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Area dog parents looking for a bit of summer fun for their canine companions may want to take a trip to Stow's Bow Wow Beach -- a dog park that is sure to leave your pooch's tail wagging.
I discovered this little gem on Facebook at the end of last summer and knew it was something I needed to investigate further. While my 8-year-old border collie, Dewey, enjoys trips to our local parks, there is just nothing like being able to run free -- or better yet, swim free -- on a hot summer day.
Situated inside Silver Springs Park, at 5070 Stow Road, the 7.5-acre fenced-in dog park is a mix of land and sea. The park features plenty of grass with a walking path to roam and lots of trees to sniff. But the best feature is the 3-acre lake and surrounding beach area where dogs can splash and swim to their heart's content.
For Dewey, it was like Walt Disney World, "the happiest place on Earth," when we took our first trip in May. He appeared just as thrilled when we arrived there for a second trip Saturday. Though he is not a dock diver, preferring to keep his face dry, Dewey is the type of dog who will doggie paddle out to retrieve water toys for hours on end. And from the looks of the dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes enjoying the lake with him, he is not alone.
As dogs romped and played, chasing toys and each other -- and one determined retriever tried desperately to catch up to a family of ducks swimming across the lake -- I was happy I spent the time and gas money to make the hour trek from Alliance to Bow Wow Beach. And I wasn't the only dog mom to drive a distance for my dog's pure joy.
Lonnie and Theresa Gottschalk, of Shaker Heights, brought their Jack Russell terrier, Gizmo, and Labrador mix, Nakita, for the second time Saturday. The Gottschalks, who moved to northeast Ohio from San Diego, Calif., said their former home had more options for their dogs. Lonnie, Theresa and their dogs were happy to find Bow Wow Beach. "They don't go too deep, but they like the shallow," Lonnie said. "They definitely like to play in the water, especially on a hot day." Theresa added that Bow Wow is by far the best dog park they've found.
Tim Cunningham, of Cuyahoga Falls, and Melissa Banks, of Mineral City, brought collie mix Bentley to check out Bow Wow. Though he has been bringing his dogs to the park for five years, Cunningham said it was Bentley's first trip. In fact, he said he had just adopted the excited dog from Summit County Animal Control. "I've only had him two days, but we already have a connection," he said. Cunningham and Banks agreed that Bow Wow Beach is worth the drive. "This is the best dog park I've seen in northeast Ohio," Banks said. "I wish we could come back more often."
While it's a great option, Bow Wow Beach -- and other dog parks -- does present some risks.
"Be cautious. Don't just assume that all dogs get along," warned local dog trainer and behavior consultant Jim Akenhead of Signature K-9. "That is the biggest breakdown that there is, and we get that all the time in families that keep adopting dogs thinking that dogs always get along and it's just a matter of someone will be the pack leader and it'll all be great. It doesn't work like that any more than it does for humans."
Akenhead said some dogs can be bullies, which can not only agitate your dog, but cause injury. "An injury is an injury," he said. "Even if the dogs don't fight, if they're slamming on each other -- giving each other body slams, muzzle punches and things like that you can get an injury -- one that costs you quite a bit of money to fix."
Akenhead suggested dog owners scope out a dog park before letting their dog off the leash. He said to watch the level of energy and agitation going on and keep a close eye on your dog to make sure it isn't being bullied. "Watch the process, and if you see your dog is getting in a situation where it is getting pushed to do things that obviously it is trying to get away from, don't leave it unprotected."
Other dog park tips Akenhead provided are:
Avoid peak times, instead going to the park when there are less people and dogs.
Find a spot that isn't as crowded so your dog isn't overwhelmed by other dogs.
If your dog seems uneasy or uncomfortable, it is time to remove it from the situation.
Make sure your dog is healthy and up-to-date on shots before taking it to a dog park.
Keep a pair of leather gloves in your bag to protect your hands should a fight need to be broken up.
"The trouble with a fight is there is no secret story on how to break them up without the dog or you getting hurt," Akenhead cautioned. "Reaching in on a dog fight toward the collar is always dangerous. When you do that, you take the risk of coming out bloody because they just don't know what they're doing at that point, and even though the dog wouldn't bite you in his right mind, it's now in its wrong mind and it might be thinking it's fighting for its life and it's just snapping at anything and everything."
While there's no magic answer, he said there are some tools that could be helpful, such as a blanket thrown over the dog, mace or specialized citronella sprays, a loud horn or ultrasonic dog repeller.
Though the posted rules at Bow Wow include things like having dogs licensed, vaccinated and behaving in a non-aggressive manner, Akenhead said people don't always follow the rules, so you can only make sure you are as prepared as possible.
"A lot of people are not sensitive to what's going on with their dog, and if you're going into a situation like that, you really need to be," he said. "And you need to have your equipment with you -- collar and leash -- so that if you have to do something, you're able to do it quickly."
Though we definitely ran into a couple bullies -- one that plowed right into Dewey with a full head of steam -- most of the dog behavior during our two visits was better than expected. However, one word of caution -- don't leave your dog's toys unattended, as I found the human behavior is not as good and we nearly left the park with two fewer water toys.
Bow Wow Beach opened in June 2007 and is owned by the city of Stow and managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. It is open from 8 a.m. until dusk every day during the season, which lasts from March 15 through Dec. 1, excluding Thursday mornings, when it is closed for maintenance.
In addition to the grass and beach areas, the park includes an agility course, a dock jumping area, a double gate entrance/exit, a separate fenced in area for small dogs, a dog washing station, where pets can also drink fresh water, and six waste deposit stations. For the human parkgoers, there are benches, picnic tables and portable restroom facilities.
Though entrance to Bow Wow Beach is free, donations are accepted to help with ongoing costs, such as fence maintenance, waste bag supply, lake water testing, and mowing and weed control.
For more information and a list of park rules, visit www.bowwowbeach.org.
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