Building a multi-use trail, especially one that requires dogs to be leashed, right through the middle of an off-leash area is an invitation for unwanted situations, yet that is exactly what was done at the boat launch end of Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale. And yes this was an off-leash area before the County and City of Ferndale pushed the Nooksack Loop through up to Main St. in 2014. (the before image is not mine, but I can’t remember the source.) They had big ambitions for the trail system at the time, but they really just left this portion as a sort of bridge to nowhere. I think that the lack of follow through on the trail is partly to blame for the festering situation that is the boat launch off-leash dog park.
The point of an off-leash dog park is that they allow dogs to freely interact with other dogs, and with dog people bound only by dog rules and dog behavior. At Hovander off-leash area that may mean a running game of dog tag, chasing birds and rabbits, splashing in the river, and chasing a ball thrown for another dog. It’s a beautiful happy thing to watch dogs racing around having fun with each other. And it is all fun and games until things turn ugly, as they occasionally do. The thing about the ugly is though, that I can’t recall things ever turning ugly just between dogs. The ugly things usually are ugly because people are involved, people to people, or people trying to manage other people’s dogs, and most often in my experience, the ugly happens when someone keeps a leash on has their dog, while other dogs in the off-leash area are running around…you know, off leash.
That points to something I think all pet owners would be wise to consider before hitting an off-leash dog park; Many leashed dogs (and often their owners) will instantly panic if approached by any off leash dog, even the most dopey friendly pups. That panic by the leashed dog, or in some cases even the leashed dog’s owner, usually means lashing out at the off leash dog who probably just wants to play. And from there, the whole situation usually turns bad, even if neither dog, nor dog owners, are doing anything aggressive or wrong.
“Even if you aren’t concerned about the approach of another dog, your dog may have his own issues with the encounter. Because he’s on a leash, he feels restrained and unable to protect or remove himself from this possible threat. Again, he may react defensively, even attacking the approaching dog…” vetstreet.com
Remove your dog’s leash as soon as you enter the off-leash area. Mixing on-leash and off-leash dogs can cause stress in the leashed dogs, which may lead to aggression. Whole Dog Journal
Keeping dogs on leashes inside an off-leash area…dogs on leash can feel more insecure because they know they can’t escape if they need to, so they can actually trigger fights that might not otherwise have happened. Mother Nature Network
When in Rome… If you’re at an off-leash park, don’t leave your dog’s leash on. It can create lots of problems and even result in leash aggression. Animal Behavior College
“Keeping your dog on-leash in a dog-park situation is just asking for trouble” vetstreet.com
The overwhelming message is that leashed and un-leashed dogs generally shouldn’t be together in off-leash parks like Hovander. It is an altogether bad idea to mix leashed and unleashed dogs. I learned this the hard way at Squalicum fenced dog park and was reminded by my wife about the 2 gate system at Squalicum that avoids leashed/unleashed interactions between dogs. Squalicum also has unfenced off-leash area as well as the two fenced enclosures, one for big dogs and one for small.
In my opinion, the north end of Hovander park needs to be all off-leash including trail, or the trail needs some fencing on both sides, but that would be weird and expensive. The best solution would be that this end of trail is just all off leash and the trail would be marked as such at both the north and sound ends of the off-leash area. There is absolutely no reason, that with a little education, this trail couldn’t still be enjoyed by everyone.
I get that the boat launch end of Hovander is conveniently located right in Ferndale, but Hovander also has miles of on-leash trails that can be accessed from either the main Hovander parking area, the parking area at Fragrance Garden, or the parking area on Slater Road. And the City of Ferndale itself has several miles of on-leash trails. Why put your leashed dog through the stress of bringing them to an off-leash area when you have so many other areas so close at hand? Another option is to work with your dog towards them being comfortable in an off-leash area. I’m not saying that every dog will be off-leash material but most dogs that I’ve met love being dogs running around with other dogs.
My bottom line is that Whatcom County Parks needs to fix this on leash trail that they plopped down in the middle of their off leash dog park.
And I can’t let this post end without mentioning the off-leash dog park Trolls that we’ve encountered.
- A Troll who, on more than one occasion, brought 1/2 dozen noisy small dogs on leashes and tied them to a post just outside the off-leash area and then went ballistic shouting and kicking at every off leash dog that approached. The Troll wasn’t walking his dogs, he was trolling for a problem.
- We’ve also witnessed many Trolls purposely walking their leashed dogs along the path in off-leash area then yelling and screaming when an off leash dog approaches to see if your dog wants to play.
- How about Trolls who just abandon the trail and walk in the middle of the off-leash field with toddler kids and leashed dog who yell and scream nonsense when off leash dogs approach to play? Isn’t that like laying out a picnic in the outfield during a game?
- Or a Troll on a horse riding circles through the off leash dog area, WTH?
- How about a distant Troll that quietly walks back into the bushes as you approach, then comes back out behind you as you walk by, then yells at your dog when they bark at them. I’ve encountered several versions of this Troll at Hovander, including just today. BTW, I am happy that my dog barked at you, both alerting me to your sudden presence behind me, as well as telling you to stay the hell back, I gave her a treat.