Finding A Great Park

I thought I would touch on what I look for in a training park. When I first got Tess there wasn’t a lot of thought put into where we trained. I knew I had to take her to new places, but I guess I really didn’t know what to look for in a location to make the experiences the best possible.

I’ve done a fair bit of work with Tess on reactivity towards kids and dogs the last number of years (still a work in progress) but it has given me some valuable information on how to counter condition towards those issues, which has helped me a lot with Riggs. So I thought I would share my thoughts.

The type of park you are looking for is going to change a bit depending on what it is you’re working on. I’m not going to get into the reactivity stuff very much here since it is well beyond the scope of what I’m comfortable giving advice on. So this will be more geared towards a new dog or puppy that doesn’t have any issues going in (or none you’re aware of).

 

On-Leash Parks

While this can change depending on what I’m working on (basic obedience, exposure/counterconditioning to objects or people, recall, greeting manners, agility, etc) I generally look for the same things.

Parking Close By

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This may seem like an odd requirement, but I like a park that has parking close to where I want to work. I really find this important when I am going to work on loose leash walking skills, or anything requiring equipment coming to and from the car. For training loose leash walking I know my mentality changes as soon as I’m on a sidewalk or pathway, all of a sudden my expectations change just because there is a path to follow. So I try to park somewhere close to a good sized open space, with a puppy I honestly would (and did) carry them to the open space, and start working on it. If I couldn’t park within carrying distance I might walk the puppy using a front clip harness, then when I’m ready to work on the leash walking hook the leash up to the collar only.

For anything requiring car stuff I obviously don’t want to drag equipment too far away. So if I had agility equipment to pull out, or when we play fetch, disc, or practice our tracking I like to be close to the parking lot.

If we’re just going for a hike or walk, this really doesn’t matter at all!

Open Field or Area

I like to have a good sized open space, depending on what you’re working on you might need more or less space. For basic obedience a 15’ x 15’ area might be enough, if I was working on exposure to kids with a puppy I’d probably want a good 200m or more approach if I wasn’t sure their reaction, or if I was working on a problem. You want to have a good amount of space to move away from the object or person if the puppy shows fear, and if all is well you can always move closer.

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The photo below is a great example of a good place for introductions, if anything its way over the top. There is probably more than 500 meters of open grass area leading up to the playground and plenty of areas as you get closer to move off to one side or another if kids were to start running out towards you or otherwise startle your puppy.

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Stimuli

Obviously if you are working on exposure (or counter conditioning) to an object or person you need that object or person around! For people, be it kids, men, skateboarders, bikers, or wheelchairs I love taking the dogs to dual pathway parks. Any park with a separated pathway for walkers and bikers. Usually these dual pathway areas are the more busy pathways, so you are just about guaranteed to see people, and people are usually pretty caught up in their own activity. So I’ve found they are pretty likely to leave you in peace to work on whatever you’ve set out to do. I find this really helpful for greeting manners. I can take the dogs to the pathway and just have them sit and stay every time someone walks by. I can get a tonne of repetitions in a very short period of time, it’s very low stress, if the dog doesn’t sit right away you can always wait get it right and try again. Plus it saves asking friends and family for help, so they might still say “yes” to some other hair brained training ideas I might get.

One thing I do look for is a fair amount of green space on either side of the pathway, if something is a little too scary for the dog I can simply walk a big semi-circle around it to lessen their concern.

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Photo above is what I would consider a good amount of space between pathways, I could move closer to one if I wanted to expose the puppy to something, or further away if I thought it might be something he’d find scary. The photo below is the same park, but a spot I would consider starting to get too close together, especially around the corner up ahead. If I were walking in the green area by the trees and a skateboarder were to come zipping around the corner we might not be able to move far enough away to make it a non-scary experience.

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If you are looking for something specific like skateboarders you might have to do a scouting trip or two to see if there are some around on that pathway, these photos were all taken at Glenmore Park and while there are little kids that scooter around fairly often, actual skateboarders are few and far between. So for that I’ve had better luck around Eau Claire Market, or often I luck out at Edworthy Park. Edworthy has a lot of green space between the bike and walking paths between about Shaganappi Trail and 29th Street NW. So I like that area since I can move further away from the path if I need to, or work our way closer for first introductions.

For kids I’d do the same homework looking for playgrounds, find one that has a long approach like the one above, but also that is likely to lots of kids there playing. Glenmore Park has numerous little playgrounds that all seem to fit the bill, I’ve also had good luck at Bowness Park, Reilly Park, many of the larger playgrounds in newer suburbs, and outdoor swimming pools.

Owners Following Leash Laws

Another challenge is finding on-leash parks where people actually follow the on-leash rules. I know a lot of parks in our city that are on-leash parks, but are treated by everyone that visits as off-leash. If you are really setting out to work on training something I would avoid these parks, it’s a distraction you don’t need.

So I would say make sure you follow leash laws as well when training, that doesn’t mean you have to go to an off-leash park to work on all your “off-leash” skills, just perhaps be mindful of others and use a long line or similar if you want to work on recalls or retrieval type skills.

 

Off-Leash Parks

I think like many people my attitudes towards off-leash parks have changed tremendously since first using them. I took Tess to many when she was quite young; and now having seen the impact it likely has had on her I wouldn’t do it again…or at least not the same kinds of parks. I still feel socialization with other dogs is very important so for Riggs I take him to a daycare that I really trust, and which is very well trained in dog introductions, communication, and that has very few fight incidents.  He still gets to play and have a blast, but I know all the dogs are being monitored to make sure play is safe and fun for everyone, and that they get appropriate breaks to rest. A lot of dog owners have no trouble at off-leash parks, but that’s not been my experience. However, as a condo person I do still like to take my dogs out for an off-leash romp or fetch session, so where do we go?

Private Off-Leash Parks

These can be a god send if there is one in your area. Especially if you have a reactive dog that you are concerned about, or a little dog that gets overwhelmed with the big dogs. With a private fenced area both you and your dog can relax and enjoy your time. Unfortunately there aren’t always options around like this so many people might not have access to one, but we are fortunate to have a couple around our city. They seem to run about $10-15/hour in our area to rent. I’ve also rented training facilities just to play or train in, they seem to run about $20-50/hour.

Walking vs. Standing Around

I like an off-leash park where the people and dogs walk around a circuit/pathway rather than stand around in an area chatting. I find the dogs less overbearing towards each other if they are moving around with their owners, everyone just seems more relaxed and interested in their own activities; rather than bounding over to greet the next dog to enter the park.

Large Area

I don’t know what the “ideal” amount of land space per dog would be in the mythical perfect off-leash park; but for me it’d be measured in acres. I find it very challenging when you enter a park that’s maybe 2-4 acres and has 30-50 dogs in it. Even if the dogs are friendly and everyone’s relaxed, that’s a lot of movement in a relatively small area and a lot of opportunities for problems.

One of my favourite off-leash parks in our city is Nose Hill, if we go to one of the quieter areas of the park we often can walk for an hour or more and only see a handful of other dogs. Not every city is going to be so fortunate to have such a great park inside the city limits. But hey, that’s my ideal!

The Edworthy off-leash park can also be a great option (especially if you skirt the visiting areas right around the parking lots) and is a very nice walk.

Bowmont Park near Silver Springs, Varsity, and Montgomery can be a great area as well.

The Sue Higgins Park (previously called Southland Park) is a great example of a park that unfortunately has been a little too successful (and popular for my liking). But is a fantastic example of what a great dog park would be.

Number of Dogs for the Size of Park

I know I’ve touched on this above, but I’d look for a good number of dogs for the size of the park. I have one favourite we go to to play fetch. I don’t think the park even has a name, but it’s a large green space in the middle of a cul-de-sac. It’s not huge, about the length of a city block and maybe 150m at the widest, but more often than not we have the park to ourselves. It’s by a moderately busy community road, but with a decent recall (and the almighty ball) I don’t worry about that very much. If I was worried I’d probably just leave a long line on. There’s another off-leash park that we go to occasionally, it’s about double the size of the previously mentioned one, sometimes we have it to ourselves, or more often share it with another person or two (and their dogs of course). You’re idea of the right number of dogs probably depends on how good your dog is with other dogs, or the size of the other dogs that attend the park. If you have a very gregarious dog your idea of the right number of dogs might be double or more than what I look for. But once you have an idea of what you’re after it’s much easier to scout out the right park for you and your dog.

I hope you find that helpful, or at the very least gives you some different ideas of things to consider when finding great parks to take your dog to.

Summer Fun

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It’s been another busy week or so, our classes ended last week – graduating our bachelor obedience class and pre-agility class. I loved these classes and Riggs did very well. As much as I am very excited to continue playing with Riggs with some of these skills, for a few reasons I’ve decided to take the rest of the summer off from classes. We might do a couple drop in barn hunts, but that’s it for a few weeks. Just going to enjoy the sunshine and have fun together. Right now we are signed up for Agility Level 1 in the fall, and I’d like to follow that up with a Novice Rally class. I’m not sure what Tess will get into, I’d like to compete with both of them at the fall Barn Hunt so we’ll probably work towards that. Tess is signed up for her agility class but I’m not sure now that we’ll do it, we might do some private lessons instead…decisions decisions.

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(above photo: our graduation photo and certificate from our Bachelor Obedience class, photographer – and instructor – Lauren Alexander of Kayenna Kennels)

I took the dogs out to Water Valley for another fun day last friday, they had a great time racing around. I did get some video of the pups playing, but it’s sure getting hard to tell them apart from far away! Of course with the good comes the bad, so of course Riggs got a bug bite. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but he kept bothering at his leg when I got home, I could see a little red mark, so washed it. But he wouldn’t let me check it out long enough to get a good look, so off to the after hours vet we go. Unfortunately it was a busy night for them so we had a bit of a wait. The vet was excellent and once he saw us he had us out of there in about 15 minutes. We are thinking a wasp or spider bite. Luckily nothing too bad and no long term effects 😉

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The professional photos from the Evelyn Kenny show arrived and Lisa Wysminity of JumpStart Imagery captured some lovely photos of Riggs. With excellent timing she managed to capture this shot of Riggs (not pacing!).

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Thank you Lauren for doing such an excellent job showing Riggs!

Riggs Novice Trick Dog Title arrived in the mail today, so I look forward to working with him towards his Intermediate Trick Dog Title over the next little bit.

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My mom finally had a chance to come back to town for a visit, she hadn’t yet had a chance to meet Mr. Riggs. Unfortunately she missed the cute little puppy stage and is now visiting at the bratty jumpy big puppy stage! He was his usual friendly self…unfortunately that still generally entails trying to climb in your lap, jump on you, or steal whatever you happen to be carrying. My laughing at all his crazy antics probably doesn’t help!

In the never ending story of dogs and vet visits Riggs has a diarrhea test we are waiting on results from – I’m thinking he may have caught the virus Tess had but it’s either hanging around a little longer than I would expect, or he’s just eating garbage when we’re on our walks and making himself sick! Tess’ urinalysis confirmed her bladder stone / infection issue. Our appointment with the specialist for Tess is booked and coming up in a couple weeks so hopefully I’ll have some better answers on the larger kidney / pancreas issue we are dealing with.

So here’s hoping for a quiet few weeks!

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Riggs First Dog Show

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It’s been a busy weekend for me and the pups, Riggs attended his first CKC Conformation Show (being the only one in his class) he won Baby Puppy Best of Breed both days, and placed second in his group class on Friday. He had a few puppy moments during his Sweepstakes class on Friday so no luck there!

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I’m still not sure if this is really something I want to pursue with him, but I wanted to see how he would do and give him some show experience. It was great to have him handled by multiple judges and work for different handlers. My whole goal for this show was just to acclimatize him to a show pen environment and have him enjoy it. On that front a big mission accomplished! It was a pretty busy area ringside and he handled it very well (for a puppy). I was pleased to see him want to visit the other dogs (even if he wasn’t allowed), be ok with all the commotion, meet a bunch of new people, and work on focusing in this sort of environment. I really can’t say much seemed to phase him, he had a look at a few generators working away at some nearby RV’s, but otherwise didn’t bat an eye at much of anything, and happily greeted anyone who wanted to visit. Yay!

His handler Lauren Alexander did an excellent job piloting him around the show ring – since I have no clue what I’m doing – even with my lack of practicing!

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To give Riggs a well earned treat I took both dogs up to Water Valley today (with my bear spray on hand, though luckily not needed) for a fun romp. It was great to see them both have such a great time.

FB-3865.jpgTess has had a really rotten couple of weeks and it was great to see her having a good day and Riggs helping bring it out of her.

There was a good reason we went after the show! And the two amigos had a great time playing together.

A few more of Riggs

FB-4010Tess’s test results came back last week and unfortunately it wasn’t very good news, it’s looking like she has kidney disease. We are waiting to see a specialist for some more tests and information on exactly what kind and how advanced it is. So I think I needed to see them both out having a grand time this weekend.

 

Hello Again

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I don’t seem to be posting as much as I had hoped, these two are keeping me pretty busy. It’s been a jam packed full couple of weeks.

Riggs has attended lots of classes, finishing up our puppy class, starting the Bachelor (everyday) Obedience class, and now Pre-Agility. We’re both really enjoying both of these classes at the moment. Riggs has been doing awesome, and I’m so pleased with how easy he has been to train. He still very much has the puppy attention span, but he’s really coming along and seems to enjoy learning all his new tricks. We did the tunnel for the first time in our pre-agility class this week (since we missed the first week of class). It took him a bit to figure out to go through the tunnel – even though Cathy had one in with them as puppies – but after his first go through he didn’t want to quit! Practically begging “just one more time!” We also tried a drop in disc dog/ Frisbee class which was excellent. I learnt a lot that will improve my throwing, and Riggs did pretty well considering I had really only shown him the disc a few times before the class. We’ll look at entering our first competition in the fall if possible.

Both dogs have now been microchipped so I can apply for their CKC papers, which means I can now show Riggs in the conformation ring. We’ve been attending a few handling classes as time allows, and his first show is next weekend. So I’m hoping things settle down a bit after that. I’ll try to get some photos of him at the show, but he seems to be growing into his body pretty well, not nearly as awkward and gangly as Tess at his age. Hope that’s a good sign!

I’m trying not to overdo it with him with a bunch of classes, he’s in a little more than I would like right now and they all seem to be back to back. So I’m looking forward to taking it a little easier on the training side after the show. We’ve been practicing for the classes a little here and there, and I’m still trying to take him to new places and practice focus in new busy and distracting environments. At home he’s doing pretty well. I went away for about a week to go visit my parents out of town and he went to the kennel while I was away. I realized on coming back how much he has mentally grown, I was still babying him a little too much, so he’s enjoyed a little more freedom upon me coming home. House training is still a work in progress, but he’s got it most of the time and is telling me when he has to go out. Occasionally I don’t hear him ask to go outside, or he gets distracted outside and comes in and has an accident. But overall he’s doing great.

The biggest puppy issue we’re working through right now is jumping on people and counters. People wise it’s a bit of a catch 22, he is much more friendly and interested in people than Tess ever was – which is great – but the down side is he still thinks the best way to say hello is to jump up. So it’s a work in progress. He’s driving me crazy jumping at the counters, but is slowly getting the idea that it isn’t allowed. Too many good things up there to make it worth trying!

The only other real “issue” that’s popped up is car rides, he seems really good in the car. Mostly laying down and hanging out quietly, but balks at getting into the car. He always gets treats when he goes in but that doesn’t seem to be enough, so I have some work to do with him on that.

Yesterday was really hot here so I took him out to Barrier Lake (by himself this time) to see if he’d swim. I couldn’t believe it but we had the place to ourselves again, which was nice. The water was quite low so it was nice for me to have a non-rocky beach to walk on. He was interested in the toys I brought but the puppy attention span didn’t allow for fetching. He really enjoyed running through the water and finding sticks to eat. Thoroughly enjoying himself. Here’s a quick video of Riggs playing at Barrier Lake.

He got good and muddy since the silt there is very slippery and clay like (and he had a few tumbles in it), which meant a bath coming home. He’s had a few at my house, but he’s now too big for the kitchen sink and I struggle washing him in the tub. So I took him to the self-dog wash on the way home from the lake. He was a little unsure about the tub to start, but like with most things seems pretty resilient to new situations. A few treats in and he was a pretty happy camper, went through it all like a trooper!

Today he gets another fun day at daycare, this has been such a godsend for me! It’s been nice to be able to do a few things around the house without him underfoot, and get some visiting in without a 5hr (potty break) curfew! He loves visiting all the staff, playing in the doggie pool and making a bunch of new doggie friends. Last week he was so excited to see Sonia when we got there he jumped out the car window while I was putting it in park, didn’t even look back – yeah thanks Riggs way to make me feel loved!

Tess on the other hand has really been trouble lately. Not behaviour wise, but we’ve been struggling with her allergies a lot. I decided to try her on a new food a few months ago, and all hell broke loose. Long story short I’ve been making her cooked meals for over a month now. Which was a pain while trying to get away on holidays; the kennel she stays at is excellent and is well set up to deal with special needs but it was sure an unneeded time suck fitting in cooking extra meals for her kennel visit on top of all the other things I had to do to get ready to leave, and squeeze in all the training classes with both dogs. She did well at the kennel but since coming home has been worse again. I took Tess in to the emergency vet earlier this week after a few days of diarrhea and finally extreme lethargy, she’s on some new meds and seems to have improved. Much less lethargic and more like her normal self. After chatting with my vet about the issues we decided to run a battery of tests to see if there isn’t another underlying problem. We should get all the results by early next week, but I don’t really know what the good news is here. And I’m not sure what I’m hoping for, I guess just that we can do something to help her feel a little better. The allergies alone have been enough of a struggle to deal with for training, so I hope whatever it is doesn’t reduce her choices even further. But I really just want her to feel better, so hopefully this give us some answers and we can do that.

On a more positive note, Tess is really enjoying her barn hunt practices, she’s really great at finding the rat, less great about telling me when she has! So we have been working on her indication a lot, and building more drive for the rat. Like most things with Tess it depends on the day, and what she feels like doing! She’s a challenge alright – but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I’ll let you know how Riggs does at his big debut at next weekend’s show!

Puppy Barn Hunt

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Riggs and I headed out to Crane Acres Dog Sports this evening for an intro to barn hunt. He certainly had puppy attention span and brain, but did very well. Showed some interest in the gerbil (more in the people – NOT complaining!), and did all the components. Went through the tunnel no problem, and had no concerns with climbing the bails.

Thanks Megan for helping me introduce him to this wonderful sport, and letting us all come out and take advantage of your beautiful facility! And of course for sharing your knowledge and passion for the sport as well.

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We both thoroughly enjoyed it, and are looking forward to more!

 

Graduation Day

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Riggs graduated puppy kindergarten today, really enjoyed this class and all the puppy’s Riggs got to play with. Hopefully his first of many ribbons!

Took a photo of him in the kennel today before class, can’t believe how much he has grown since I brought him home…what happened to my tiny lap dog?

Tess had a great time at Barn Hunt practice, really got into it! So nice to see!

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Now I’m ready for a nap!