GREYHOUNDS IN DOG PARKS?

You might have noticed the question mark in the title of this article.  It was purposeful.  I am not convinced that greyhounds make good dog park dogs for many reasons and I will elaborate on such in this article.

Dog parks can be great things.  They offer people a safe and legal way to let their dogs off leash.  For those people with small yards, unfenced yards, or no yard at all, they give greys a safe opportunity to exercise and stretch their legs.  Greyhounds love to run.  Yes, they make great retirement couch potatoes, but most greys, when given the opportunity to stretch their legs and show off their speed, will take off like a smiling bat out of you know where.  Dog parks also give dogs the opportunity to socialize off leash and give owners an opportunity to meet other dog lovers.             
Why don’t I think greyhounds make good dog park dogs?  The biggest reason is because most of the greyhounds I know have a distinctive play style and it can be rough.  I’ve seen many greys run playfully up to other dogs, bite their necks and run away.  It is their play style and they love it.  But, it is not necessarily a compatible play style with other dogs.  My own grey, Pharaoh was known pre-amputation as a dog park bully.   I would take him to a dog park and he would act uninterested in other dogs until he met that one that he knew was made of the stuff he was looking for. He would then, out of nowhere, bite the dog on the neck and run hoping the dog was spunky and would chase him.  If that initial bite didn’t work, he would come back and give the dog more.  The look of utter joy in his face brought a smile to my face.  But, it sometimes brought a look of horror to the face of the owner of the dog subject to his play style. I would always make sure the other dog and its owner was fine with his roughness.  If not, I would get Pharaoh and leave.

I also know some greys who get very competitive and become aggressive when running.  They take offense to dogs who think they are faster or who don’t run by their own unwritten rules.  These dogs might not be able to handle a pack of dogs chasing them, especially if they don’t run with the same rules.

Also, if your grey gets into a scrap, many times the grey will come out with wounds that a heavy-furred dog could fend off easily.  Pharaoh has a permanent scar on his shoulder from a scrap that he started with a shepherd.  He started it and the shepherd was uninjured, but he has a permanent scar.

Dog parks also have their dark side regardless of the breed of your dog.  Some dogs without proper early socialization are completely overwhelmed and terrified by big packs of dogs, yet their owners are not always in touch with their fearfulness and do not protect them.  Mixing dogs of different play styles also can lead to fights and aggression.  Pit bulls play differently then do labs. Shepherds play differently than do border collies.  Put a border collie into a dog park with a pit bull and before you know it, there might be a fight.  The fight might not be due to any inherent aggressiveness on the part of either dog, but I could see the border collie being offended by being body slammed which is normal pit bull playfulness.  My own shep mix JJ is a very playful dog, but easily becomes overwhelmed at dog parks.  When I take him to a dog park it is not uncommon for him to start to drool out of stress.

People also can make a dog park experience either positive or negative.  Many people do not pay attention to their dogs and they don’t remove them when becoming over-aroused nor do they intervene when needed.  Too often people come to dog parks, let their dogs loose and then do not watch them.

So, what do you do if you want to take your dog to a dog park?  First, make sure you watch your dog.  Do not get so involved in conversation that you lose track of your dog.  Watch for signs of stress and remove your dog if he/she becomes stressed.  Make sure you intervene if your dog becomes a bully.  Give your dog a time out or remove him/her from the dog park if needed.  If another dog becomes aggressive to your dog and that dog’s owner is not intervening, do not get mad, just get your dog and leave.  Too often people with aggressive dogs become belligerent when confronted, and there is no convincing them that their dog is in the wrong.  Do not bring toys/treats to the dog park.  I always have treats when I am out with my dogs, but I try not to bring them out at the park to prevent any dogs becoming possessive over them.  Always bring a leash (believe it or not, many people just pull up to the park and let their dogs in the park directly from their car), do not smoke as some dogs react to smoke, and do not bring more dogs than you can control.

I will often meet with a group of friends at North Park or even Frick Park at off times when there are not many dogs there.  Typically Sunday morning at 7 am is a great time to have the dog park to yourself.  I find my dogs are happier when hanging out with dogs they know than going to dog parks full of unknown dogs.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule.  There are some greys who do great at dog parks and if it ain’t broke, don’t change anything.  Just educate yourself about good dog park etiquette and keep your eye on your dog to make sure he/she is not uncomfortable or is not making another dog uncomfortable.  If it is not an enjoyable experience for you and your dog, then just leave.

Lilian Akin, CPDT

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