There’s been an interesting discussion going on facebook about whether toys belong in a dog park – especially the smaller parks where there’s not enough space for guarders, thieves and toy-obsessed dogs to coexist. Being a dog walker in downtown Toronto, we are no stranger to enclosed areas, but out of all of us, the one that frequents them the most is Matt. If you get to know Matt, you can see why he’s got the high-energy large dogs in his group – he’s strong, athletic and can whip a ball from one end of the park to another. Not only do his dogs love to retrieve, but they also love to play and meet other dogs so enclosed areas are a natural fit for this friendly bunch. Matt does a beautiful job engaging his dogs in play wherever they end up. When I took this photo they were all playing at Winston Churchill with some toy he found lying around. I was the only one that knew it’s not even a dog toy (a pod is an exercise tool for the two-legged), but the dogs didn’t seem to care, with Matt’s enthusiasm, any toy is fun. Matt also knows how to keep things safe. He can read doggie body language and keep things under control even when he’s got a big group of excited k9′s.
I think enclosed dog parks without toys are boring. Without a tree to sniff or a trail to wander, the dogs need something to do and retrieving is the perfect solution and an excellent way to tire them out. Not every dog is a big player with other dogs and that’s ok but every dog deserves a place to play their favourite game. So I vote YES to toys but that’s probably because I have high expectations of dogs. We also have over 40 dogs on our roster that have proved that they can learn to drop and share.
Last month I visited a park by the Humber river where I heard a strange ‘dog’ barking at my group as we all played off leash. This dog had a high pitch bark, mixed in with some howling. While he wouldn’t get that close to us, he also wouldn’t let up. He sounded distressed. We put all the dogs on leash and I held them while Emma went to find this dog. I also called Toronto Animal Services (TAS) to report a lost dog or to find out if anyone reported a dog missing at this park. Emma was never able to get close to him. Today I was back there with my group and we were having fun, when I heard this yip yip yip followed by a howl. This time I was able to get a closer look. He was not a lost dog but in fact a young coyote. I have no idea what his intentions were – whether he wanted to play with my dogs, protect his territory or draw one of them to his den. As soon as I leashed my dogs I took a moment to stand and stare at him in awe. Face to face with this amazing animal he really looked like he could of been part of my pack. After I left I called TAS again but was disappointed to hear that no one else has had interaction with him meanwhile I’ve now seen him twice! Then I called another dog walker, who I’d seen frequent the park occasionally and warned her. She confirmed that sighting and told me that 3 weeks ago she also had an interaction with this ballsy little guy. He approaches the dogs, barks at them, entices them and then retreats. Amazing, exhilarating and frightening all in the same breath. Dog walking…certainly not just an average day job.
I’m now updating this post to mention that toronto animal services has confirmed that they found this coyote dead recently. I wish I knew what happened to him.
Are you bringing out the best in your dog? No tagline better defines our role as pet-care providers than that one. So when I hear that a dog I used to walk is now wearing a muzzle because he is hurting other dogs, I get so disheartened. Someone has failed him. Back in the day when I used to walk Cody he was not the easiest dog but with proper management, Cody was a decent canine citizen. Then his owner moved to the east end of the city and I lost track of him. Last week a friend spotted Cody with a muzzle on. Apparently he’s been causing lots of trouble. I’m not trying to judge anyone because I don’t know the whole story, but I don’t think that a dog that grew up well-socialized and learned bite inhibition should be on a muzzle. But what happens when a challenging dog gets in the wrong hands? Lack of knowledge breeds frustration and frustration is the catalyst for punishment-based techniques. Punish a problem behaviour, and it will spread and manifest into other problem behaviours. Muzzled at the park, no chance to play ball anymore -I’m sorry Cody. If a dog is not doing well in your care, you owe it to him to seek professional services. Whether you are a dog walker, or an owner, we should all be committed to brining out the best the dogs we care for. Muzzling a dog with potential to improve, is the equivalent of giving up on him. I know Cody can do better than this.
Toby Beagle freezes, he shifts his eyes back and forth while hovering over his prize. Right now it’s a water bowl. Later it may be a discovered half eaten tennis ball. Toby Beagle does not like to share. I want Emma (my new employee) to see these signs. They are subtle to an untrained eye. First I must clarify that Toby beagle does not guard from humans. He relinquishes objects easily when I place my hand near him. But he makes it clear that he’s not sharing with his furry playmates, especially puppies – his prime target. So when Toby beagle is out for a walk I’m on puppy patrol – the last thing I want for is for Toby to teach any puppy a lesson. Prevention and management are your best friends when dealing with this type of problem behaviour. I’m never going to teach Toby to feel comfortable giving up his toy to puppies, but I can manage the situation so he doesn’t feel threatened that it’s going to get stolen. For some dogs, toy objects have the same value as a food object. We wouldn’t expect dogs to happily share their cookies so we shouldn’t be surprised when dogs guard objects as well.
At a recent holiday in a boarding facility Toby gave a puppy a puncture wound. It didn’t require vet attention. Situations like these put me in a bad spot. It didn’t happen in my care, but it did happen. Should Toby beagle be walked in a group if he is capable of injuring a puppy? I have to trust in my handling skills that I can prevent this. And for those cases when a 100 lb toy-stealing lab comes by, I will have a muzzle ready. I wish I could say one strike and he’s out, but in matters of dog walking giving chances isn’t something you can afford to do. So if at any point I feel like management is too hard, I will find him a walker that keeps his crew on leash and steers clear of the park.
Yesterday I went to visit Smaagodt, the chocolate lab we use to walk – who had a bite incident with his new walker and caused another dog to need 18 staples. I took my friend Steph along and her dog KC – who use to play with Smaag. I wanted to see if he was any different now that he has a bite history. This was the last part of my information for to determine if what happened was an isolated incident or if this dog has issues. I was so excited to see him. Reintroducing Tyson to Smaagodt took a little bit of work on Tyson’s part. At first Tyson was so confused – who is this giant and wild chocolate jumping on his mom??? Tyson did his introductory growl, “I’m not sure about you yet so watch out” – Smaagodt retreated. While I wish Tyson would have remembered him right away, it did allow me to see one important skill that Smaagodt has maintained- his ability to back away from confrontation. He’s the same goofy chocolate lab I use to know. He has no interest in fighting. He’s a peaceful dude.
At Sherwood, Smaagodt barked at KC enticing her to play but was easily distractible with a stick. He comes on strong when he greets other dogs, but he’s friendly. He highly social and has a lot of tolerance for other dog’s bad behavior. He’s still super ball motivated, loves swimming and has a great recall. Taking him out was literally ‘a walk in the park’. Steph and I both agree – it’s really hard to imagine this dog injuring another dog. It would take a lot for this dog to bite.
So what now? The only question mark is the car – where the incident happened. Maybe he’s not safe in a tight spot? Well it shouldn’t prevent him from being on a group walk provided his new walker can keep him in the front, or crate him in the car. That’s what I would do. I gave my opinion to the owners and will wait and see what they decide. I referred them to their last walker so I’m sure they don’t want my referral for a new one I’m happy to not have that responsibility. In fact I’m going to think twice before I refer anyone. The truth is even if I think someone is good, unless I really really see them in action, I shouldn’t be referring them. I learned my lesson.
Now back to the little guy that is NOT such a peaceful dude, the dog that actually needs monitoring, a dog that actually doesn’t have that much tolerance, a dog that actually could injure another dog if provoked…..can you see where this is going? There were lots of puppies at Sherwood and I had to keep my eyes on Tyson. At one point I even asked a couple to hold their puppy as I walked by. This is something I NEED to start doing. I always feel like I can handle anything with Tyson – even a puppy charging at us -but what’s the point? It’s better for Tyson to know that all puppies DON’T charge at us. I need to make my life easier and I’m not sure why I resisted this strategy for so long. While I would tell my clients to protect their dog at all costs, I was putting my own dog at risk by not asking people to hold their puppy while we passed them. These people appreciated knowing that Tyson doesn’t like puppies. I told my friend Steph to remind me to do this if she’s sees me freezing. Sometimes even a schooled trainer needs someone to observe them and give them direction.
Smaagodt eating a stick
I’ve put in a request to amend the dog walker restriction at Coronation park between the hours of 10-3, Monday-Friday. We shall see what the Dog Owners Association (DOA) says. It’s been a cold week but we’ve had some beautiful walks in the ravines around Toronto. The new year has brought on a lot of changes. I have a new assistant Matt and he has very little animal care experience so there’s been a ton of training involved. The good news is he’s got a lot of patience and is eager to learn. There’s also been a lot of changes in the dogs as well. Sunny, the young shepherd I walk, was boarded over xmas at Petopia. He started this year off really acting up. The staff at Petopia told Sunny’s owners he was nipping them. When he started back up in January he was now playing a lot of ‘keep away’ with the ball and lunging at joggers. In fact the very first wk I walked him, I put my head down for a second and he lunged at a jogger that ran by us. I’ve spent January getting him back on track: Improving his recall, interrupting him when he plays too rough, redirecting him to retrieving and teaching him to look at me on leash when he sees one of his triggers (joggers, kids, etc). Wow, a lot of work but he’s young and learns quick. We had two new dogs start as well. Leo is a rescue. He spent the first part of his life on the street with a homeless person. We are working hard to teach him to be a good canine citizen, he’s got a terrible case of ‘keep away’ and it’s impeding his recall. Matt and I are both committed to teaching Leo Retrieving 101 to stop his ball thieving and ultimately improve his recall. And then there’s Kaiya, a 3 month husky puppy. Not only is she a beautiful puppy, with the softest fur, but she’s sweet and responsive. The experience of walking/training a husky pup to be off-leash is amazing. I’m determined to make sure she has an excellent recall and always sticks with the pack. Smaagodt, the chocolate lab puppy sliced his paw on one of our walks. I feel so responsible when dogs get hurt in my care. This deep cut needed stitches and several bandages. It took every bit of creativity and persistence to keep that bandage dry and intact with this high energy pup. Today was his last vet appointment and the bandage was finally removed.
Pel and Arlo
Here’s my latest letter to Margaret Fitzpatrick, assistant to deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone. I cc’d Peter Leiss, parks supervisor.
Thanks for your response. After a little research, I’ve come to the conclusion that no dog walkers were represented at the Coronation Park meeting. As a former member of the Bickford Park Dog Owners Association (DOA), I can see how this could happen. Dog owners tend to meet in the evening. Dog walkers are out during the day. Unless there were postings, dog walkers would have no way of knowing that there was an association formed and a meeting they could attend. That being said, through our mandatory yearly licenses, the city has all of our contact info and has the ability to notify us of any park meetings. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Yes there are two other off-leash parks in the neighbourhood, but from an urban dog walker perspective, neither of them offer the safety features that Coronation does. Stanley Park is open to busy King St. on one side and a swine slaughterhouse on the other. It also has restricted hours due to baseball games. There’s no question that bringing 6 dogs there is less than ideal. Trinity Bellwoods is a busy scene with joggers, bikers, rollerbladers, kids, and now tobogganers. It is an excellent park but only for the most reliable dogs because it has no fencing. Certainly dogs with a high prey drive (the natural instinct to chase fast moving objects), would do better in a fully enclosed environment. In order to provide a professional service to our clients, as well as respect the general public/other park users, we must ensure that our dog walks are safe and incident free. With our yearly $200 licenses and the nature of our business, if anyone should have access to fully enclosed off-leash areas like Coronation, it should be dog walkers. Can you please shed some light on the concerns of the DOA and where this opposition is stemming from. For me and my fellow dog walkers, this seems to be a completely unreasonable limitation.
Thank you for looking into this matter,