Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of blog posts on the theme of taking your training on the road and working with your dog in new environments. I plan to address topics including socialization and traveling safely in the car, in addition to Q and A from Kentucky Dog Training clients.
This post is all about training in and around Lexington. One of the things that I really enjoy about being a trainer in central Kentucky is that there are so many cool places to take dogs for environmental proofing. While not in any particular order, this is a list of the top 10 places that I love to train dogs in Lexington, the pros and cons of each place, and which locations are appropriate for each kind of dog.
1. Jacobson Park
Jacobson Park is one of my absolute favorite places to train. The location is fantastic, and this park is easily accessed from Richmond Road and is just off I-75. Open from dawn to dusk, the park is a popular location for dog walking, flying kites, fishing, and all kinds of other outdoor activities. Parking is available all over the park, though individual lots are small. In the front of the park, there is a massive open field that is popular with kite enthusiasts as well as the local schutzhund club, who teach dogs to track there. The water at the park is beautiful, and there is a large reservoir in the middle of the park, in addition to small creeks.
Fishing and paddle boat rentals are popular in the warmer months, and the waterfowl provide a great training distraction. There is also a playground that has recently undergone a renovation, and is generally pretty busy. If you are going to train around the playground, respect the safety and space of the families that are hanging out. Another big area of this park is the dog park. As I have said in a previous blog post (and to all of my clients), I do not like dog parks and I do not recommend that you take your dog inside the dog park. That having been said, dog parks can be a great training tool if you stay outside of the fence. The dogs inside can provide a great obedience distraction, and by staying outside of the fence you can still remain in control of the environment and your dog's proximity to distractions.
2. Masterson Station Park
Masterson Station Park is on the other side of Lexington, and is another great place to enjoy the outdoors with your dog. There are some massive open fields all over the park, and this is a great place to work on tracking. The dog park here is a great place to practice obedience outside of, as are the soccer fields. Many people do walk their dogs off leash in this park, so that is something to be aware of. There are two entrances to the park, one in the front off the main road and another in the back off of Spur Road. Be sure to drive carefully, especially if you come in the Spur Road entrance, as people ride their horses along this road.
Speaking of horses, they are some of the coolest patrons of this park. Masterson Station features a large cross country course, as well as dressage rings, an indoor arena, and other equine facilities. The cross country field is a fun place to explore with your dog. The picture below is of Wild checking out the water jump. If you do take your dog onto the cross country course, be sure to have complete control over him and do not get in the way of horse and rider teams. Some horses are easily spooked by dogs, so if you see a rider on the course, take your dog and wait up by the road until the team is finished working.
3. Downtown Lexington
Downtown Lexington is a great environment for proofing your obedience, especially if you live in the city itself. There are lots of noises, smells, and sights that are hard to replicate in other environments. That also means that this can be an overwhelming place for dogs, so be sure your dog is ready for this type of environment before you introduce them. Different places around town will generate different types of distractions. Training around the hospital will give you the chance to practice around lots of sirens and, typically, construction noises. Training around the perimeter of the University of Kentucky campus will ensure that you get lots of foot traffic to train around. Other places to work with your dog downtown are all of the restaurants with patios that will allow you to eat with your dog. Parking can be tricky, and that is one of the largest downsides to training downtown.
4. The Arboretum
The Arboretum at the University of Kentucky is a beautiful, idyllic place to go on walks with your dog. Beautiful plants decorate the trail, as well as beautiful pieces of stone and wood that form sculptures along the walkway. Squirrels and birds are common place, and the arboretum guarantees you will get to practice passing small animals. This is a pretty popular destination for joggers as well as dog walkers, but the amount of foot traffic is highly variable based on the time of day. Parking is easy, there are bathrooms on site, and you can get an education to by reading various placards on different exhibits. Although we have not mentioned it yet in this blog, it is extremely important that you always pick up after your dog when training in public. In the interest of keeping the arboretum beautiful and open to dogs for years to come, please always carry bags with you when you are out for a walk.
5. Pet Stores- IncrediPet, Bluegrass Barkery, PetWants
There is a wide array of pet stores in the Lexington area. Some are the more traditional big box stores (PetCo, PetsMart), while others are more boutique style (PetWants, The Bluegrass Barkery). These stores are all open to friendly, well behaved pets. We do recommend that you wait to bring your dog into a pet store until they have finished their initial vaccine series. There are a few reasons for this. First off, these places have lots of dog traffic, and there is the potential that unvaccinated dogs have been through there, and your puppy could catch a disease that he has not yet been vaccinated for. Puppies are also in very serious need of positive experiences that build them up, and pet stores can be a bit too overwhelming for very young puppies. Lastly, I am not a fan of taking dogs into stores unless they are already house trained. Puppies can get very excited in stores, and by waiting until they are around 4 months of age, you are ensuring that they have developed more bladder control and that your experience will be potty free.
As far as specifics go, there are some general environments that you are likely to encounter at each store. Big box stores are generally louder, higher traffic, and have a wide selection of items if you are shopping during your visit. IncrediPet is a hybrid kind of store, with a larger store, more foot traffic than the boutiques, but still not the same traffic level as a big box store. One of my favorite things about IncrediPet is the dog wash, which is really nice to have during rainy Kentucky springs! Next comes The Bluegrass Barkery and Pet Wants. For people like myself who are dog food snobs, these are great places to shop. Pet Wants sells locally produced dog food that has very high quality standards, and The Bluegrass Barkery produces their own dog biscuits. Both stores are smaller, generally do not have much foot traffic, and are a good introduction to pet stores for dogs starting to go on outings.
6. Hardware Stores
Hardware stores are another great option for working your dog in public. Double check with the manager of the store you want to go to and make sure that they are dog friendly. The puppy rules still apply here, even more so as far as potty training and overwhelming traffic go. Be careful the first time your dog sees a forklift or big loud cart so that you can address any fear response that they may have. This is also one of the places where you really can make dog training a part of your day to day life. Need to get some paint for your new house? Bring the dog along and practice a nice, long down stay while your paint gets mixed.
7. Rural King and Tractor Supply
In Winchester, you can visit both Rural King and Tractor Supply Company, as they are within a few miles of each other. There are also TSC locations in Nicholasville, Richmond, and Georgetown. All of these stores are dog friendly, and will give your dog exposure to a wide variety of things. Rural King sells both rabbits and chicks, and TSC sells chicks in the spring. Working around these areas provides a great small animal distraction, as long as your dog being around is not distressing the animals at the store. The experience in Rural King is like a hybrid between Home Depot and a pet store, and there is often quite a bit of foot traffic. TSC tends to be a bit quieter, and I have found that employees at TSC are always happy to volunteer as training distractions for the dogs.
8. Kentucky Horse Park
An iconic place in the Lexington landscape is The Kentucky Horse Park. This beautiful facility is one of the premier equestrian centers in North America, and hosted the World Equestrian Games in 2014. The park features a museum, gift shop, massive show facilities, a cross country course, a campground, and some unique barn attractions, including the Hall of Champions, which features retired racehorses. Dogs are not allowed in the museum or gift shop, but they are allowed on the grounds of the park. The time of year when the most dogs are on the grounds is in early September, when the Bluegrass Classic Dog Show comes to the Alltech Arena. Several AKC tracking tests are also held here, as well as a German Shepherd sieger show, dock diving, and a stock dog trial.
When you take dogs to the park, be very respectful of the horses. Do not allow your dog to get close enough to the horses to spook them. Lots of horse show people let their dogs roam around the stable area off leash, so be aware of that if you are bringing a dog that does not have a high tolerance for other dogs. There are countless proofing opportunities at a horse show: horses, lots of people, golf carts, dirt bikes, loose dogs, horse poop, loudspeakers, tractors. Gradually introduce your dog to these distractions so that she does not become overwhelmed by the environment.
9. Evans Orchard
A great place to visit in the fall, Evans Orchard is always a fun place to visit. Located in Georgetown, this orchard is a must see when the pumpkins are finished growing and ready to be carved. Take your dog apple picking with you, or just enjoy the beautiful landscape. I only bring service dogs into the shop itself, but on the grounds you can have tons of fun with your family pet.
I was so excited when Cabela's came to Lexington. In addition to being a generally awesome store, Cabela's is a pet friendly store. The puppy rule most certainly applies here, especially on carpeted areas where a young dog might be tempted to take a quick potty break. This is a store that can be high traffic at times, and at others is pretty quiet. Some unique things in the store that might throw your dog off include the stuffed animals around the store (one of my dogs was particularly concerned about the mountain lion on his first visit.) The big fish tank can also be an area where dogs might get distracted. You can also do some dog supply shopping at Cabela's, and they have some pretty cool toys, especially for working dog breeds.
Enjoy the Bluegrass
Even though Kentucky is a generally rural state, there are no excuses when it comes to having new places to train. Some places and events that did not make the list, but are pet friendly and fun: Coldstream Park, Wellington Park, Lake Reba Park (Richmond, KY), Buffalo Trace Distillery, Thursday Night Live, Charlie Brown's Restaurant, Blue Stallion Brewing, West Sixth Brewery.
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.