Dog parks have become more and more popular in the recent years. The concept of them is great, but there are many reason you should reconsider before leashing up and going.
1. Irresponsible Owners
You probably have a great understanding of what your dog likes and does not like, but not everyone is totally in tune with proper dog manners, or proper people manners for that matter! Most dog parks have a sign saying owners are responsible for their pets, but that doesn’t mean they abide. People like to use the park as a social time, gathering in circles or sitting in chairs with friends, and letting their dogs romp. This would be fine if there weren’t such a big mix of random dogs, but owners not paying attention to what their dogs are doing can be a real problem. Many folks are dog lovers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t oblivious to dog body language. They might come in with a dog who is clearly getting into other dog’s spaces, picking on them and starting fights, but then get sensitive when their dog gets corrected. They might think “I don’t understand why all these dogs are being aggressive to her,” when it’s very clear that their dog is being impolite. I’ve witnessed people drop their dog off and come back later to pick it up!
2. Pent Up Energy!
You get home from a long day at work and the last thing on your mind is going for a walk. Maybe you live in an apartment, don’t have a yard or space, and a much easier solution is letting your dog run free at the dog park. Bringing your dog with built up energy to a park with lots of other dogs who have the same built up energy makes for a bad mix. Sure, they get to run and play – but you haven’t mentally exercised his/her brain, and you’ve also rewarded their hyper state of mind. Instead of using the dog park as an alternative to exercise, the world would be a better place if it were used as a reward. Imagine: You get to the dog park and get out of the car. Fluffy is tugging and pulling to get through the gate, but instead you walk together, doing laps around the dog park, laps in the parking lot, throwing in commands for them to follow, and after Fluffy is calm and tired, you enter the park with a much more leveled off energy. She doesn’t drag you in, but instead follows you and waits to be released to play. If every owner did this before coming in, there would be so much more control in the park!
3. Gate Greetings
Thresholds are a huge deal to dogs. Every time a new dog comes through the gate, he is entering an already occupied park – coming into those dogs’ space. Think of it like this: You are late for a meeting and everyone is already seated and engaged in conversation. When you walk into the room, people might stop and look at you. They may or may not be sizing you up, depending on how self conscious you are, but you certainly might feel embarrassed or intimidated before finding your spot to blend in. In the dog world, this can be a tricky experience. They enter a park where the energy level is already elevated. All of the dogs are rushing at the gate where the new dog is, which can be a very rude greeting. Dogs shouldn’t meet this way because the owners are clearly not in control, making it a free for all and hard to break up if something were to happen.
4. Mixed Energy
The whole dynamic of a group can change just by one new dog with slightly off energy entering the park. An unneutered male might arrive, which some dogs are completely fine with, while that could trigger a huge reaction from some. Even a reaction from just one dog can start a whole chain of events that can continue escalating before humans can intervene. A dog who is weak or sick, high strung, or who exhibits a behavior that doesn’t belong, is likely to get into a squabble.
If you have a dog needing work on socialization with other dogs, the dog park is the last place to practice. Some owners bring their dogs to learn how to play. The best way to socialize with others is to start out going on walks with dogs that you know with the owner present, so that you can be in control of what goes on. A shy, timid dog walking into a pack of dogs with elevated, mixed energies can make your dog become more stuck in his way. He depends on you to watch out for him, but if he gets thrown into an overwhelming situation, he might decide he’s going to stick up for himself.
6. Peak Times
Late afternoons, evenings, and weekends are probably the worst times to visit the dog park. This is right at the hour when people are coming home from work and bringing in their over-the-top excited dogs. If you get to the dog park and there are 40 dogs running around, you are doing your dog a favor by not going in and finding something else to do! If you do want to use the dog park, especially with a small group of friends, try going during an off time like early morning or mid-day. Having a group you know and trust is the best way to play. You’re setting your dog up for healthy play time by being in control of who they play with.
All behavior issues aside, you also don’t know who is bringing their dog to the park and if the dogs are healthy. Some dogs may be in heat, unneutered, unvaccinated, have fleas…the possibilities for what you’re exposing your dog to are endless. You want to have their health in mind and find another alternative to playing. You also have to be mindful of the bad people in the world – people who leave tainted dog treats out or put antifreeze in the water bowls. If you opt to go, it might be a good idea to bring your own water bowl and not let anyone give him/her treats.
Certified Dog Trainer
K9 Solutions LLC