Speaking with my friend and training assistant, Sheryl, we got into a discussion on the value of our dogs. We talked about how much we have put into our beloved four-legged family members and what it would mean to us if something happened to them. And I don’t mean death.

Your dog’s whole world can change in an instant. The time you have put into bonding with them, training them, as well as the money spent on food, medical bills, toys, and classes all add up. When you take your dog places, keep in mind the value you have placed in your dog. Think about it: Are those on-leash greetings with strange dogs really worth potentially losing it all? How about walking off leash? Dog parks with dogs you don’t know and haven’t seen play before? These are all huge and avoidable risks.

I know what you are thinking, “Here comes the anti-dog park rant.” Let me be clear. I am not anti-dog park, but I am anti-unnecessary risk. Dog parks are wonderful in theory and I would love for everyone to have access to a great, safe, off leash area to play with and run their dog. I would even love for dogs to have dog friends that they could play safely with. Again, in theory, dog parks are wonderful. In reality, they leave much to be desired. There is no way to be sure my dog is going to have a good time because I have no control over who enters the park, or whether their dog(s) have the proper vaccinations, or if they play nicely with other dogs. I also have no control over the other people at the dog park. I don’t know what they will do (or won’t do) if their dog misbehaves. I know that most dogs do not want to meet new dogs every week (let alone every few days) and I know that at some point even the most patient of dogs is going to get tired of having to deal with under exercised, overstimulated, and over aroused dogs.  It’s like a bunch of out of control toddlers. Listen, kids are great, but you couldn’t pay me enough to chaperone a group of over excited, loud, rambunctious kids hopped up on cake every day of the week. Nor would I want my kid to be one of those over excited, loud, rambunctious kids hopped up on cake every day. That’s what I feel like dog parks are a lot of the time. Why would I want my dog to be subjected to that? There is a reason our kids don’t go to parties every day! It’s too darn much! Sheryl will tell you to follow your local dog park on Facebook. She says she sees posts regularly where people report incidents and try to track down people and dogs who were involved in an incident that resulted in a vet visit. The fact is, even if it hasn’t happened yet, go to the dog park often enough and you’ll see an unfortunate situation unravel before your eyes.

The bottom line is that it usually only takes one bad experience to ruin a perfectly good dog. A friend of mine (and an assistant at Heavenly Hounds), Leah, spends tons of time with her dog, Stryder. They hike regularly, and she takes him to classes and does training with him at home. She has taken just about every class Heavenly Hounds offers. As such, she has a huge amount of time and money invested in her dog. One day, at an agility class at another school, a classmate of hers allowed their dog to get too close to Stryder, who was peacefully relaxing in a crate, waiting his turn to come out and play. The classmate’s dog is very reactive to dogs and as he passed the crate where my friend’s dog was situated, the reactive dog completely lost his cool and starting snarling and barking at Stryder, who was, by any definition: trapped. When it comes to the natural reaction of fight or flight, Leah’s dog was limited to fight by nature of the fact that he was crated. Although he didn’t react at the time, he now has some serious barrier frustration. He has become reactive to any dogs who approach him in a crate or when he is trapped on a leash, or behind a fence. Prior to the incident, he had no issues with other dogs. None. Now she has to work hard to keep his attention when they are in the presence of other dogs when on leash, making her once peaceful hikes that much more stressful.

My point here is that this incident wasn’t even Leah’s fault, but it completely changed her dog’s perception of other dogs. She would never have guessed that taking her dog to class was putting him at risk. It was a low risk place to be, as most classes are well controlled. It just so happens this one time, there was a mistake.

But there ARE high risk places where events like hers are commonplace. Dog parks are one of them. Greetings with dogs on leash is another. It is not unusual to see dogs who participate in one or the other of those activities to develop some form of reactivity. The odds are even greater if they participate in both.

You, like my friends Sheryl and Leah, and nearly everyone else reading this now, have put a HUGE amount of time, energy and money into your dog(s). I recall doing the math when my dog was young to estimate how much I had spent on him in just the first year of his life. It was a big number. And that didn’t factor in the HOURS each day we spent together where I was shaping the dog he was to become.

If something happened to my dog tomorrow, I couldn’t replace him.

That sounds so dramatic, but it’s true. If your dog escaped out your front door today, and got hit by a car, would you simply say to yourself, “oh well, let’s go to get another dog. This one is dead.”? You might get another dog at some point, but it would never replace the dog you have now, and your new dog wouldn’t be pre-programmed with all the training you did with your last dog or all the bonding and relationship you had either. You would be starting over.

For many dogs, all it takes is one bad situation, and while behavior modification can help, you may never regain the dog you had before the incident. Your dog is an investment you’ve been putting love, sweat and tears into since the day you brought them home. So, I will ask you again, are those on-leash greetings with strange dogs really worth potentially losing it all? How about walking off leash? Dog parks with dogs you don’t know and haven’t seen play before? These are all huge and avoidable hazards. You can play with your dog on a long line if you don’t have a fenced yard. You can setup play dates with known dogs that your dog plays well with. You can keep a leash on your dog when you walk but treat them with more freedom using a long line if you want to let them go off and sniff.

Is losing your investment really worth the risk?


Things to Avoid Things to Try instead
Dog Parks Set up playdates with known dogs who play well with your own or get them tired using play at home, by taking a new dog training class together like agility, nose work or tricks.
On leash greetings with other dogs Teach your dog that when the leash is on, their job is to pay attention to you. Avoid other people approaching you on leash by telling them your dog is in training or is sick and contagious (yes, that works!)
On leash greetings with strangers Same as above but if you want them to greet some people, let your dog have the power to say, “no thank you” and move away if they are uninterested in being touched. Be your dog’s advocate!
Plane Travel Planes are loud, scary places. If possible, drive or leave your dog at home. If you have to fly, discuss medication options with your vet to make the trip easier on your dog.
Fireworks Fireworks can be very traumatic for dogs as they occur without warning. Instead stay home and play music/TV and or run fans to drown out sounds.
Off leash walks Switch up your normal route to provide new smells to enrich your dog’s walk. They don’t need to be off leash to enjoy new places, particularly if you use a long line.
Uncomfortable interactions Learn to recognize your dog’s body language so you can see if they are uncomfortable at the vet, groomer, or with visitors to your home. If you know what to look for, you’ll be a better advocate for your dog. For more on dog body language visit: https://bestfriends.org/resources/dog-body-language


I want to thank Sheryl for her input and inspiration for this article and Leah for her contributions and allowing me to use her story. They are awesome friends and incredible dog moms. 🙂


Happy Training!

Nicole L Yuhas CPDT-KA



This blog is intended to be informative as well as entertaining. It contains my opinion which may not reflect the opinions of any organization I may be affiliated with. My opinions should not be interpreted as those of my coworkers, family, friends, casual acquaintances, and certainly not the opinion of my cat, although my dog probably agrees with everything I say, if for no other reason, than because I provide the treats and meals (cats are less inclined to agree with anyone but themselves). Information provided here is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge but, as information and opinions change, neither the facts nor the opinions expressed here may be true or accurate at any future date. As I don’t currently own a time machine, I cannot be responsible for things that prove to be untrue, or opinions I change my mind about, should those changes become apparent in the future. It should also be noted that, as I am human, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes in the information provided here. Frankly, even if I were a computer, it is likely there would be errors, as computers, in my experience, can be a royal pain in the butt. This blog may contain affiliate links which you are under no obligation to click. If you click them, they will hopefully take you the place I intended. But they may not. As I’ve said, computers can be a pain. If you find yourself somewhere you don’t think I intended, click your ruby slippers three times together and say, “there is no place like home.” If you do that, and click the “back” button, you should be safely returned. Computers can, at times, have a mind of their own. Any training suggestions or opinions expressed here should be taken as information only and should not be seen as advice particular to you or your dog’s unique situation. Please consult with a training professional before taking any action.

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