SMITHVILLE – Tracy Kasserman watched her two German shepherds, King and Duke, as they bounded across a new one-acre private dog park.
The littermates quickly explored the fenced boundaries before turning their attention to a half-buried tire. They were the first guests at the park which opened on Wednesday, March 30.
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As Kasserman entered the park, her dogs ran toward her. Excited by her presence, they jumped on her with their muddy paws, dirtying her shirt.
“This is actually a really good idea,” Kasserman told owner Rebekah Undersander of the park.
Undersander created the private dog park as a safe haven for reactive dogs that would otherwise overreact to the presence of other dogs or people.
Visitors can book park time in hourly intervals for $8 per dog online at Sniff Spot, an Airbnb-like app service for private dog parks. It is the first private service-created dog park in Wayne County.
The location is on her home property and will double as a park and training ground, said Undersander, a dog trainer at her company, Provider Pawsable.
What is reactivity? Can you train outside a dog?
As someone who had a reactive dog, Undersander said dogs need training, otherwise fights between canines or dogs and people can occur.
Often mistaken for outright aggression, some dogs can become overstimulated or overreact to certain stimuli or situations, according to the American Kennel Club. While these reactions can be aggressive, they are usually rooted in fear.
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Triggers can range from bearded men to children to feeling trapped if they’re on a leash, according to the AKC website.
If a person comes across a reactive dog, it’s best to give him space and leave him alone, warns the AKC.
Undersander experienced this with his own dog once. He would be in a state of heightened awareness and anxiety until he returned home from the park, he said.
“My dog would be upset all the time,” he said.
The AKC explains that genetics, lack of socialization and training, or frightening experiences can cause reactive canines, but this reaction can be mitigated with extensive training.
At Provider Pawsable, Undersander trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities or in need of a support animal. He is also a specialist in reactive dog training.
“Service dogs need to build confidence to know they can do their job in any situation, and that’s how we try to train reactive dogs as well,” he said.
Just like humans, service animals can become stressed or anxious in any new situation. Undersander teaches the canine to focus on the job at hand and ignore the stressful environment.
“A lot of what I do is also coach the owner because what I do won’t stick if they don’t continue to coach at home,” Undersander said.
To do this, it teaches the owner and the dog how to reduce stress and fear-based reactions through various techniques.
A private dog park for those who can’t afford training.
For Undersander, his private dog park is here to fill a service void in the community.
While there is an $8 fee to reserve a spot, she wanted to create a safe space for reactive animals and their owners to play without worrying about other people and animals.
“I’m not a huge believer in dog parks,” Undersander said. Public dog parks are convenient, he admitted, but dogs need training and not everyone can provide it.
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As a college student, Undersander was active in sports. That ended when he got sick in his third year. After four surgeries, he needed a wheelchair.
It was then that he turned to animals.
Undersander soon realized how expensive service animals were, not to mention vocational training. With a college budget, she decided to adopt a dog and train it herself.
“I quickly ran into obstacles, so I started teaching myself how to train it,” Undersander said.
He soon decided to make a business out of dog training.
“At one point I was taking two loads of courses,” he said. “One for my evening specialization, biochemistry, and business classes with a professor.”
For 2019, he launched Provider Pawsable, where he strives to make dog training and ownership possible for anyone, he said.
Now, with a team of three employees, including herself and her husband, she provides mostly one-on-one lessons and a few group classes.
What does the private park offer
The one-acre dog park is a fenced-in field connected to Undersander’s detached garage. A muddy gate near the garage is the main entrance to the field.
Poop bags and a dumpster are available for all guests to pick up after their dogs.
“I want to keep the area as clean as possible for people and their dogs,” Undersander said. “I’ve heard complaints about dog parks in the area being dirty.” She hopes to avoid that.
While no water or toys are available, their goal is to remedy this without exposing dogs to diseases spread by other canines. To avoid creating such a breeding ground, Undersander can provide cheap water bottles and toys.
“It could be kind of a take a toy, leave a toy policy,” he said.
If the dog park becomes more popular, it could provide more things like tires for the dogs to play in the field.
For more information on the Sniff Spot Dog Park and Provider Pawsable, visit their websites.
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