A new service called Dog Parker is launching in Brooklyn. Founded by Chelsea Brownridge, the service sets up locking boxes outside of storefronts and businesses so people running errands can leave their dogs outside without having to tie them to a pole.
The service offers the convenience of most member-share services: an annual membership, an upcoming mobile app that will allow users to locate and reserve a box as well as monitor their dog from their phone, and a payment of $0.20 per minute to keep dogs inside.
The upside is you don't have to worry about your dog being stolen, as can happen when you leave your dog tied up. But the service has problems that many dog owners might not realize.
Crate-training is key
Regardless of whether or not your dog is crate trained, Dog Parker tells users they should slowly acclimate dogs to the box before leaving them for long periods. But ultimately, "We leave it up to you to determine if the Dog Parker service is a good fit for your dog."
Being crated can be a scary thing for dogs, particularly if they aren't regularly crated at home. Dogs with any level of separation anxiety will likely find it exacerbated by being put in an unfamiliar box and left. As the Humane Society notes in discussing the ups and downs of crate training, "A crate isn't a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated."
Even dogs that are crate trained may find this public locker an intimidating place to be, especially if there hasn't been a good deal of practice with positive reinforcement.
Some owners may not consider just how slowly they should acclimate their dog to get them comfortable with such a set-up. If owners do realize the slow acclimation process, will they want to spend the money necessary to use the system for training? As Pet WebMD notes, crate training takes multiple sessions as short as 30 seconds to a minute, and building up slowly to longer sessions of a few minutes only when the dog shows that he's comfortable. That's quite an investment of both time and money outside a store at a Dog Parker.
Passersby may be bothersome
There is a small window in the box, and while it prevents people from touching your dog, it does not prevent people from pestering your dog. Some people will tease an animal left alone in a box, but even people who only want to say hello can appear intimidating and frightening to a dog left alone in a strange place. Children may approach and tap on the window or squeal at the dog inside.
Other dogs can approach and stare, which can be very intimidating. As trainer Kristina Lotz writes, "A dog should not look at anything intently without shifting his gaze for longer than 3 seconds. After that, it’s staring and in doggy language it’s very rude... For a reactive dog, it can mean the difference between staying under threshold while a dog passes or having an outburst of lunging, barking, growling, etc."
Dog walkers may not prevent their dog from staring, and may not prevent their own dog from barking and lunging at the dog inside. All of these behaviors can cause a dog to become terrified of being crated or left alone.
The box offers a window on one side but the other sides are all solid. While the insulation helps muffle sounds, it isn't soundproof. Dogs may hear things they can't see, which means they can't assess their safety level, and that can be frightening.
“It’s safe because the dog’s locked up, but that’s purely from the human point of view,” Alexandra Horowitz of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College tells Washington Post. “If there’s any sound, they can’t see what’s going on. Dogs look; they don’t sit with their backs to something.”
There are no temperature controls
While the Dog Parkers are insulated and there's a cooling fan installed, it's not temperature controlled. When temperatures inside the locker drop below 32 degrees or above 80 degrees, owners are alerted to come pick up their dog and the service shuts down use of the boxes until temperatures improve. But because the storage time limit is three hours, that could mean a dog enduring 33-degree-cold or 79-degree-hot conditions for hours. Brownridge tells the Washington Post that most stays last only 10 to15 minutes, so keeping a dog inside for so long is unlikely; but it could happen. (And if it's legal in some places to break into cars to rescue dogs left inside in dangerous conditions, might it soon be legal to break them out of boxes as well?)
Even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (APSPCA) is uncomfortable about this service. Washington Post notes "[W]hen asked about the Dog Parker, the ASPCA released a thoroughly disapproving statement from Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of ASPCA’s adoption center: 'If pet owners are not planning to visit pet-friendly establishments while running errands, the ASPCA recommends they leave their dogs at home. Leaving a dog unattended could put the pet’s safety at risk.'"
It's clean ... in theory
Dog Parker ensures the boxes are cleaned based on member activity, using the same procedures as doggie daycares and boarding facilities, and members will be able to rate the cleanliness of the box on the app before they leave their dog. But as JoAnna Lou of The Bark points out, "Although the units are cleaned every other day (or more often on an as-needed basis), I could see cleanliness or the spread of germs to be a potential challenge. In a busy neighborhood, countless pets could have contact with a Dog Parker in any given weekend." Kennel cough, anyone?
Some of these issues could be solved by locating the storage boxes inside businesses, where it's quieter, there's less traffic and the temperature is controlled. Stores may balk at this proposition for many reasons, including that many dogs will bark and whine. Dog Parker is currently running a pilot program so some of these issues might be altered as feedback comes in.
A much more compelling solution that has popped up in Texas is The Barking Garage, a mobile air-conditioned and heated trailer with crates inside, where trained workers watch crated dogs while owners shop. This ensures that strangers don't bother crated dogs, other dogs don't bother crated dogs, the temperature remains in a safe zone and a human with training is supervising everything. While it isn't as convenient since the trailer requires a large parking location, some dog owners may find it more appealing than a lock box on the sidewalk.
For those who would make use of the Dog Parker service while in Brooklyn, make sure you return on time because if you miss the pick-up time, you face a $5 per minute (yes, per minute!) fee up to 30 minutes. If you're later than that, your dog will be taken to a boarding facility where you'll paythe boarding fees plus a $200 fee to get your dog back.
Ultimately a solution that allows you to keep your dog in a safe place nearby while you run errands is highly attractive. After all, you wouldn't leave your dog in a hot car, or leave him tied to a pole where he can be taken by a stranger — and maybe you wouldn't leave him in an unfamiliar storage box in a public area, either.