We seek out off-leash dog parks with areas set aside for small or shy dogs. Until recently, it was because dogs Chloe’s size being sniffed by big dogs end up balancing resignedly on their front paws with their rear ends draped over the big dog’s nose. Once or twice a day during her morning walk? Fine. But all the time? No, thanks.
I just learned, however, that there’s an even better reason to look for off-leash dog parks that have small dog areas. During the kind of active play that occurs at dog parks, an individual dog can become overwhelmed or anxious or hurt, and a yelp or a dash to escape can trigger what’s called “predatory drift” in one or more other dogs. Here’s a good description of what happens:
The trigger for predatory drift can be pain, over-arousal (play that gets out of hand), or a yelp or scream. It can happen when a dog is hurt or frightened by another dog in play and squeals. The squeal triggers a predatory reaction, which can ripple through the entire pack in an instant.
The author makes it clear that all dogs have these instincts, even your sweetheart of a dog:
Predatory drift is what happened in the cases I wrote about in my last two columns, in which dogs were either badly mauled or killed by otherwise perfectly nice, normal dogs. Predatory drift can happen suddenly and unpredictably. It can even occur between two dogs who have played together for years – or live together and have always gotten along.
The victim needn’t be a small dog — the author refers to a young but fully-grown Old English Sheepdog that was badly injured at a doggy daycare when 13 other dogs suddenly turned on him. Jasper survived his horrific injuries, but a small dog likely wouldn’t. A dog Chloe’s size or smaller is about as easy for a larger dog to kill as a rabbit or a squirrel — a good shake will do it, if a dog has a grip on her neck. You can see the damage Jasper suffered, if you can bear it, by doing a Google search for “youtube old english sheepdog attack.”
A lot of owners of small dogs think that small dog areas are for wimps. My fingers are crossed for them. Happily, Seattle now has three dog parks that have small ‘n’ shy areas, and I hope the trend will continue.