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Taking your small dog to an off-leash dog park

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.

1 comment

  • Janis Jackson

    A groups of citizen and I have just completed our counties first dog park.
    13000 Minnieville Rd., Lake Ridge, Virginia.

    We worked along with our county to do this but we raised the money, hired the contractors to erect the fence and now we attempt to beautify it. The boy scouts have built nice, big wooden benches for us and picnic tables are next (although no eating is allowed). This park features a small dog area that’s shaded with a natural wooded area – large mature pines and oaks. It’s our pride and joy and we invite all to come and enjoy. Make sure your dog is wearing its dog license and rabies vaccination tags.

    Oh, and bring a bottle of water for your dog. The cost of getting water to the dog park is estimated at 48k, so that’s only a pipe dream for us (pun intended!) We’re on our way to earning another 17k for ground cover in the large dog area through fundraising so if anyone can, please have a heart and donate on our website – – Thank You.

    …also if you fly into Dulles Int’l (IAD) or Reagan (DCA) in Washington DC, I can tell you how to get to great dog parks near the airport. (Actually, Dulles is in Fairfax and Reagan is in Crystal City. Reagan is just minutes from Arlington and this airport also directly links to the metro. The metro can take you into DC, and 20 miles in any direction. It’s not dog friendly exactly, but if the dog is kept in its carrier, no one will bother you.

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