Dog Parks: The Good And The Not So Good
Students often ask what my opinion is of dog parks.
My answer is, “It depends.” If you know there is a certain time of day when there will only be a regular group of dogs who all get along and your dog is highly social and appropriate in their play and body language, by all means go. Along with this, the owners need to be aware of and monitoring the dog’s interactions at all times.
On the other hand, I cannot count on even both hands and feet the number of times I have seen dogs at a dog park who should not be there. And this can lead to very dangerous situations for both the dogs and their people.
If you see or hear any of these things, get your dog and get out ASAP:
- A dog wearing a shock collar. If the owner presses the button while the dog is looking at another dog or another person, they can make an instant association that seeing or being next to that other dog or person is the cause of the shock. If they decide to fight back, someone will get hurt. This association may already have been made and the owner is relying on the threat of shock to keep it from happening again, thus reinforcing the association in the dog’s mind and setting them up to attack without warning.
- A dog known for attacking other dogs or people is in the dog park. And yes, this happens. The owner is in denial and not thinking about public safety.
- You see a fight break out or one is about to happen: Look for two or more dogs ganging up on another who is not allowed to move, or two dogs are standing staring at each other with stiff body language and hackles raised. Fights bring the other dogs running and they can escalate as everyone gets worked up and out of control.
In addition, think about the dog park from your individual dog’s perspective. This is not the place to try and “socialize” a dog who does not react well to others. This creates a situation called, “Flooding,” which can make them even more reactive. If this is your dog, the best solution is to hire a professional dog trainer who will use positive reinforcement, without choke, prong, or shock, to change their perception of other dogs.
So, if I’m not a fan of dog parks for so many dogs, what do I recommend for your social butterfly? Play dates! Even reactive dogs may have a best buddy. Get them together for periodic play periods in a safely fenced back yard. Even if all they seem to do is hang out together, they are socializing and that will make them happy and relaxed without the worry of running in to the wrong dog at the wrong time. And you will get to relax and socialize too!