Fighting boredom at the dog park .

There’s Bruin at the Chelmsford Dog Park. The park has a good-sized space to run, but not much more than that. Neither toys nor food are allowed, so unless a dog finds somebody to play with, there’s not much for him to do but sniff things and hang out with the dog owners. As far as rules go, I hope Acton’s park will not start off with a lot of restrictions. I’d rather give the benefit of the doubt to the dogs and their owners. If a problem becomes obvious, then there’ll be time to reconsider.

But that’s not why we’re here. Bruin up there in the picture is at the park and he’s bored. Nobody wants to play with him, and with all toys banned, there’s nothing for him to do. He and I walked around the accessible trail a few times, and once or twice he started off running with a bunch of other dogs, but it didn’t last.

People complain that dogs climb on the benches and the picnic tables, but with no other infrastructure in place, what do we expect them to do for fun?

So, what can a dog park do to keep dogs entertained? They could install all that expensive agility-type equipment in all the new dog park equipment catalogs, but why spend so much money? A sewer pipe makes a great tunnel. If you pile a lot of loam on top of it, then you have a tunnel and a hill. It’s best to level the top of the hill, and pack the loam pretty tight, you want room for more than one dog up there. That would take some engineering, maybe it would work better like a culvert, putting the tunnel in a naturally low part of the field, dog park fields are entirely too flat.

Logs and stone walls are great fun for dogs. Bruin loves to walk along one, and it is so good for his coordination and balance. He also loves to jump over the same things as he careens through the woods. Another advantage to bringing in natural elements is that with them will come natural creatures, like squirrels, chipmunks, and other stinky creatures that usually come out at night. Dogs love to chase squirrels and chipmunks, who can make themselves disappear pretty quickly under the logs or stones. They’ll give dogs something to sniff, if nothing else.

Of course a pond is the ultimate luxury at a dog park, but I’ll get to that later.

What else would you add to a dog park to keep the dogs stimulated?

Bruin, the hound dog.

Bruin is a Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen. In English, that means large, low, rough-coated dog, from the Vendees region of France. His breed originated in the 19th century to hunt rabbits in rough terrain. They make a nice pet, if you have the time and the patience to train them, but they need a lot of time to run, run, run. I’m trying to let him be an off leash dog, but every now and then he gets ornery, picks up a scent, and just goes for it. Other times he runs of a little bit, meets up with another dog, and “forgets” to come when called. It is not unusual for hounds to have selective deafness.

Lately we’ve been visiting the two local dog parks, Chelmsford & Maynard, just to hang out, maybe meet some people, and hopefully get Bruin some exercise. Bruin’s a picky playmate, though, and he seldom finds just the right dog to play with him, so he spends most of his time sniffing around the park, visiting people to admire him, and hanging around me. He doesn’t get enough exercise at either park, so I spend a lot of time kicking soccer balls for him to chase in the back yard.

I’ve made one observation from these two enclosed dog parks – dogs stand around a lot at dog parks. Sometimes, especially if two dogs know and like each other, then they will run. Sometimes there are very charismatic dogs who can pull lots of dogs into the game with them, but so far that has not been the norm for Bruin. We’ll need to do some more research to find out how typical Bruin’s behavior is.


Think of it this way…

People often find it hard to understand dogs. They seem so alien to us – they bark, they seem to communicate by peeing, they want to smell everything, and they only seem to understand English well enough to ignore it. Let’s see if we can simplify things:


A puppy is roughly the same as a human toddler. It can walk, run sloppily, make lots of noise, communicate a little bit, can’t control its bodily functions and needs constant supervision.


A full-grown, adult dog maxes out at the approximate maturity of an 8-year-old boy. It has mastered a few self-care skills -like using the potty in the appropriate place and licking ice cream off its face, it’s had some education, and learned a few things about the world. It still needs a significant amount of supervision, is still curious about most things, but can be trusted with some time alone, in his bedroom or in the backyard. Unlike the boy, the dog is going to remain at this level of maturity for the rest of its life.

And just like an eight year old boy, your dog’s behavior will be a reflection of what and how it was taught earlier in life. If the dog was treated harshly, then it will learn to expect that from the world, just like the boy will. It will go out into the world with a chip on its shoulder, always preferring fight to flight.

If, on the other hand, the dog has been coddled and protected inside the home, it is likely to enter the world confused and behaving inappropriately. Like a person raised by wolves, it only knows how people behave. It might become fearful, and fearful dogs can be aggressive – just like the 5th grade bully who picks on kindergartners.

Either of the dogs above could be dogs who are just afraid without knowing how to hide it. They look like victims to other dogs and some dogs, being essentially 8-year-old boys, are inclined to pick on victims. When victims run, dogs give chase. For that matter, when anything runs, dogs will chase it. But the fearful dog will remain fearful, at least until it is socialized properly, and that can always be done. While exposure as a young puppy is best, it is never too late to introduce your dog to new experiences. You may need to have a lot of patience, but it will be well worth it as the dog gains confidence.

But, if the dog is consistently raised with a firm but gentle hand, introduced to many different things early in life – including sounds, people in various “costumes,” other dogs, vehicles, and all different things to walk on, smell, roll in, and listen to, and been taught about limits and appropriate behavior, then that dog is likely to grow up to be a confident, well-behaved dog – a good doggie citizen.