball, and they get their own water fountain.
The only problem is the park is all cement, so it's rough on the pooches' feet. Miss M especially will get torn toe pads.
So while it's nice to have the option, the dog parks are just a luxury for our dogs. Between our daily walks, and running, they are getting exercise and socialization. If they are especially excited, we also have an option of sending them to Unleashed dog daycare, which is pit-friendly and monitors dog interactions.
I think the city dog parks leave much to be desired. How are the dog parks in your area?


Anonymous said...

Hi there, I found your blog via the blog hop. Currently I'm in a similar situation: a high-energy dog in a city without a fenced yard. It can be challenging, but it's totally doable.

The dog parks here in Halifax, NS also leave something to be desired. Most of them are smaller spaces and people tend to gather in one spot to socialise, leaving the dogs to do their own thing. It can lead to some dangerous situations. There is one fabulous park with a dog beach and many off-leash walking trails, but it's only a pilot project. I worry the city will revoke the park's off-leash status if people aren't responsible.

Anonymous said...

We have a really amazing dog park here. It's huge and has a creek that runs through it and a nice long trail so that the dogs aren't right on top of each other. Before we had Mayzie, we took Ranger there on a regular basis.

However, because of Mayzie's lack of socialization growing up, she's a bit uncertain about dogs and I don't think she'd think it was fun at all. Plus, I'm always worried that if anything were to happen, Mayzie would get blamed for it - even if it wasn't her fault. I really think that owners of pit bull-type dogs have to be extra-careful when it comes to dog parks. Any little incident could result in another black mark against pit bulls.


Heather said...

I used to take my beagle to the local dog park which is about 8 or 9 acres or so. We took our pit to the same park once and another pit bull sprinted straight at him and jumped on him and we luckily were able to intervene but the other pit's owner was no where to be seen. The main reason I haven't gone in the past year with either of them is because a classmate's pit bull was stolen from the park. She and her dog had been playing near the back of the park when her dog saw the front gate open by a man and another pit. The dog ran up to greet them as my classmate ran after her dog. The man grabbed her collar and ran out of the park - threw the dog in the car and drove off. My classmate wasn't close enough to get a license plate number - just a description of the car - but she never found her dog. Even with a $3000 reward that was raised by her and our school. I think dog parks are okay for some - but I tend to shy away from them now. It helps that I have my fiance's parents farm with 60 acres of forest/pasture to run around in!

Backcountry Brodie said...

Mom stopped taking me to the dog park here in NJ a long time ago for the exact reasons you mention. I think it is the same everywhere. People take dogs that have no business being in that type of situation. Then when there is a fight people don't know how to break it up appropriately and cause more damage. We would also see negative interactions between unaltered dogs all the time. It all boils down to irresponsible humans and unfortunately they are everywhere.

jen said...

This is a great post!
I have to admit I have never taken the dogs to a dog park even though there are some in the area. I have thought about it, but have decided not to do it. The main reason is because both the boys are intact and I think it might be a disaster waiting to happen, not that I don't trust them, it's the dogs whose owners are not paying attention that I don't trust.

Anonymous said...

I know of at least one dog park in my area but have never been there so I can't comment on what it's like. We've got a fenced back yard that the guys can do zoomies in so we're lucky in that respect. I think Roxy and Jordie would love to go to a dog park and play with other dogs. Petey, on the other hand, probably wouldn't. He doesn't play well with dogs he doesn't know.

Road Dog Tales said...

As you can imagine, being our own pack of dogs, we and our parents are always looking for places to play off the beaten path. Even here in semi-rural SC, it's not that easy. We have a nice dog park here that we used for several years. Then we made friends with a guy at the horse park who let us use certain areas there. We made sure to use it off hours so we didn't run into any horses. Then Mom & Dad bought us our own dog park (long story) so now we're lucky not to have those issues any more. But, we totally understand what you're talking about. If you ever come to SC to escape the Chicago winter, let us know and we'll let you in our dog park all by yourselves!
The Road Dogs

heartsong said...

Here in Florida, dog parks were slow in materializing, but now there are quite a few and they're pretty nice. I also live very close to the beach which has had a designated "dog beach" for as long as I can remember which is wonderful during the hot summers.

Unfortunately, like the others have mentioned, I don't take my two boys to the parks because of the huge potential for troube from other dogs & ignorant owners. And my one boy isn't very dog friendly.

But, luckily, I also found a secret park that doesn't get used and have been able to take the boys to their "private" park once in while to stretch their legs.

AC said...

We have some good dog parks out here but I never take Kona, for all the reasons in your post. Unfortunately, some neighbors treat our local trails as off leash parks. I enjoy seeing dogs romp off leash but they need to be really trained (recall, to not chase wildlife, not approach other dogs) and most aren't. Thankfully, most owners on these trails are more proactive with their pups and make an effort to stay away from me and Kona.

Laura and Hans said...

I've almost given up on taking Wilbur to any park because even the ones that say all dogs must be leashed, are full of unleashed dogs! I wouldn't care except most of these dogs run right up to us. The owners will call out, "Oh, he's friendly!" about their dog, but what about mine? I have a pit bull on a leash. Thank God he's friendly but what if he wasn't! I would never in a million years allow any dog of mine to approach another one without full permission from its owner! Luckily I did find a walking path on the waterfront that borders a bunch of restaraunts and condos. Since it's such a public place I haven't had any problems but I get bored with going there everyday! Oh well, it's better than nothing.

houndstooth said...

We're very lucky here with dog parks. While we have no dog friendly beaches, we do have several very nice dog parks. Our favorite is rather large and has a separate area for smaller dogs. It has a lot of trees and areas of interest. We try not to go there on weekends when it's likely to be more crowded and go on days when it will be quieter. I think you have to look for a dog park that's right for you and your dog and they definitely aren't all created equal.

Kellee the Caffeinated said...

We actually discourage dog parks to our adopters only because of the irresponsible owners like the ones that you mention... No matter how well behaved your dogs are, someone who isn't paying attention, who cannot control their dog ends up there and it's just asking for trouble. Also you can't know if their dogs are sick, are properly vaccinated, etc... It's so hard to find a fun place to take your dog...

~The Mama Monster

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the dog parks in our area are exactly as you describe those in Chicago. I can't believe how clueless some pet owners can be! It's just ridiculous and many seem to have no common sense or consideration for the safety of their dogs, much less the safety of others' dogs. We won't take our dog to one for that reason.

The Daily Pip said...

We tend to avoid the dog parks, too! We also know many dogs who have gotten sick from the doggy beach. Fortunately, we have a small yard that is the perfect size for Pip. Our tenants have a lab and our yard is too small for her.

By the way, I saw a coyote yesterday right around Addison and Western/Rockwell. It was pretty amazing to see, but good for dog owners to know about. They are on the rise in Chicago.

Kate said...

We don't do dog parks either. Luckily our guys are lower energy so walks and fetch in the backyard are enough for them. I would love to find a place like your secret dog park though. It seems like a good time!

Rescued Pittie Family said...

We are fortunate to have huge dog parks here in Nashville. And since most people have yards they're never over-crowded.
I have seen some of the worst dog and human behavior there though and we always keep a close eye on our girls.
Abbey and LuLu go to the dog park. Greighson is too protective of us and Haleigh is way too shy -she can't stand other dogs jumping on her and getting in her face.
Abbey and LuLu do OK, but LuLu gets picked on a lot - and it's always by "nice family dogs" like this horrible golden retriever that seems to always show up while we're there.
The pitties are always super friendly and I just eat it up with a spoon.

Liz said...

I used to take Bogart to the dog park when he was younger. He would have so much fun, but you're right, there's just too much going on and I didn't want to risk Bogart getting into a fight. Once there was a dog there who was very toy possessive. Bogart went near the dog's ball and the dog attacked Bogart. Another time, there was this guy who had these two dogs that, what appeared to me anyway, were trying to hunt Bogart. It was actually quite scary because he was just a pup. I grabbed him and got out of there. Also, to be honest, Bogart doesn't always get along with other dogs especially in tact males. He wasn't always like this. Now I keep him away from dog parks.

HoundDogMom said...

Same about our dog parks. To crowed for us when trying to watch 3 bassets. Our dog park does have a smaller fenced in area for the smaller dogs which works really well. It also seems like they have to run to the gate to greet everyone as well. The Hounddogs

brooke said...

I always have a problem with dog owners (and walkers) who bring their dogs to the park and then not pay attention to them (talk on the phone, read, etc). I admit when I first started taking Dar to the dog park I brought along a book thinking I could read while she ran around, but eventually realized no reading gets done because Im always watching to see if she's pooping or getting along with other dogs.
There was a commercial on tv playing for a while about wireless internet, and they were showing all the places you could use it, like the dog park. I HATED that commercial. I always complained to Jason that those are the people at the dog park who shouldnt be at the dog park.
A lot of the parks in Seattle are on the smaller size. We drive 30 minutes out of Seattle to the Disneyland of dog parks, Marymoor park, which is a huge park so there is tons of room for dogs and people.
I wish there were more dog friendly beaches in Seattle. There are 2 or 3 dog parks with beach access, but the beach spots are so small and get crowded really quickly.

jet said...

You've seen ours! Mostly lacking fences though, so good recall is a must. The fenced dog park that we used to go to a lot isn't the park of choice any more because it's very busy.

I don't understand why people take tiny dogs into those situations. We saw a very miserable tiny dog at the beach the other day. I think if people want to do that kind of stuff with their dog they could get something that is big enough not to be carried off by the surf!

Kari in Alaska said...

I feel like irresponsible owners have ruined dog parks in LA. I hate the humpers, mostly because my girls correct it. They don't attack but let dogs know they hate being humped and the humper's owner seems to think that humping is no big deal


Two French Bulldogs said...

looks fun but we don't like those doggy parks
Benny & Lily

Daisy Dog said...

Every trainer I have used is totally against dog parks. That being said for about he first year I had Daisy we would go to the dog park all the time. It was a small one, and most peple knew each other. She and a big German Shepard got into a scuffle about a toy, but both the owners, myself and the GS owner immediately tossed a big bowl of water on them and they ignored each other form tha point forward and all subsequent visits. The thing that stopped me from going is when a lady brought in her two golden retrievers, she was new, had them off leash but was training them in the park with food!! so she was surrounded by all the dogs, and freaking out. One of the retrievers attacked Daisy and the rest is history. We separted everyone and I told her flat out food is not appropriate in a dog park, because of food aggresion issues with the dogs. Training should be done somewhere else. I went back a couple times but if she was there I would leave. Last year when we started our CGC class, there were 2 golden retrievers in the class. Daisy growled at them everytime she saw them. It was awful. She eventually clamed down and passed her CGC.

Anonymous said...

I think the dog parks are only as good as the owners. We've had some great experiences taking ours, but we've also had a few negative encounters when people don't pay attention to their dogs. Boots is unfortunately a humper sometimes so we're constantly monitoring him with new dogs (he only humps certain males). It's most relaxing when there's not many people there and they can run freely.

We're moving this weekend and I'm excited to explore the dog park that'll be near our new house. We've been fortunate to have member's only dog parks which I like because it helps keep out individual dogs that have been found to be aggressive.

Anonymous said...

Luv the photos as always.

Don't like Chicago dog parks. Somethin tells me it wasn't a dog person that designed them :(

I'd stay away too,

Mary said...

Wow, that story about Ms. M. is scary. The thing is, if she had defended herself, she would have been blamed for the entire encounter. I generally follow the advice of Bad Rap, which is that no pit bull belongs in a dog park. I try to set Levi up for success as much as possible.

There is a very small dog park in our neighborhood, but it's like you described-the people are clueless and not paying attention. I took Levi to a dog park when I first adopted him and didn't care for it. It was like all the dogs knew each other and overwhelmed him when he came in-he rolled on his back and peed on himself:(

I feel badly sometimes because he loves it and loves playing with other dogs, but I try to remind myself that a dog does not need play time with other dogs to be well-adjusted and happy. I might (and very rarely) take him in the park if there is one or two other dogs, but we leave if other dogs come, especially if they are smaller. Besides, we have friends with dogs he can play with in a controlled situation, so it's not like he never gets to play.

Kirby, CGC said...

Kirby hasn't been to any dog parks yet. His fear and agression issues about other dogs aren't totally under control yet. I also don't like the fact that other people don't have control of their dogs either. What could be a good experience for Kirby could turn out to be a total disaster! He does get to play in my sisters fenced in yard a few times a week with her dog and I'm hoping to sneak him onto the tennis courts in our condo this fall/winter once they take the nets down. It's completely fenced in with a door and everything, it will be his own little dog park!

PS: love the costumes on the dogs!
Kirby's Mom

A Confessed Pit Bull Addict said...

We're totally with you on the dog park angle. I love the idea of dog parks, but have seen very few city dog parks users who are actually good dog people. Most dog park fans seem use the parks the same way they probably use their TV for their kids - as a way to relieve themselves of the responsibility of entertainment and authority.

Because our brindle is such an intimidating looking girl (dark brindle, barrel chest, 75+ pounds, cropped ears), even though we know she is 100 percent reliable with dogs of all sizes and demeanor, our fear was that any scuffle, anywhere in the dog park while we were there - even if we were on the other side of the park from it - would result in our being blamed, fined and potentially having Toni confiscated. Not worth it to us.

Now when we meet people who go on and on about their fantastic dog parks in which their (probably ill-behaved) dogs can run and run and play and play, we just smile and nod and say, "That's fantastic for you." Just not for us.

Anonymous said...

I thought of you guys after a situation that occurred when I took Turk (my pit mix) to a new dog park this morning.

A lady came over to me and told me to "get a hold of my dog" after HER dog started barking at him and attacking him. Turk hadn't done anything wrong and started to give a warning growl to her dog to keep her away. Because Turk is part pit, he was seen as the aggressor even though he hadn't done anything wrong.

I was pretty upset about it until I went to another part of the park where a couple commented on how sweet Turk was and well-behaved. I made sure to let them know that he is a pit mix and we got into a conversation about how good owners can help change the perception of bully breeds.

Thanks for using your blog to help spread the word that pits and other bully breeds are good dogs and deserve a chance!

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