Dog Person: My thoughts on the new members-only dog park

Until six months ago, I was a cat person. 100%. I love kitties. I’m a cat lady. It’s okay.
But, my partner is a dog person and slowly but surely rescuing a dog began to become a part of our future plans.

It started with casually looking at the SPCA website, and then progressed to weekend visits to the SPCA to take dogs for walks and familiarize ourselves me with the process. Of course, this is quite possibly the WORST way to go about doing this. Obviously, if you’re any kind of animal person it’s damn near impossible to just go casually *look* at something up for adoption. The chances for falling in love are just too high.

So, as you might have guessed, by October 2012 I had found myself a new fella.

By Hallowe’en he was home and it’s been a great six months filled with obedience training, dog park visits, doggy daycare, hikes, jogs, walks, and more. It’s been a lot of work to make sure he’s well-socialized, well-adjusted, and well-behaved but luckily for us Rigby is a friendly and loving dog who was eager to please when it came to learning acceptable behaviour (and yes, a few tricks as well). Still, we are very aware that it is an on-going process and we try to correct any missteps as quickly as possible. It’s the most any dog owner can do.

Rigby passed his BA exam- with honours!
Rigby passed his BA exam- with honours!

Now, what I haven’t mentioned is Rigby’s breed. As you can tell from the picture, he’s a mutt (or, a Party Mix:)) but there are some distinct traits within that DNA cocktail that have given people pause when they first meet him; namely, American Staffordshire Terrier. (Caveat: this is a guess, we have not had Rigby’s DNA tested).

What I wasn’t familiar with, but have quickly become immersed in, is the prevalent discriminatory attitudes of people when it comes to certain breeds of dogs. I mean, I had heard about the “danger” of pit bulls/bully breeds and how they are banned in some places due to their aggressive behaviour and, like so many, I just trusted the news updates and didn’t give it much further thought. However, now that I’m a part of “dog culture,” I’m doing my best to become informed on all things dog, and in particular, the truth about dog temperaments, behaviours, and breed-specific generalizations.

I’m learning that there is a huge media bias against bully breeds. When there’s a story about a dog attack involving a pit bull, it spreads like wildfire and is much more reported than an attack involving any other breed. It’s been reported that pit bull’s bites are more dangerous because they have “locking jaws.” There’s an entire list of myths and inaccuracies.

The point of this post was not actually to advocate for any particular breed, but rather for all breeds. Dog ownership and the study of dog behaviour should not be exempt from evidence-based decision making — and skewed reporting from the media does not count as scientific evidence. Nor does hearsay. Sorry.

As some Halitrax readers may have guessed, this post was inspired by the recent establishment of a members-only dog park in Halifax. The membership information page contains the following paragraph:

Members-Only Dog Park
Members-Only Dog Park

I’m not looking to attack a local business (and hence will not name the business in question), particularly because I’ve not spoken to the owners personally, but this type of discrimination only perpetuates the problem. I’ve heard rumour that in this particular case it’s a matter of obtaining necessary insurance for the park’s operation. However, the language on the website clearly states that they are “not equipped to assess and monitor the following breeds in a totally off-leash setting sufficiently to offset the increased risk of liability.”

The fact is, a dog’s behaviour is determined by a number of factors, including their age, if they’re fixed, and their amount of training, and each should be judged on a case-by-case basis. If individuals and businesses are not willing to weigh all the factors before dismissing a dog, then the problem is never going to get better. Moreover, if a business is “not equipped” to assess one particular breed, then how are they equipped to assess ANY breed?

The risk of buying into this discrimination, and myth-perpetuating is that it could result in Breed-Specific Legislation that could go to as extreme lengths as breed bans, such as in Ontario where: “The legislation bans pit bulls in Ontario, places restrictions on existing pit bulls, and toughens the penalties for the owners of any dog that poses a danger to the public.” According to this legislation, a dog with AmStaff like Rigby would fall under these restrictions.

Rigby is not the only sweet, well-trained, and well-socialized pup in this breed. I urge people to give the matter some thought before passing judgement or supporting a business that would discriminate against a dog who has proven himself to function safely and happily in a social setting.

If you’re interested in following-up on some of the places that helped me get perspective on the issue, here are some that I would recommend:

13 thoughts on “Dog Person: My thoughts on the new members-only dog park

  1. Discrimination to dog breeds saddens me. I’m also a cat person but I LOVE all animals. My best friend growing up had two of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met in my life and they were pure bred pitbulls. Discriminating against an entire breed isn’t right. Though certain breeds are susceptible to behavioral issues SO much about a dogs behavior is in the home/training and care.

    • Exactly. So many of us “knew a dog once” who supported either side of the issue. Some dogs are violent. Some have toy aggression. Some are protective. Some have been abused. Some are angels. And this varies within every breed. It’s so sad that we allow the negative stories to create stereotypes for entire breeds.

  2. RE the radio show on 95.7 this morning, Sun Media’s Kris Simms grossly skews “the math” – her terminology, not mine. The over-representation of “pitt bulls” in fatal attacks reflects the fact that, as you said, pitt bulls are over-reported by the media relative to other breeds (the underlying data source include “media reports”) and that “pitt bull” lumps together non-dog-aggressive breeds (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) with traditionally more dog-aggressive breeds (American Pitt Bull) and various other dogs that have Bully characteristics such as Rigby.

    • Bingo. Not to mention, “Pit Bull” is not even technically a breed. There are bully breeds that encompass a set of characteristics, including those listed. Also, what does this imply about mixed-breeds?

  3. Thanks for listening to the segment. I hope we were fair, or at least balanced. I don’t consider myself on either end of the opinion spectrum on this matter, so I hope it wasn’t wishy-washy and flat. I’m glad people are at least talking about all this.

    • It was quite an interesting segment, and not at all flat! I’m quite interested to know both sides of the issue, though I’m not into the debate going into the direction of the business owner’s right to discriminate. My concern is that it’s a matter of animal-rights, and whether the owner *should* be discriminating based on breed (and clearly, my response is no they should not).

      Thanks for the segment and hope to hear more on related issues!

  4. I think that’s bullshit. It’s not the breed. It’s a combination of factors like you mentioned, and, a lot of time, the owner who is responsible for the manners of their doggy! The poor dogs. My mom works at an animal services in Ontario and deals with all sorts of nasty dogs that are abandoned and yes, some are “aggressive breeds” but not all!

    • Your mom must be a tough lady. I imagine it would be really difficult to have to deal with all the issues that go along with problem dogs- of any breed!

    • lol I hear ya! I never thought that I’d be able to have a relationship with a dog person, let alone start to become one! Still, cats FTW. 🙂

  5. this is a well rounded, well thought out post and I’m really glad to read something that is a calm perspective on the issue.
    I am also a cat lady, and beyond the breed-danger issue, I also find it HUGELY problematic that they infer they don’t have the means to appropriately assess certain breeds. What I take from their statement is that they don’t in fact assess dogs or owners beyond checking the breed….

    if they did in fact assess dogs and owners (ie, I would assume via a questionnaire at least) this questionnaire could be used for their banned breeds as well.

    Checking a box on what breed you dog is doesn’t qualify as ‘assessing’.

    SO- if I were a dog owner, I would be wary of paying money to be a member of a park that most likely isn’t accurately evaluating the safety and behaviour of other dogs and owners- which would be the point of being a part of the member only dog part. Otherwise- you can just have the same risk ratio when bringing your dog to a public park and not pay the money.

    • Thanks for your comment! That’s a great point about the money too (and one that I actually meant to include- oops!). There are a handful of free dog parks and some of them have great, dedicated owners who are vigilant about their dog’s behaviour and interactions when in that setting. Of course, there are always a handful of dogs/owners who aren’t really into the whole “training” thing, and that’s there call. However, if a business was asking people to people to pay between $160-320 to have access to a park, I would want a guarantee that my dog was going to be safe and/or supervised (because accidents do happen, they’re animals and it’s in their nature). Ah well, guess I can use that money towards some new frisbees and treats this summer!

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