Dog Parks: Reconsider them…

My view is that dog parks are not the best play option for the majority of dogs.

Do you love taking your dog to the dog park?

There are some off-leash dog parks where you can take your dog. Keep in mind that some dog parks are better than others, and some dogs do better at dog parks than other dogs.

Behavior in the Parks

My view is that dog parks are not the best play option for the majority of dogs. I have discovered through years of training that parks often bring out bad behavior in dogs that, otherwise, are well-behaved. Doggie daycares have the same challenges as a dog park, particularly when too many dogs are combined, and/or when the supervisor of the animals has relatively little knowledge of dog behavior (as occurs commonly in standard boarding facilities).Dog Park Hazards

I visit the dog parks weekly with clients so that I can utilize the environment to instruct about canine behavior. Prior to starting training, a walk through a dog park is a great learning tool for owners, because most of the dogs are the park are untrained. Examples abound of dogs:

  • Demonstrating levels of aggression that go completely unnoticed by their owners
  • Displaying a total disregard for commands
  • Getting into fights with other dogs and displaying aggression towards other people, including children

Astonishingly, I’ve even observed an owner yelling at his dog that he was going to “count to three,” and he expected his dog to come to him before “Three!” My biggest concern is that many owners don’t seem to care that they have no control whatsoever over their dogs.

Park Hazards

Many owners think a dog park or daycare is the place to bring your dog and let them run free, unsupervised. But, parks (and daycares, to only a slightly lesser extent) are a minefield of stressors for dogs. And, stress can cause aggression to snowball. Common dog park problems include:

  • An eagerness to reach the park such that the dog pulls hard on the leash, which prompts the owner, in return, to pull hard on the leash. This pull-pull interaction creates a spiraling circle of developing aggression before the dog even reaches the park. Other dogs, then, pick up on aggression as soon as the dog enters the park
  • Bullying of dogs that are smaller or more cautious/reserved
  • Formation of packs with threatening behavior towards incoming dogs; the natural tendency is to gather around gates and entrances, posing a threat to dogs just arriving at the park
  • Unknown hazards, especially to small dogs

A Dog’s Reality in the Park

An average untrained dog commonly displays his lack of training in all situations—and a dog park is no exception. A dog isn’t a “bad” dog simply because he is untrained. Likewise, the motivation of owners to exercise their dogs is admirable. However, there is an instinctual canine “reality” in a dog park that often is not appreciated by owners.

The reality is that a dog’s instinct is to protect himself, particularly if his owner either is incapable of protecting him or simply fails to do so. If you’ve taken your dog to a park more than once, you can probably remember at least one uncomfortable situation, as these are fairly common scenarios.

Perhaps a dog approached your dog in a threatening manner, with hackles up and growling?
Has your dog ever surprised you by responding with aggressive behaviors that you never expected or didn’t think your dog was capable of?

Did you know what to do? Did the other dog’s owner know what to do? Was the other dog’s owner even there? Do you possess the skills to tell the difference between good behavior and behavior that could result in injury to you or any of the dogs? Owners not knowing what to do, or how to avoid a developing situation, put the dogs and other people at risk.

Training Helps You Be Safer in the Parks

We use skills every day to identify imminent danger in our own environment. Dog training can provide you with the tools you need to make the most of the time you spend with your dog—whether in a park or walking down the street. There is a safe way to use the dog parks. With a well-trained, obedient dog and the skills to identify behavior issues in other dogs/owners, it can be a positive experience. If you’re going to take your dog in public, it’s the safest if your dog is well socialized and obedience-trained. To avoid liability and any potential injury to your own animal, your dog should be in full control off-leash before ever entering a dog park. Time and a training budget will help you.