Children and Dog Parks

Ok, we’ve heard the rants.

“KEEP CHILDREN OUT OF DOG PARKS!”

“CHILDREN HAVE MORE RIGHTS THAN DOGS!! DON’T BRING DANGEROUS DOGS TO DOG PARKS!”

And then there’s Rodney King…”Can’t we all just get along?”

Answer “In a perfect world.”

I happen to own one of those “challenged” dogs who isn’t fond of children. He’s not out seeking to hurt them, but his preference is that they all fall off the earth like fleas off of his body.

And, having been a child myself, I do recall the rude awakening to the idea that some people (as well as dogs) don’t like children. I felt sorry for them.

As an adult with a dog I (mostly) love (ok, mostly like), I try to be responsible. My dog serves some purposes of security, he is a good friend, he is family. He is not going to tolerate nonsense from children.

What to do? I try to spend time helping him to meet children on a safe basis for both them and him. I spend a lot of time helping Ranger to escape the advances of unsupervised, determined children who want to hug the cute dog who is giving them every signal that he wants AWAY.  I try to find ways to say it that won’t hurt the feelings of children, that might help to educate them, etc., etc.

Put Ranger to sleep? I mean, that’s the ugly question,isn’t it? For me, I’m going to choose “management.” Ranger DOES, in fact, like some children. They are those unique children who are able to be quiet and patient. Their reward is that Ranger will come lie next to them and expose his tummy to be rubbed. After that, he may ‘bump’ their hands to encourage the to pet him. He’ll follow them around. This is the exception.

He really, really doesn’t seem to want to bite children. He just wants them to not share his space. He doesn’t like their shrill voices (of which I most certainly  had as a child), and he doesn’t like to be the subject of their experiments while they learn not to scream in his ear, fall on him, run at him,  drop things on him. You know, things that my easygoing dogs we had growing up with could tolerate from my being a pet-savvy child. He doesn’t want them to so much as make one mistake.

If he does, guess who pays the price? Me (monetarily)…then him. Then me again if he must be put to sleep over an ‘incident.’

So, I work to enrich his world. He has a lot of dog friends who come to play, and we have our evening walks around dog island. It’s just for dogs. The dogs romp and run for acres.  It’s a place where a dog can be a dog.

Or it was until some new signs were posted in the recent-ish past to the effect of… “Parks are for everyone’s enjoyment. You are responsible for your dog’s actions.”

Well, fair enough. I mean, you know… But, here’s the thing that causes arguments faster than anything. Can we please have a place where our dogs can let their hair down (literally)?

Can we compromise?

I have, for example, managed to work with Ranger to where he will now just see a group of children, possibly issue a quiet, nervous “hoof” and then dash  off. That’s polite-ish.

Parents, please recognize, for the sake of your children, that some dogs are less capable. Please, please stay near your children if you take them to an off-leash dog area. I have seen several bites in dog parks from unsupervised children. Yep, it’s bad and traumatizing for a child. It’s sickening and scary for the owner. People get into verbal fights (bordering on physical) when something goes wrong.

Personally, if a group of rowdy children arrive, I put the leash on and we go home. Fun’s gone. Unfortunately, I don’t have the option of going to any local playground or even to many public places to let the dog have a good time.

So, even if children have the “right” to be there, and we must yield (which makes sense), here are things that will help (as I experienced on my walk this evening):

  • Please take the child to another location to ride their bicycle. Children + wheels are a setup for something very bad to happen. Even if a dog is generally alright with children, he may have a “thing” about wheels. I saw this happen. A woman sent her autistic child zooming around on a bicycle in the dog park. A shepherd chased the child and knocked this, already special needs, child to the ground and she had a small bite. The child was traumatized and so was the owner of what looked to be an average shepherd type mix. East met West. It was a toxic combo.
  • Tonight both a young girl and her brother were riding their bikes all around the island sans their parents. The little girl was the younger one, she both has the shrill scream from her brother chasing her combined with the wobbliness of someone who hasn’t mastered a bike yet. They were both wearing alien-head helmets (kudos to the parents), however these can also freak dogs out. I changed course to avoid having to do a walk by, but I’ll be darned if the kids managed to find ways to cross paths with us twice more.  I was lavish with the praise as Ranger trotted behind me and didn’t so much as let out a peep; he only watched as they wheeled by. Where were the parents? Alarmingly, they were on the other side of the island. IF there had been an attack, they would have had to rely on the ability and concern of a stranger for their children not to have been seriously injured. That’s too far away.
  • Coincidentally, a enormous Mastiff (dog) tried to attack my dog on our way out. Fortunately, both the owner and myself were within inches of our dogs as we both worked fast and hard to spare my dog from a bite. He managed to grab his dog and I managed to block and pull my dog out of the way. No ensuing drama; just a quick defusing and away we all went. Had my dog not been close, I could not have helped him.
  • The same goes for any child in my care; ;their welfare comes first. Part of that involves using good judgment about where to take a child. I like an acronym used in my motorcycle class. SIPDE. It stands for:

* Constantly *S*can your environment

* *I*dentify potential hazards

* *P*redict any likely dangerous scenarios

* *D*ecide what you will do should the scenario happen.

* *E*xecute your decision.

Scan: I see children on bicycles without an adult.

Identify: They could scream and blaze past us and startle the dog.

Predict: I think they are going fast and will likely pass us; could possibly even fall on the gravel. Adult is too far away to save their child. The adults are busy talking and not aware that their child is trying to throw rocks at dogs.

Decide: If they get any closer, I will put a leash on my dog.

Execute: Leashed the dog. He barked. We made it to the car.

A situation was avoided.

But still, please…there are better places for children. Not all dogs or dog owners are as in control. So, if they aren’t, you must be. Prevent the bites; prevent trauma. Even a good dog can lose it and surprise you. I know you’ll find better places–all the pretty and fun places that I’m prevented from enjoying with my dog are there for your enjoyment. An off-leash dog park isn’t worth it.

Muchas Gracias.