Last week, an Eden Prairie woman lost her beloved Yorkshire terrier after a larger dog bit the 6-pound pooch at a dog park. Now, dog lovers are discussing the do's and don'ts of popular off-leash areas.
Although Tessie Brandbury is asking the city to create a special area for smaller dogs in the wake of the fatal bite, segregating by size is no guarantee that things will go smoothly.
Beyond bringing water and picking up any doggie droppings, one of the most important things to remember is that it's not all about the pets at the park. It's about the owners too.
"I like taking my dog, Penny, here to just mostly use some energy up," Peter Gilbreath told FOX 9 News. "Otherwise, she's just mostly inside all day."
Aside from socializing with other dogs, exercise is one of the main reasons owners bring their pets to off-leash areas; however, dog trainer Katie K9 said forcing interactions between unfamiliar animals can cause problems.
"I'm not a big believer in dog parks because people -- it's the owners that are not versed enough to make sure everything is going right," she said.
Gilbreath admits he often comes to the park and figures things out once he's there, but Katie has been teaching dog obedience for 30 years. She warns that dog parks atmospheres can create a constant struggle to find a position in a pack, and that can be more than stressful. In fact, she says a bad situation could lead to long-term changes in behavior.
"Every owner should understand what body signals their dog is trying to tell other dogs or to them," she recommended. "They do a lot of signals to us, but if you're not receptive to you, you don't understand they're trying to talk to us."
As for best practices in off-leash areas, Katie says dogs should never be kept on a leash and that big dogs and little dogs should be exercised in separate areas because of the size difference and potential for injuries.
Beyond that, Katie says keeping a close eye on how your dog is interacting with others is crucial.
"A lot of owners go to the dog parks and unhook," she said. "They're just socializing. They're not paying any attention to the dynamics of what's going on."
Whether the pooch is big or small, that rule is true among for all owners of four-legged friends.
"That's really the primary thing with dog park etiquette," Wade Rogers echoed. "Know your dog and be responsible enough to step in and grab your dog and pull him out if you feel like they're getting too nervous or scared or aggressive."
Katie K9 told FOX 9 News there are a few alternatives to dog parks. She recommends scheduling play dates with specific dogs, getting exercise via walks, and practicing obedience, agility and other tricks to keep the mind active too.
For more information on interpreting dog behaviors, Katie K9 recommends owners check out a book called "Canine Body Language," the photographic guide published by Brenda Aloff.