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City Dog: The West Village finally has a run for small dogs!

BY LYNN PACIFICO | For more than 30 years neighborhood dog owners — the largest active single-user group of parks — have been lacking basic dog-owner park facilities. The Hudson River Park just helped ease that by including a separate run for small dogs at the newly constructed Gansevoort Peninsula’s dog run, which opened on Dec. 11. Decades of struggle paid off as, along with a run for all-size dogs, this facility also includes a separate training enclosure.

The run for dogs under 23 pounds is very needed since small dogs can be at risk in an all-size run, where we must trust the common dog-sense and educated good intention of the other dog owners using the run. The quick movements of small dogs can trigger a potentially dangerous prey drive in larger dogs. This usually happens with adolescent dogs who do not yet know that this instinctual behavior, which kept their ancestors alive, is forbidden.

The owner of the adolescent dog will say, “My dog has never done that before.” This is usually true and because it is the first time, the owner of the adolescent dog doesn’t know how to stop an incident before damage occurs. (This is another reason why voice control training, the subject of this column two months ago, is so important right from the start.)

Small dogs are more vulnerable to problems simply because they are small. A small dog was killed by a large dog running for a ball in the Washington Square dog run before the run was moved across the park. This is also why the new facility at Gansevoort was divided into sections since its long, narrow dimensions encourage fetch and speeding dogs. Like toddlers wandering onto a college basketball court during a game, small, old and frail dogs are at risk when ball-obsessed dogs are focused on chasing a ball.

A note of caution: Small dogs do not have a lot of muscle and fat to help keep their vital organs warm — so they, and old and frail dogs and puppies, need to be in very warm clothing when out in cold weather. Gansevoort Peninsula extends out into the river and has an especially cold, damp wind, so use caution.

The new Gansevoort Peninsula dog run’s training area. (Photo by Lynn Pacifico)

The West Village has not had a dog-owner off-leash area in the West Village since dog owners lost the use of the JJ Walker field. The field, which was designated as “multi-use” for decades, was well used since dog ownership is a field activity. Frisbee is the most popular game to play with a dog, but try playing frisbee in a dog run — you cannot. We have yet to win back an off-leash area here but we can use the new training area for additional dog-owner activities.

Off-leash is where families with both children and dogs go to play together. But there was nowhere in the West Village that this simple family activity was legal. Years ago, I remember watching a dog at JJ Walker grab the carrot nose that had just been added to a newly constructed snowman and a young boy belly laughing, chasing his dog in the snow to get the carrot back. Dogs encourage physical activity for both adults and children. Now they can play together in our new training area.

Off-leash areas allow for obedience training, which is also impossible to do in a normal run, especially if you are rewarding a desired behavior with treats, which most people do. With the new training section, the Hudson River Park supports us to become better dog handlers raising better canine citizens. There is a suggested time of 15 minutes for use of this section if another dog owner is waiting to get in. We cannot ask other dog owners, especially if they are with children, to wait longer.

If a dog and owner are in the training run when you arrive, ask them if it is O.K. before entering. Respect their wish if they say no and either do leash-training while you wait or go for a walk and come back 15 minutes later. We need to work with one another to get the most out of the training area since, if it causes problems, we could lose it. Conversely, if it works well, we might get more. It is estimated that more than 25 percent of our community owns dogs, so a training run is an important innovation for our huge dog-owning demographic.

A sincere thank you to Noreen Doyle, the president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust, who listened to dog owners’ needs and supported the development of these facilities. These amenities make the Hudson River Park safer, healthier and more enjoyable for dog-owning West Villagers.

Pacifico is a fourth generation Villager who loves dogs, nature and New York City.

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