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Each week, we will bring you an article or short story.
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— June 4, 2013 —

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a writer for the Chicago Tribune. Nancy Simon was interested in doing a piece about dog park safety since warm weather was approaching. I don’t know what happened to the warm weather, but Nancy came through with a great article. Here it is.

More dog parks means greater need for dog training.
By Nancy A. Simon, Special to the Tribune May 22, 2013
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-x-dog-park-etiquette-20130522,0,7211374.story


Kevin Tan and his wife, Felecia, knew Jersey, their 2-year-old mixed breed dog, had a problem getting along with other canines at a dog park in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

“Jersey would get hold of a ball and lash other dogs that tried to take it away,” said Kevin Tan, a first-time dog owner. “He had serious ball aggression, and I did not want it develop into something more serious.”

So the Tans decided to take themselves and Jersey to Daniel McElroy, the owner of Bark Avenue Playcare in Chicago’s West Loop, to learn how to control their pet’s behavior around other dogs.

During the first session, McElroy watched Tan from a distance as he interacted with Jersey. “At the dog park, Daniel would see me with my dog and revise how I was doing it,” Kevin Tan said.

McElroy told him to soothe Jersey when he got really excited and fixated on a ball. McElroy also recommended Tan use timeouts when Jersey failed to relinquish a ball and to toss out several other balls to prevent him from getting overly possessive with any one ball.

As dog parks in the Chicago area and across the nation grow in popularity, an increasing number of owners are turning to animal trainers like McElroy to learn how to control their dogs’ behavior when they are not on a leash. As of 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 569 dog parks in major cities across the nation, according to the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco that helps obtain land for public use.

McElroy encourages dog owners to take their pets outside, including to dog parks.

“Dogs need a big world. They need to meet lots of people and go many different places. It is their primary method of socialization,” he said.

But dog parks might not be suitable for all dogs, McElroy said. Should a dog feel the need to show dominance by jumping on other dogs, coveting balls and other toys, engaging in stiff-tail stare-downs with other dogs or barking other dogs into submission, then the owner should avoid taking the animal to a dog park until its behavior improves, he said.

“Dogs don’t have the equipment to act like humans… They don’t automatically know the right things to do, so they rely upon the owners for direction,” he said.

At his dog day care center, McElroy, like other dog trainers, teaches dogs how to behave while on a leash, off a leash and in a dog park. The all-day training sessions are held three days a week for four weeks.

McElroy requires that owners work with their dogs to reinforce the lessons taught during the day. Like other trainers, McElroy also teaches dog owners a list of essential dog commands: sit, down, come, heel and free (which means a dog is permitted to go off and roam).

“Daniel makes you stay and go through the entire lesson. He said, ‘I’m not taking him home, he’s going with you,’” said Marcia Bilkey, who brought Jonah, her 100-pound-plus bull mastiff/boxer mix to McElroy. She wanted Jonah to calm down in public and, eventually, accompany the family to the park where Bilkey’s children participate in a range of sports.

Bilkey, who adopted Jonah three years ago as a puppy, said that because he never received proper training, he would react in a hyper fashion whenever he saw a rabbit or a squirrel or someone wanted to pet him.

“I felt like he was a 3-year-old who never been taught manners,” Bilkey said.

After the initial session when she arrived to pick up Jonah after a full day’s work, she witnessed an amazing change: Under instruction from McElroy, Jonah remained in a seated position for a half hour while McElroy talked with her, Bilkey said.

“He never would sit like that. So uncomfortable for me to keep talking while Jonah sat there shaking all over. But he never got up,” she said.

Now, when she is walking Jonah and he zeros in on a rabbit or another dog and wants to go after it, Bilkey quickly refocuses Jonah’s attention so they can continue uninterrupted on their walk.

Jonah should only pay attention to Bilkey, McElroy said.

“Owners need to get good control of their dogs to the point where they relax and come out of their rabbit hole. Over time, dogs can learn to be in any natural environment without escalating the problematic behavior,” he said.

Rick Ricci and his fiance, Veronica Torres, said the training their Boston terrier, Baby, received from McElroy means they will soon be able to take the dog to a dog park near their home in Hoffman Estates.

“At home we kept her mentally busy, and if she got too hyper, Daniel instructed us to place her in the down position (lying on all fours) and not let her get up until we said she could,” Ricci said.

Now, Ricci and Torres are much happier dog owners.

“We are able to focus our energy on doing more of the (outdoor, social) things we want and can now bring Baby with us rather than leaving her at home,” he said.

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K9 4 KEEPS
Craft & Trunk Show


Saturday, August 3rd, 12:00pm–5:00pm
3656 N. Halsted
(Center on Halsted—
Billie Jean King Recreation Center, 3rd Floor)

Interested in being a vendor? Contact Ranise. Proceeds from vendor booth rental benefits the dogs
of K9 4 KEEPS!