28 January 2022

Once bitten, twice shy owners call for better management of public dog parks

| James Coleman
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Public dog parks

The ACT has seven public dog parks and QRPC has nine. Photo: File.

Dog parks. Let’s put all these unpredictable creatures with sharp teeth in one place and let them off the lead. That’ll go well.

Certainly for one woman and her beloved shorthaired border collie, it didn’t.

Sophie Rath took to the Queanbeyan Community Notice Board on Facebook to bemoan her experience at the Scar Dog Park in Queanbeyan that left her dog limping and howling in pain and Sophie herself in considerable distress.

“I have been to the Scar Dog Park various times with my seven-month-old border collie,” she wrote.

“We are there nearly every afternoon … and he has been attacked various times from bigger dogs. The owner of the dog didn’t even say sorry. It’s very disappointing this is happening as it is close to home for us and there are some lovely dogs there.”

border collie

Sophie Rath’s shorthaired border collie has been attacked twice now at public dog parks. Photo: Sophie Rath.

The depth of the reaction from the community reveals that misbehaviour at our public dog parks is a constant issue, one that regularly leads to both animals and humans being injured. Rules are in place to keep the peace but are seemingly being ignored by some owners.

“We’ve stopped going to the dog park for the same reason – our dog is very playful and he got attacked a couple of times,” reads one comment.

“Wasn’t so bad when he was younger as he was often quick enough to run or get out of the way, but he is getting too old now and the last time he got attacked, he needed stitches.”

An owner was attacked a few months ago when she tried to rescue her puppy from another dog.

“My back was all cut up and my fur baby was scared to go back in the park. The owners had the audacity to yell at me saying I instigated their dog’s behaviour,” the comment reads.

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Sophie says fault doesn’t so much lie at the feet of the dogs as the owners who either aren’t paying adequate attention or simply can’t control their dogs.

“If you take your dog to a dog park, you must watch your dog at all times. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to look after your aggressive dog,” she says.

“And if you are going to bring your dog to a dog park, they need to have social skills.”

The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) outlines that “good behaviour is expected from both dogs and owners in off-lead areas.”

The dog must always wear a collar with an ID tag and must be under “effective control” when off their lead. Owners must also be equipped with bags to pick up after their dog. All of the designated off-lead areas are supplied with dedicated bins for disposing of dog droppings.

“Failure to do any of the above may result in being issued with a fine.”

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Across the border in the ACT, there are seven fenced dog parks spread across the major regions. The rules for these are more detailed and suggest that “not all dogs are suited to visiting a dog park”.

“If you take an aggressive dog into the enclosure you are risking harm to others and creating a potential liability for yourself.”

Crucially, “you should have full control of your dog and it should come when called”.

Sophie recommends dog parks be divided into areas for the different-sized dogs, and that more signage regarding the rules be put in place.

“If an incident happens, we should also have the right to report it somewhere and know that it will be followed up on.”

Since 2017 in the ACT, if a person or animal is seriously injured in a dog attack, the carer of the attacking dog must advise Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) of the attack within five days.

Yarralumla dog park

The Yarralumla Dog Park. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

A spokesperson for the ACT Government says that only a very small number of incidents are ever reported at dog parks, with two so far this year and 10 in 2021.

This is despite a 28 per cent increase in dog registrations from 66,000 in 2019 to more than 85,000 today.

These incidents mostly relate to uncontrolled dogs and have not resulted in significant physical injury to either people or their dogs.

“To help avoid these situations, we encourage dog owners to make sure their dog stays in the area designed for their dog’s size,” a spokesperson said.

Misbehaving dogs can land their owners in courts where they can face harsh penalties – including imprisonment and thousands of dollars in fines or compensation – for a multitude of offences under the ACT’s Domestic Animals Act 2000.

The ACT Government has a 24 hour/seven day week operation for the community to report dog attacks, via Access Canberra on 13 22 81. If an attack is in progress, the community is urged to contact ACT Policing on Emergency Triple Zero (000).

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For this very reason Guide Dogs forbid there dogs going to these parks

Maybe we should microchip the naughty dog owners and have them retrained to behave properly like they should when they are out in public

Love the dog parks, great way for dogs to socialise and talk to people who I usually would never speak to. I think the problems usually stem from a lack of empathy from certain people. Couple of examples: Lady with a HUGE great Dane who walks it into the big dog park at Tuggies, let’s it do its (huge) no. 2’s while looking the other way, then leaves without picking it up – multiple instances. Guy who claims his over-zealous staffy/pitbull is a ‘small’ dog and should be in the small park where it beats the cr@p out of any dog it is unlucky enough to catch…almost ending in fisticuffs between owners on at least two occasions. If people just thought about what effect their actions might have on others most of this could be avoided 🙂

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