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MVDPS Rules Rationale, Safety Protocol, and Incident Reporting

posted Mar 9, 2018, 7:41 AM by Larissa Pyer

Dear members and supporters of the dog park:


Concern has been raised about the Shaker Field Dog Park rule which prohibits unaltered dogs over one year of age from using the park. In light of this concern, the Mascoma Valley Dog Park Supporters (MVDPS), the non-profit group which manages the Shaker Field Dog Park for the Town of Enfield, has elected to provide the history and rationale for this particular rule.


We are also excited to announce our recently established safety protocol procedure and incident report form, in which the Town Manager and Enfield Selectboard will be involved in enforcing the Park’s rules. As part of this process, both our rules and the safety protocol were reviewed (and edited) by the Town Counsel.


History

The primary purpose of the dog park is to create a safe and fun environment for the general public and their dogs. This principle guided the creation of the rules and regulations, as well as being at the heart of all other decisions made in regard to the park.


The Shaker Field Dog Park Rules and Regulations were initially drafted in 2014 after considerable research by the MVDPS Board and members of the Construction Design Committee. This research included consulting the one recognized manual on dog parks, Dog Park Design, Development, and Operation, by M.R. Glasser, EdD, CPRP, CPSI, 2103, as well as local veterinarians, trainers, and canine behavior specialists. Scientific studies were reviewed, as were, practices of other dog parks across the United States.


The Shaker Field Dog Park Rules and Regulations were approved prior to the construction of the park by the Enfield Selectboard, and were published on our website and Facebook page well in advance of the park opening. Additionally, the rules and regulations have been displayed on signage at the park since its opening day in August of 2015.


Rationale

The MVDPS Board has invested a significant amount of time over the past two weeks in researching and reviewing our rule regarding unneutered dogs. We’ve broken down our findings into three categories: Science, Professional Opinions, and Dog Park Best Practices.

Science

Note: The research we cite here supports the rationale for not allowing unaltered dogs in the Shaker Field Dog Park. We are aware that recent studies question whether unaltered dogs are indeed more aggressive and even that altered dogs may have an increase in aggressiveness. As fenced, off-leash dog parks are a relatively new phenomenon, we are unable to find any research specifically assessing the behavior of neutered vs. unneutered dogs within the confines of a dog park.

  1. The Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Canine Behavior
    Ben and Hart at the University of California carried out one of the most extensive surveys on the effects of gonadectomy on dogs, finding that at least in intermale aggression, aggression was reduced by neutering in 60% of cases with rapid reduction in 25%, and gradual reduction in 35% (Fogle, 1990, p. 53). Neilson, Eckstein, and Hart, (1997) found that approximately 25% of adult dogs that were aggressive toward humans or other dogs in the household can be expected to have a 50 to 90% level of improvement after gonadectomy. A 50 - 90% level of improvement can likewise be observed in 10 to 15% of dogs that are aggressive toward unfamiliar people or human territorial intruders after gonadectomy.

    Testosterone tends to promote greater reactivity in dogs. They trigger a little quicker to aversive stimuli and respond a bit more intensely and for slightly longer duration. Affecting the magnitude of aggressive behavior could be particularly helpful in many cases.

  2. Benefits of Castration in Male Dogs J. Belen and C.M. Brady, Purdue Department of Animal Sciences
    Castration of male dogs results in a rapid or gradual decline of indoor urine marking, intermale aggression, and mounting of other dogs in approximately 50 to 70 percent of the dogs after castration. However, roaming to find a potential mate is reduced in 90 percent of the dogs (Hopkins, Schubeit, and Hart, 1976)

  3. A literature review on the welfare implications of gonadectomy of dogs Kendall E. Houlihan DVM
    Gonadectomy and the resultant decrease in gonadal steroid hormones typically result in a marked reduction or elimination of sexually dimorphic behaviors, including roaming, hormonal aggression (fighting with other males or females), and urine marking.2,15,28,29,110,112–114 In males, the age at castration or duration of the behavior does not change the likelihood that surgery will alter these unwanted behaviors.113,114

    The literature provides consistent results regarding the effects of gonadectomy on behaviors driven by testosterone or estrogen; however, studies involving behaviors not directly related to gonadal steroid hormones have resulted in mixed findings.

    Differences in study designs and results create additional challenges when the potential consequences of gonadectomy on behavior are evaluated...Interpretation of the literature related to behavioral changes after gonadectomy is further complicated by various definitions of aggression as well as comparisons of similar-appearing but potentially unrelated behaviors (eg, aggression, reactivity or energy level, and excitability).120 It is also possible that gonadectomy was recommended for some dogs as part of a behavior treatment plan, which would artificially increase the number of spayed or neutered dogs with behavioral problems.28

  4. Everything you wanted to know about castration of dogs.
    Dogs reach the highest levels of testosterone aged approximately 6-12 months after which levels plateau (Pathirana et al., 2012). It is at this time they are most likely to be the target of competitive aggression from other male dogs.
    Testosterone can increase sexual behaviours (sexually based humping, mating, marking, roaming - looking for a mate).

●      Testosterone can increase confidence (Eisenegger et al., 2016). This is useful for timid dogs but may not be helpful with over confident dogs.

●      Testosterone can be responsible for increased “persistence” (Welker and Carré, 2014).

●      Testosterone can increase risk taking behaviours (Stanton, Liening &Schulthesis, 2011).

●      Testosterone can increase the risk of competitive aggression between males (an adaptive behaviour to ensure the fittest offspring).”

  1. Mandatory desexing of dogs: one step in the right direction to reduce the risk of dog bite? A systematic review
    CONCLUSIONS: There is consistent evidence that desexing dogs is associated with a reduced risk of dog bite, although the studies reflect association and may not be causal. Although recent publications have suggested desexing is associated with health and behavioural costs in some breeds, population level evidence supports desexed dogs having a longer lifespan, and being less likely to wander with the added benefit of reducing unwanted litters. Thus, mandatory desexing presents a possible opportunity for prevention of dog bites expanding dog bite prevention beyond an education-only approach.

  2. Dog bites to humans—demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk
    Studies identifying only aggression, rather than a specific diagnosis involving aggression, indicate that intact male dogs are more often implicated in aggression than are castrated ones.(68-70) Most dogs for which dominance aggression is diagnosed are male.(68-70) Although dog bite data often do not indicate whether dogs are intact or neutered, data for dominantly aggressive dogs seem to indicate that reproductive status has little effect on whether a dog receives a diagnosis of dominance aggression.(68-70) Testosterone acts as a behavior modulator that makes dogs react more intensely. When an intact dog decides to react, it reacts more quickly, with greater intensity, and for a longer period of time. If that dog reacts to a strange person or another dog, it will be quicker to bark, growl, or bite and will continue that behavior longer than would a neutered dog.(67-71) Castration decreases aggression exhibited toward other dogs(67); however, few data exist regarding its effect on other specific aggressive behaviors.

  3. Dog Bite Injuries and Fatalities in the United States: Dog Bite Risk Factors
    Summary: Male dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than female dogs, sexually intact dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs

  4. American Animal Hospital Association - Pet Health Library - Dog Care - Behavior
    Intact (non-neutered) male dogs are responsible for approximately 80 percent of fatal bites. When dogs are altered, they lose some of their territorial instincts, including a lot of their territorial aggression.

  5. Elective Spaying and Neutering of Pets - Gonadectomy Resources for Veterinarians American Veterinary Medical Association website
    Both the American College of Theriogenologists and the Society for Theriogenology assert that companion animals not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered, unless contraindicated by the pet’s age, breed, sex, intended use, household environment, or temperament. Any potential consequences for an individual animal must also be weighed with the necessity of managing the individual animal and overall breed or species populations.

Professional Opinions

How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks by Dr. Ian Dunbar, veterinarian, animal behaviourist, and author

Most importantly, castrated male dogs are involved in far fewer fights than their male counterparts with testicles. All dogs have disagreements, and most dogs fight. However, over 90% of dog fights occur between uncastrated male dogs. Strangely enough, castration does not make dogs less inclined to fight, neither does it reduce the dog's social standing vis a vis other dogs. Instead, castration reduces the desire for other dogs to pick fights with your dog. Castration removes the source of testosterone, the male sex hormone which makes male dogs smell male. Thus, castrated males appear to be less of a threat to other males, which consequently will be less aggressive and combative towards your dog. In a sense, castration makes your dog appear to be less obnoxious to others. Furthermore, if other dogs are more relaxed around your dog, your dog will feel more relaxed around them, and thus, he will be much easier to control.

A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention (abstract) Gail C. Golab, PhD, DVM

Intact (unneutered) male dogs represented 90% of dogs presented to veterinary behaviorists for dominance aggression, the most commonly diagnosed type of aggression.2 Intact males are also involved in 70 to 76% of reported dog bite incidents.7,15

Canine Aggression Part 1 Gary L. Clemmons, DVM

A re-analysis of Borchelt’s (1983) data indicates the following.

·  Dominance aggression: Intact males represented more frequently than neutered males or females

·  Fear aggression: Intact females represented more frequently then intact males

·  Protective aggression: Neutered males represented more commonly than neutered females

·  Possessive aggression: Intact males represented more frequently than intact females and castrated males represented more frequently than intact females (Overall, 1997)


Should Dogs be Neutered? Therese Bienek, DVM


Therese Bienek got her veterinarian’s degree in the USA and worked there for a couple of years. Now she’s also been a vet in Oslo for two years. She says her workday is affected by the fact that so few dogs are neutered and spayed here, compared to in America. “I’d never sutured so many bite wounds on dogs as I’ve been doing since I got back to Norway.” Bienek says she only treated one case of a dog biting another during her two years in the States. She thinks that sex hormones lead to unnecessary stress and aggression among dogs.


How can I stop my dog from peeing on strangers? Nicole Wilde, CPDT-KA, canine behaviour specialist and author


...my first question is whether he’s neutered. Marking is one of those behaviours neutering may eliminate, although it’s not always the case. If your boy is still intact and there are no mitigating circumstances, you might wish to seriously consider having him neutered. Neutering might also help with male-male dog aggression, which can be an issue at dog parks.  


Dog Park Best-Practices

Dog parks across the United States vary widely in almost every aspect, and there is no central repository for which to find information on them collectively. For the purposes of our research, we studied public (municipal) fenced-in dog parks. Because there is no central database for dog parks in the US, there was no easy way to collect this data. Therefore, our findings are most certainly not exhaustive, but do show that there is a significant precedent for a rule prohibiting unaltered dogs.


Our findings, which were a result of exhaustive online searches, revealed over 100 other dog parks with the same, or similar, rule (click here for a full list of parks, including links to their rules). Some of these parks specifically prohibit unneutered male dogs, but allow unaltered female dogs (except for those in heat). Additionally, some have age restrictions lower than ours by which time dogs should be altered (6 months and 8 months of age). We could find no dog parks that prohibited altered dogs.


MVDPS was, and is, well aware that there is no consensus on rules about unaltered dogs, with some dog parks considering it prudent to not allow unaltered dogs, therefore reducing opportunities for aggressiveness, fights, and nuisance behaviors like humping and marking (i.e., peeing on people, other dogs, etc.), while others consider it overly strict.

Of particular interest is the number of parks who now share this rule. In 2015, when we began  our research to draft the rules for the park, this rule existed, but was considered among the more conservative of rules and therefore was less prevalent. Now, to the best of our knowledge and review, one out of every 3 or 4 parks seem to have adopted this rule.


Conclusion


We understand and appreciate that this is an issue of which there are many differing viewpoints, and that within the scientific community there may not be total consensus. However, there continues to be a significant amount of support among the scientific and canine professional communities for the rationale behind it, not to mention the plethora of  dog parks who have such rules. As a result of our findings, the Board has determined that this rule still serves it’s initial and intended purpose of reducing the chances of negative altercations at the park.


We are fortunate that here in the Upper Valley there are two public dog parks to serve our population. The Watson Upper Valley Dog Park in Hartford, VT allows unaltered dogs (except for females in heat). Several MVDPS Board members are also members of the Watson Dog Park, and we encourage owners of both altered and unaltered dogs to visit their park.

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