BY JILLIAN BLUMEAugust 2, 2019

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Dogs that live in an urban environment spend the majority of their outdoor time on the end of a leash. That makes dog parks extremely attractive to dog parents who want their pooches to experience the joy of running freely as they provide an outdoor environment where dogs can romp with other pups off leash. City dog parks also serve as modern day village greens where humans can meet other dog people and socialize. It’s a win-win situation, right?

“In rescue, we say the dog park is like the Wild West, and a bar brawl could break out at any point,” says Jme Thomas, Executive Director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue. “This is mainly because the owners often believe the dog park is where dogs can go to ‘let off steam’ and not need rules, but is actually the place they need the most rules — and rarely get them, especially from their owners.”

In other words, dog parks can be stressful for some dogs. Just like humans, some dogs are bullies. They will pick on the dog in the park with the least confidence.

“Owners often miss critical cues and signs that their dog may be uncomfortable — or the precursors to a major fight,” says Thomas.

That said, some dogs live for their trips to their local dog run. They have a familiar pack who all get together at around the same time to sniff and wrestle. It can be a great place for dogs to get some fun exercise and outdoor stimulation, which helps them relax when they get back home.

It can be difficult to predict how your dog will react to the dog park environment, and if you aren’t fluent in a dog’s body language (or you’re on your cell phone), you may miss the cues your dog is displaying that will tell you if it’s a thumbs up or thumbs down place for your pup.

Related: How to Make Sure You Aren’t the Jerk at the Dog Park

“It helps if people learn to recognize signs of play, which include the play bow, a relaxed happy face (called play face), and loose wiggly bodies,” says dog trainer Zazie Todd, who has Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Nottingham and writes about animal psychology. She notes that play can involve different activities that include chasing, wrestling, and running, and that most dogs will take short breaks, usually migrating to their human.


“Dog parks provide a place where dogs — who are an inherently social species — can play, investigate, and just pass the day with other dogs,” says Kristi Benson, a certified dog trainer on the faculty of the Academy for Dog Trainers and owner of Kristi Benson Dog Training in Manitoba, Canada. “It provides them with something that we, as humans, just can’t: time with other dogs.”

The question of whether or not to take your dog to the dog park is an easy one to answer, says Benson. Does your dog enjoy it, or does your dog become stressed and scared?

“If you head to the dog park, and your dog pulls you over to get through the gate, they are telling you they love it, so continue going,” says Benson. “If your dog hangs back in the car or acts scared in the park (hides behind you, tucks tail, doesn’t play or investigate dogs at all), they are telling you they are not having fun: listen to them!”

What kind of personality does your dog have? Is she the life of the party? Does she prance happily through the gate? Is she able to play appropriately with a relaxed body language that invites other dogs to come join the fun? Then barring any experience with a badly-behaved dog, the dog park experience is a healthy one.

Does your dog head under the nearest bench as soon as he sees another dog? “Dogs who are scared should be protected from the things that scare them,” says Benson, “So if your dog is scared of the dog park, you should find play dates with dogs who don’t scare them, or otherwise enrich their lives.”

Be aware that even if your dog has always loved going to the dog park, it can take one bad experience — especially if it involves fangs and blood — to change that forever. This is one of the many reasons that it’s so important to keep an eye on your dog and NOT on your cell phone when you’re at the dog park. If you notice another dog making your dog uncomfortable, you can step in immediately and remove your dog before anything happens.

Related: The Cities That Have the Most Dog Parks

“Many clients contact me after their dog has had a bad encounter with another dog at a dog park, and sometimes the damage is so traumatizing — like when a dog fight breaks out — that their dog is never the same again afterwards,” says Alexandra Bassett, a professional dog trainer and owner of Dog Savvy Los Angeles.

Of course, you may have a dog who loves the dog park, but also loves to pick a fight. The dog park is not the place for a dog who is aggressive to other dogs, says Benson. “If your dog loves the dog park but is one of the small minority of dogs who cause injury when they squabble, you must avoid the dog park.”

The local dog park can be a fabulous place for you and your dog to enjoy the outdoors and the community. Unfortunately, it only takes one irresponsible owner to ruin the fun for everyone. While a dog may be behaving in a way that makes other dogs uncomfortable, it is up to the owner to take charge and either remove their dog or teach him better manners.


“In the dog care field, it’s a generally accepted notion that dogs fall into four main categories in terms of their response to other dogs,” says Basset. She defines these categories as:

Dog-social (the dog enjoys meeting most dogs)

Dog-selective (the dog is choosy about what dogs they like)

Dog tolerant (the dog can tolerate being around other dogs but doesn’t necessary enjoy engaging with them)

Dog aggressive (the dog is aggressive towards other dogs).

“People assume that their dogs need to socialize with other dogs in order to be happy, but this is not always the case,” says Basset. Sometimes, as dogs age, they no longer want to meet or engage with dogs they don’t already know. They also may not enjoy being around puppies.

The dog park is not the ONLY way to socialize a dog, says Thomas. “It can be a great place for some dog and a terrible traumatizing and stressful place for others — even making things much worse for the dog. It is one thing to be stressed by the unknown, and it is another to have their fears realized with a dog behaving inappropriately or downright aggressive to them.”

Dogs’ tolerance levels and what they enjoy can change based on individual circumstances and handling, says Basset. “The key to success is reading your dog’s comfort level in all situations and reacting accordingly.”

Look to your dog to tell you whether you should go to the dog park — or not.

How To Select The Best Pet Boarding Facilities

How To Select The Best Pet Boarding Facilities

Although most people would prefer it if their furry friends could accompany them wherever they go there are times when the family dog or cat needs to stay behind. Everyone who needs to leave their pet while they are away wants to find a great boarding facility that will take good care of their cat or dog. Most kennels assure pet owners that they provide excellent care but unfortunately, this is not always the case. This is why it is so important for pet owners to find out whether the pet boarding facility they are considering lives up to its claims.

Visit the Kennel Website

Every legitimate pet boarding business has a professional website. Most business owners provide information about the company’s background, the staff and the services they provide. They often include photographs of the facility and some sites even include dog and cat boarding rates. An easy way to find out more information about a certain pet boarding facility is to conduct a quick Internet search. An online search can instantly reveal any positive or negative reviews posted online by customers. These reviews can provide pet owners with valuable information about the quality of a facility.

Take a Tour of the Facility

Pet owners should always go on a tour of the kennel before deciding to leave their pet there so they have the opportunity to meet staff members and see where their cat or dog will be staying. People should not leave their pet at a cat or dog boarding facility that has impatient or negative staff members. Animals are in tune with people’s emotions so it is essential for pet owners to leave their cat or dog in a positive and loving environment. The best pet boarding facilities only employ caring and efficient staff members who enjoy working with animals.

Professional pet boarding facilities let potential customers see what they have to offer. If a kennel does allow pet owners to walk through their facility freely, they likely have something to hide. They may be trying to hide unclean or substandard areas or sick pets. Potential customers have every right to inspect all indoor and outdoor areas of the kennel. If the staff does not allow people to enter into certain areas of the facility, pet owners should take their dog or cat elsewhere.

Ask Questions

Pet owners should feel free to ask questions about the different services a kennel provides. They should find out how often dogs are let out of their cage or room and find out if playtime is part of the daily routine. Most kennels let dogs out twice each day for a run but not all facilities play with the dogs or walk them. People who want their dog to go on walks and play each day should make sure to find a kennel that offers these services. Some kennels offer a half day of doggy daycare, which includes plenty of playtime and interaction with staff members.

People should ask whether they are permitted to bring their pet’s regular brand of food. Abruptly switching dog food brands can upset an animal’s digestive system so it is important to select a dog boarding facility that allows pet owners to bring food from home, this is especially important for pets that have food allergies. People should also ask what will happen if their cat or dog becomes sick. Some facilities have an on-site veterinarian or vet assistant while others team up with a local vet that takes care of the boarded pets various medical needs.

People should not leave their pet at a facility that refuses to answer their questions or seems hesitant to provide simple answers. Any quality pet boarding facility will not have a problem answering a potential customer’s questions. Staff members should take the time to ask pet owners about their dog or cat’s medical history, temperament, needs and preferences. In most cases, customers are required to fill out an information form and sign a contract.

Pay More for a Top Quality Facility

If you have a dog or cat that does not like to be caged you can search for a modern cage free boarding facility. Pet hotels are more expensive than a regular kennel because they offer private rooms with comfortable dog or cat beds. Pets can even bring along their favorite blankets and toys so they feel secure while they are away from home. Most of these modern facilities offer extra large rooms that accommodate multiple dogs or cats from the same home. People who leave their dog or cat at a pet spa and hotel can expect to receive terrific service. Most pet hotels play soft, soothing music at bedtime and include a variety of pet spa services such as dog grooming, nail trimming and massage sessions.

Whether pet owners are planning to leave their cat or dog at a pet boarding facility for one night or a couple of weeks they need to make sure they are choosing the best place possible. Reputable pet hotels that include doggy daycare and pet spa services are often booked up, especially during busy travel seasons. People who want to reserve a spot in a top dog or cat boarding facility need to book their pet’s stay well in advance.

An “almost” incident..

Colleen McCarvill Cpdt-Ka

March 27

An “almost” incident..

Paws for thought....

I'm going to begin this blog with a topic that I typically avoid like the plague. Television trainer discussions.

By television trainers, I think most of us know by now what I'm referring to. Television personalities with little to no education, promoting punishment, flooding and salacious television in the name of ratings and of course…

I will attempt to remain somewhat on the sidelines by not calling anyone out by name but rather going straight to the problem as I see it and, as I experience it. The rogue and unprofessional antecedent arrangements that cause risk to the general public through misinformation, resulting in mass misconception surrounding in-home training.

Specializing in reactivity cases and having a commitment to maintaining a clean personal/professional bite record as a trainer, I have had to revisit and revise my safety protocol often. Even after all of these years, as much education as I can possibly absorb and with as many cases as I have seen, every now and again something will occur that will cause me to consider revisions to my safety protocol.

It is imperative to maintain a safe environment for myself and any trainers that might accompany me, as well as for the humans & dogs I am working with. A bite effects everyone involved but it is particularly detrimental to the dogs that we are trying to help.

While the vast majority of my clients are extremely diligent with compliance to my safety protocol, there are situations that cause me to take a closer look at how I am communicating my safety rules and why they are in place.

Over the past several weeks, there have been a few cases that have again brought this to the forefront that I think would be helpful to share.

First of all, let me say this. Unlike the edited for television examples, no trainer worth their salt would ever enter an environment with a dog with any acknowledged potential bite risk, without taking substantial safety precautions. At the bare minimum, the dogs must be on a leash and well-controlled. Most often they are not in the environment at all when I enter the home and at times they are muzzled during my initial visits.

*All dogs are on leash when I enter a private in-home session, regardless of the type of case, age or breed of dog that I'm hired to work with.

At no time do I leave the responsibility of reading body language up to an owner. This is not due to a lack of trust in the fantastic folks that I work with. When I am hired to work with a dog with a potential to bite, it is not the responsibility of the owner to judge how best to initiate exposure and progress with training. When I take on a reactivity (aggression) case, I am assuming responsibility for ensuring that the environment is managed properly and that everyone adheres to a safety protocol. While the owners must assume responsibility for compliance, it is the trainer/behavior specialist that sets the safety standards and together, we work to ensure success and safety.

What does all this have to do with television trainers?

First, the saying “ignorance is bliss” begs dissection.

Rarely, but often enough to mention, owners will assume that we are somehow able to come into a home, guns a-blazing and for no other reason than our chosen occupation, will somehow remain safe with variables that are uncontrolled. More than a handful of times in the last year, owners have suggested that I come into a home and have a seat on the couch and if I don't move, chances are 'good' that I will be safe. Of course, that is a hard NO.

I realize that these uncontrolled situations occur every day and miraculously, do not result in any event / bite. Unfortunately, the alternative happens all too often, frequently resulting in what some have coined unprovoked bites. They are of course, entirely predictable and while I don't like to use the word provoked, “anticipated” fits the bill.

I have an absolutely wonderful new client that sent a video of her friend sitting on the floor to greet her reactive dog. The decision to position herself on the floor was of her own choosing, not the dog owner's choice. I just about swallowed my tongue when I watched the dog approach the friend sitting on the floor, holding her dog bowl full of food. The dog's eyes fixed on the eyes of the friend, body rigid, little to no movement... The friend probably assumed that the dog was approaching the food. A few seconds into the dog’s rigid body language, the friend noticed a potential problem and turned her head in hopes that it would end there. At that final moment, the owner was thankfully able to interrupt and redirected the dog.

I watched a similar incident at a hardware store where an unsuspecting, very kind staff member, approached a nervous dog, knelt down in front of the dog and completely missed the dogs body language “screaming” discomfort. The dog became very still, fixated on the gentlemen's face and without a proper interrupt and redirect, this situation could have resulted in a facial bite.

Scenes like this play over and over again on television. TV trainers enter homes without any safety protocol in place, bust threshold by disrespecting an individual dog’s need for spatial boundaries and disregard the dogs body language that to a professional’s eyes, is extremely clear.

I have also entered homes where it appears the dog is on a leash/controlled and before I can say anything, the owner has either dropped the leash or removed it. In these situations, I have a pre-planned escape route that I determine from the minute I get out of my vehicle. While this might seem a little dramatic, keep in mind that not all owners understand the potential. What I refer to as “love blindness” can affect the best of us. We love our dogs. We see them at their best and it is very difficult to imagine them at their worst.

My safety protocol requires a multi-action contract be signed by the client. This contract is written to protect the trainer, the family of the dog, any animals in the home and the dog/s that I am there to help.

At times, comments are made suggesting that the safety protocol might be a little overkill for a particular dog. As a trainer, I am well aware of the negative impact a leash can have and whenever possible, the leash is removed quickly so as to see the dog safely in the least stressful way possible.

It is important however for a client to understand that the safety protocol is as much for their benefit and for the benefit of their dog as it is for the trainer’s physical well-being.

An experienced and educated behavior consultant will always require that your dog be under control and will respect the potential risks to themselves, your family and your dog.