Should I be concerned about the dogs fighting? Dogs are independent creatures that, by nature, travel in packs with a strict pack order. They think for themselves, they feel, they like some dogs, they dislike other dogs, and sometimes they disagree (my toy, my food, my FOOT-Ouch!, my shady spot, my mommy). Despite this, dog fights in an off-leash dog park remain quite rare.

First, the fenced area of Falcon Ridge Recreation Center is "neutral" territory-no dog has laid claim to this territory so there is nothing to defend. Second, the dogs within are always changing so there is no opportunity for a group of dogs to form a solid "pack". Third, with so much space, there are few areas in which to get cornered, and lots of places to run away if a situation gets sticky ("flight" rather than "fight"). Fourth, The Club forbids intact (not spayed or neutered) dogs-which can increase the incidents of dog fights-over the age of 6 months.
 
Why must my dog remain unleashed in the fenced area of The Recreation Center? I am nervous about how he will react. In a dog's mind, he must always be prepared to defend himself and his pack (i.e. YOU). If a dog is tethered, he may feel that he is at an automatic disadvantage. If an unleashed dog runs up to greet him while he is on-leash--even if the dog is perfectly friendly--he may take an offensive posture or even attack. It does not help that *you* may be nervous about your dog's response, and that nervousness travels right out of your hand, through the leash, and into your dog's heart.

Dogs who may be nervous about the off-leash area will go to a small comfortable quiet area-The "Rookie" Lot-where each of them, in turn, can acclimate to the "bigness" of the park (after all, how many dogs have had THAT much space in which to roam before?), and all the new human and canine faces. From this Rookie Lot, they can see and hear everything that is going on, and have a few new friends come in and visit until they are ready for the Big Boy and Girl area!
 
Why can't I pick up my little dog and carry him at The Recreation Center? He is agitated by the bigger dogs! If you pick up your little dog and carry him, all the other dogs will jump up on you to see and/or get to the “prize” you are holding in your arms—the cool fuzzy toy. The situation may be made all the worse if the little dog is squealing or barking. And…just like a leashed dog's reaction to unleashed dogs, he feels he must always be prepared to defend himself and his pack (i.e. YOU). If a dog is in your arms (and not squealing in fright), he may still attempt to attack the dogs who are “threatening you”. Again, it does not help that *you* may be nervous about your dog's response, and that nervousness travels right out of your arms and into your dog's heart.  If this situation happens, then the little dog may best be suited for a different pen.
 
Why can't prong/spike collars, choke chain collars & shock collars be used in the fenced area of The Recreation Center? When dogs play, they wrestle, they roll around, they run, they run into things, they run into each other, and they tug on anything they can get their teeth around (i.e. collars). If a dog is wearing a prong/spike or a choke collar, he could choke and/or suffer puncture wounds to the neck or trachea. The other dog could suffer a mouth/tooth injury and/or get his mouth stuck in the prong/spike or choke collar.
 
Why are their designated areas for small, medium, and large dogs? Mark Twain once said, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in a dog." Dogs do not perceive size differences in other dogs. To them, a dog is a dog is a dog, and a Chihuahua may take on a Great Dane, and a Great Pyrenees may run from an Italian Greyhound. All of this is in good fun until...the huge dog accidentally steps on the little dog, runs him over because he did not see him, or falls on him when he loses his balance. Or even worse, a large dog views a small dog running by as "prey". We want to keep all of our canine guests safe; therefore, large dogs, medium dogs, and small dogs must each use their respective designated areas. A small dog is 20 pounds or less and a gentle player, a medium dog is 15 to 45 pounds and a rambunctious (lower weight) to mellow player (higher weight), and a large dog is 25+ pounds and a rambunctious player.
 
What happens in the evaluation? All dogs undergo a regular evaluation for suitability in an off-leash canine-canine environment. The purpose of the evaluation is to test a dog's behavior under various circumstances. At each step, the evaluator watches the dog's reaction. First, the evaluator approaches you with your dog on leash. Then the evaluator takes the dog from you and goes into a room. The evaluator lets the dog off-leash in the room. The evaluator touches the dog as a veterinarian or show judge would--flank test, teeth, hug. The evaluator conducts a startle test by throwing a bowl. The evaluator puts food in the bowl and puts a fake hand in the bowl. If all goes well, the evaluator introduces the dog to a test dog, and then the evaluator takes both dogs out for playtime.
 
Are any breeds banned?

The Club recognizes that an evaluation--which is a moment in time with a particular dog--may not always provide enough insight into every dog's probable behavior in an off-leash canine-canine environment. Therefore, in addition to the regular evaluation, The Club has additional requirements for dogs of certain breeds.

The Club recognizes that a dog's temperament is formed by a combination of both nature and nurture.  Well-socialized dogs raised with love, kindness, discipline, and a healthy helping of treats will reward their people with unconditional and unfaltering love.  Dogs have also been bred over the centuries for specific confirmations, temperaments, and purposes—some to guard, some to herd, some to track, some to hunt, some to look pretty and sit in laps, some to fight lions and bulls, some to fight other dogs.  One cannot ask a Chinese Crested to pull a dog sled in Alaska, one cannot ask a Labrador to stay out of anything that constitutes a “water body”, one cannot ask an Old English Mastiff not to crush one's lap, and one cannot ask certain breeds to behave themselves in a “free-for-all” canine environment.

Because some of these characteristics may make some dogs of particular breeds unsuited for canine-canine interactions in a large multi-dog environment, The Club, out of respect, love, and protection for dogs of all breeds, has additional requirements for American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, Boxers, Akitas, Chow Chows, Presa Canarios, Rottweilers, Dogo Argentino, and certain other breeds which may be similarly unsuited. Along with the dog's regular evaluation, The Club requires letters of recommendation—one from the dog's day care or three from dog park patrons—which detail their suitable play behavior and a parent interview in order to consider the dog for membership. If you are interested in having a dog of one of these breeds evaluated, please call or e-mail ahead to schedule an appointment.

 
My intact (not spayed or neutered) dog plays well with other dogs. Why aren't intact dogs over 6 months permitted?

Even if your intact dog is not aggressive toward other dogs, the presence and scent of any intact dog—whether dominant or submissive—and accompanying hormones can trigger aggressive behavior in otherwise stable dogs around him/her. These over-stimulated dogs may target the intact dog, each other, and/or any other dogs within their reach.

 
How does one safely break up a dogfight?

 

There is no safe way to break up a dogfight. Above all else, humans must protect themselves, and avoid contact with the end that has the teeth. Humans must NEVER grab a fighting dog's collar-a dog may interpret this action as another dog trying to bite its neck, and then he may attack you.

The first line of defense against a dogfight is prevention-keep your dogs out of situations where a fight is likely to occur, move to another part of the park if you or your dogs feel uncomfortable with a particular situation, and prepare your dogs for complete recall under any and all adverse conditions. It may seem like a dog fight breaks out without warning and in an instant; however, dog fights seldom occur without fair indicators:
  1. Posturing (standing tall and lifting head above another dog's);
  2. Raised hairs on the back of the neck or back;
  3. "Too close" proximity to a dog with whom prior adverse interactions have occurred;
  4. An inordinate number of congregated dogs (especially when congregated by a gate, when chasing a yelping running dog, or when [not so patiently] awaiting treat or high value toy distribution); or
  5. Humping.
If your dog has already managed to get himself into one of these pre-fight situations, remember that your voice travels faster than the rest of you. Call your dog in an upbeat (but commanding voice), growl "NO", flail your arms, and in general become more interesting than whatever else is going on. Above all else...ACT. One second's hesitation can mean the difference between peaceful resolution and disaster.

If this fails or if the fight has already ensued, try your voice as you are running over to your dog. Sometimes playing dogs go "a little too far" because so-in-so stepped on so-in-so's foot, and so-in-so got upset. If this is the case, these dogs just need to be reminded that you are alpha, you decide when to fight, and now is not appropriate.

If the fight is the real thing, 1) throw something at them; 2) spray them with water; AND/OR 2) pick up the aggressing dog by the hind legs and lift his legs straight up in the air. Someone else should be doing the same with the other dog(s); otherwise, the free dogs may try to take a pot shot at their now constrained opponent.

Above all else, YOU are responsible for your dog's behavior and safety.
 
Are fleas and ticks a concern at The Recreation Center? The Recreation Center is a completely outdoor open space with grass, pines and deciduous hardwoods-all of which provide ample hiding places for fleas, mosquitoes (heartworm carriers), and ticks (Lyme disease carriers).  All dogs should therefore be on flea, tick, and heartworm preventative for their own safety and the safety of other members' dogs.
 
Is disease a concern at The Recreation Center? Anywhere that dogs congregate presents an opportunity for disease. However, if your dog is healthy and current on his vaccines, the risk is minimal. The Club also requires all dogs to be vaccinated against Rabies, Parvovirus, Bordetella, and Distemper, and The Club maintains vaccination records for each dog.
 
How old must my puppy be before he may enter the fenced area of The Recreation Center? Puppies must be at least four months old and must have received their puppy shots, including their first round of Rabies vaccinations in order to enter the park. Please consult your veterinarian for the age appropriate for your particular dog.
 
Are children permitted? Falcon Ridge Recreation Center permits mature dog-savvy children over the age of eight into the Fenced Area with their parent member. Children not belonging to members will be permitted with Members if the child's parent or legal guardian signs a Child Agreement Form with The Recreation Center. Anyone who has seen a full-grown 200-pound man get knocked down (and then humped) at a dog park by a band of canines who were not watching where they were going, will understand this age requirement.

Remember too that dogs find children-who make high-pitched squealy noises, run everywhere, and hold toys and treats at a tantalizing height right above a dog's head-quite fascinating! And should a hyper-excited dog (accidentally) or an irritated dog (purposefully) bite a child, the dog will most likely bite the nearest body part...and that would be a child's face. A dog who has bitten -- for whatever reason -- has little protection under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
 
What do I do if a dog is annoying my dog, and the dog's owner is doing nothing? First, determine whether your dog is actually upset. Often dogs engaging in play may *seem* like they are fighting-growling, barking, biting, and wrestling. Ask these questions:
  1. Are the dogs roughly the same size? (otherwise, the smaller dog may become accidentally injured).
  2. Are the dogs switching positions, exchanging who is on top, even if one gets the "prize" position more often than the other?
  3. Are the tails wagging? Are the tails in the air?
  4. Are teeth actually touching skin?
  5. Is the growl pitch just a little higher than the fight/alert pitch?
  6. Do each of the sparring partners keep coming back for more?
  7. Is your dog smiling?
On the other hand, if your dog's tail is between his legs, he begins yelping, his lips are curled back with teeth showing, and/or he is snarling, he is not happy at all. He is warning the other dog to "GO AWAY OR ELSE", and the other dog is just NOT getting the hint. And the dog's owner is not either.

If this is the situation, first remove *your* dog from the situation. A yelping dog will draw the attention of every dog in the park, and this may very quickly slide into a dog fight. If you feel comfortable talking to the owner, let him/her know that your dog was upset by the actions of his/her dog, and try to work out a plan of action for the future where both dogs are comfortable. If you do not feel comfortable speaking to the owner, please alert staff.
 
May I bring in human guests? Members may bring in human guests any time the office is open once they and their guests have signed a Guest Agreement with The Recreation Center. Members must accompany their guests.
 
Is it possible for me to have my dogwalker/friend/family bring my dog to The Recreation Center?

Members may designate an "Agent" to bring his or her dog to The Recreation Center. The Member and the Agent must sign an Agent Agreement with the Recreation Center, and Agents may visit in the member's absence.  Only legal owners may bring dogs to Open House.

 
Are guest dogs permitted? Canine guests are not permitted. If you will be keeping another person's dog for a short period of time, that dog's owner may consider a month-to-month membership for that dog, and designate you as the "Agent".
 
Are foster dogs permitted? As part of The Club's rescue-centered mission, foster dogs and shelter dogs from Club-approved rescue organizations/shelters will be allowed free admission to The Club. The rescue organization/shelter, itself, must make prior arrangements with The Club and become a member of The Club.  To apply for a complimentary membership, please complete a Rescue Application FormFoster Parents: Please do not bring your dogs to Open House without these arrangements in place.
 
May our dogs bark at The Recreation Center? The Recreation Center is blessed to have only five neighbors, all of whom are supportive of this venture, and three of whom who are dog owners, themselves. However, we would not want to take advantage of these neighbors who were so kind to allow us to be here! So please minimize barking, especially near the back of the property! Fortunately for us, we all know that playing dogs -- so engaged with each other -- seldom bark!