CANINE CONNECTION: Good fences make good dog parks

I’ve never been a fan of dog parks.

The whole idea of confining a group of under stimulated, overzealous dogs to an area with little or no escape routes to safely retreat and de-escalate conflict just has major veterinarian bill and permanent behavioural issue written all over it.  

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But given the increase in high density living where green space is being converted into…non green space, a place for our four leggeds to get the off-leash exercise they need that does not cause conflict with other non-dog people is increasingly necessary.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have moved off the North Shore into the valley because North Shore bylaws prevented me from keeping my horse in my backyard. Even though I still visit dog clients on the North Shore weekly, I do miss the beautiful trail network. But as much as I miss the local mountains, I don’t miss the congestion on sunny weekends. It is overwhelming at times and it is no surprise to me when conflicts arise between dog and non-dog people along hiking trails.  

The space shared between hikers, joggers, bikers and dogs is shrinking and tension is rising.

Humans venture into the trails to offer their dogs something other than the conventional box shaped, fenced off mentally unfulfilling dog park. A park, as I said, ripe for creating behavioural problems and vet bills.  

The one thing the valley has over the North Shore is their dog parks. Great forethought has clearly gone into creating a space for both dog and owner to enjoy time off leash in a safe environment while minimizing conflict between people and dogs.

Derby Reach Park, which runs along the Fraser River, is by far the best dog park I have seen.

It is a fairly large park that is fully fenced and has four separate fenced areas to suit anyone’s dog walking needs. Each area has a secure gate that allows dogs to enter and leave without fear of other dogs getting out. The first area is a designated off leash spot lined with trees and tall grass. Dogs can play with each other amongst the trees or root in the tall grass for rodents. Beside this off leash area is a smaller fenced area for little dogs not comfortable around big dogs, or for dogs of all sizes that are in training.

The off leash area also has a secure gate leading to another fully fenced, leash-optional area. This leash-optional area is large enough for owners to play fetch or Frisbee without the risk of injury to other people or dogs.

If someone wants to walk their dog leashed, there is a trail that runs the perimeter of this area to accommodate that. Leaving this area through another secure gate, there is an additional off-leash area that has a series of winding trails through trees that lead to the river, offering dogs a place to swim.

With all of these different areas to choose from, any dog’s social, physical or behavioural needs can be met.  

Within each area you will certainly find your typical dog park user, be it the ones that sit with a coffee in hand and watch their dogs play, or the ones who engage in an activity with their dogs or the ones who want to just walk and play with the dogs that pass by. The fact that the design of the park encourages movement and has so many different areas for dogs and owners to escape to prevents conflict between dogs and their owners.  

The fencing system also keeps dogs away from sensitive fish and wildlife habitat and well away from the other park users who are not dog people.  

Despite my aversion to dog parks, I have grown to appreciate them, as I have begun using one over the last few months, during the retraining of newly adopted dog Carter.
A well designed urban park for dogs can provide invaluable training and socialization opportunities in a secure and mentally enriched environment.   

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her through her website k9kinship.com.

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