A Collingwood resident with a very social small dog would like the town to make its dog parks more friendly for small-breed pups.
Barbara Hibbitt is thinking not only of Sam, her Shih-Poo whose favourite activity is running and playing with other dogs in the park, but of her own safety.
Hibbitt suffered a broken wrist and ankle last year while at the dog park on the corner of High and Second Street. She was there with Sam when two large dogs came bounding up behind her and knocked her over. She said the dog wasn’t being aggressive, it was just big and excited and she didn’t see it coming.
Hibbitt's ankle was surgically repaired, and she has made a full recovery. She still goes on daily walks with Sam, but the pair has not gone back to the dog park.
Hibbitt lives in the apartment building across the road from the park and used to take Sam to the park every day. The apartment building's close proximity to the dog park was a factor in her decision to move there.
The senior woman moved to Collingwood from Aurora, where she frequented a dog park with a separate section designated for small-breed dogs and puppies. It’s a solution she’s hoping to see implemented in Collingwood, and one she’s suggested to town staff.
The Town of Aurora has one dog park called Canine Commons located adjacent to a conservation area (St. John’s Sideroad and Industrial Parkway).
Lindsay Clark, a municipal bylaw enforcement officer for Aurora, Newmarket and Georgina, explained the park is divided into two fenced-in sections — one for small breed dogs and puppies.
“In the past, officers have seen the smaller section used for puppy training and slow introduction to socialization,” said Clark. “It’s mainly used for small breed dogs and owners who are worried about their pet interacting with bigger dogs.”
The town created the separated section more than five years ago after hearing concerns from residents because there wasn’t a place for small dogs to roam freely.
“We wanted to encourage all dog owners to be responsible and follow regulated bylaws for a dog being ‘at large’ in the community,” said Clark.
The entrance area at Canine Commons is separated by two gates, each granting access to a different section of the park.
Just what constitutes a “small-breed dog” is left to the discretion of owners.
“Animal services officers perform proactive patrols weekly to encourage all dog owners to be responsible and follow the guidelines set out in the bylaw,” said Clark.
Similar to at Collingwood’s three dog parks, the Town of Aurora has posted a sign with the rules of the park at the entrance. They include the standard requirements about dogs requiring up-to-date vaccinations, and owners supervising their dogs and cleaning up pet waste.
Hibbitt has suggested the Town of Collingwood do something similar to the dog park at High and Second Street, noting there are a few senior residents living in the same apartment building who have small breed dogs.
She said she would use the park again if there was a designated small-breed area.
The Town of Collingwood’s director of parks, recreation, and culture Dean Collver said the town has been reviewing the addition of a small-dog area to the High Street dog park. The review was prompted by Hibbitt’s suggestion.
“It’s complicated because of the park’s orientation and the single entry point,” said Collver. “Admittedly, we will likely not be able to make any physical changes until the spring, if any can be made at all.”
The town has no designated small-dog areas at any of its three dog parks (High Street, Poplar Sideroad, and Central Park).
As a certified dog trainer and animal care technician (formerly dog care coordinator) at Georgian Triangle Humane Society, Molly Freedman sees both benefits and hazards in dog parks and offers some tips for dog owners to navigate them safely, or find alternative ways to exercise their pets.
“A lot of people use the dog parks as their main type of exercise for their dogs … but they’re unregulated,” said Freedman. “It’s not always a place to go.”
The decision to use a park, she said, should be based on the behaviour and attitude of your dog.
“If you have a dog that is social toward people and dogs, it’s a great place,” said Freedman.
She recommends approaching a dog park slowly and asking anyone in the park if their dogs are okay with other dogs.
“Always ask before you enter, because you don’t know the other dogs there,” she said. “If you feel something isn’t going to go right, don’t go in.”
She also suggested not bringing treats or toys with you to the park because that can cause issues and aggression in other dogs. And on the subject of jealousy, try not to interact with the dogs when they’re playing. They can react to that by competing (aggressively) for attention.
If you notice dog aggression, the best thing you can do is leave, said Freedman.
If your dog is involved in a fight, you should use the dog’s favourite word or throw a stick (away from the dog) or pull out its leash to try to distract the dog from a safe distance.
She suggested as an alternative to a dog park, people can buy a long leash and let their dog run at a park while still attached to a leash so they aren’t breaking the town’s bylaw and don’t have to encounter other dogs.
Freedman thought the idea of a separated park with a section for small-breed dogs could be useful.
“I think it’s nice to have that separation, but I don’t think it’s required,” she said. “There are so many other opportunities to exercise dogs.”