I get a lot of people asking me what I think about dog parks. Whether or not it’s good, if it’s good for their dog(s), and if it’s a must, etc. I also get questions about when they are already there and there are issues such as Dogs are picking on my dog, my dog focuses on a dog, my dog picks fights, my dog doesn’t play etc.
Everything you need to know about dog parks, etiquette and behaviors will be covered as well as what to do if any situation arises!
First things first: What I think about dog parks.
I personally love the idea of a dog park. Fenced or not. The reason is, it’s a fantastic place to let your dog run and be a dog, as well as run off all of that excess energy, as well as do some good quality socialization!
Do I think that dog parks would be good for your dog?
Well, it depends! Some dogs absolutely adore the dog park! The smells, the socialization with dogs and people, the quality play time they get there, and training, some dogs love it! There are dogs however, are more reserved. This is where dog parks are not for every dog. Dogs have personalities, just like us. Are they human? No, but they do have preferences as well! If you take your pup there, and it looks like they are not having fun, then either that park is not for them, or dog parks in general are not his forte.
However, that being said, if it’s just socialization that’s the issue, I would definitely start off in a very small group of dogs, maybe 1:1 at the beginning, until they are confident in that area. Play with different breeds of dogs, as they all play differently. By playing 1:1, you will be able to determine your dog’s play style, and what style they play best around! This is also a good time to teach your pup proper play and how to leave play without getting over stimulated.
If they are doing great, start upping the amount of dogs until you feel confident they would do good in a public setting. A great place to test this, is a local pet store that offers play dates! The PetCos in my area all offer a 1 hour play session every Sunday, so definitely check them out!
If you find that even 1:1 play is too overwhelming for your dog (or showing aggression/fear), then it’s time for some counter conditioning. I would contact your nearest positive reinforcement trainer/behaviorist to help with this issue in person. (Blog about fear coming up in the near future)
Are dog parks a must?
Dog parks are not a must. There are many other ways that you can exercise your dogs mentally and physically such as walks, hikes, runs, dog walker, doggy daycare, training, mental stimulation toys, etc. If your dog doesn’t seem to enjoy himself there, then it’s not the place for your pup. Dog Parks are just another great outlet for dogs that love that type of environment!
My dog focuses on one dog at the park and seems like he’s picking on them!
This is a confidence issue. Your dog is lacking confidence and thus, picking on another dog that lacks even more confidence. This is equivalent to a bully on the play ground. What I would do, is when you see this behavior first start, remove him from the park and go home. You don’t need to be intimidating about it, just call your dog over, or go to him and clip the leash on and go home. Your dog isn’t ready for the dog park and needs to build more confidence in himself before coming back to the park. By removing him like this, you are also inadvertently telling him that you don’t like the behavior you saw and he doesn’t continue to stay in the environment until he’s better. Once you’ve worked on socialization, you can come back and repeat this if necessary until he plays very well in the park!
My dog runs away from other dogs and doesn’t seem to have fun
This is the same as above, your pup is not ready to be at the park until he’s gain more confidence and learn to play with other dogs. Set up training socialization scenarios, play dates, and if the reaction is too bad, find a positive reinforcement trainer in your area.
My dog is mounting another dog, or my dog is being mounted!
This is a typical behavior I see at the dog park. Owners, however, allow this to happen. What is actually happening is that your dog or the other dog is insecure/stressed or over stimulated and it’s expressing it to each other. However, not a lot of dogs will stand by and let another dog mount them, and that’s where a lot of fights come from. If you see this happening, remove your dog, tell the other owner it happened, and leave the park. The park is either too stressful or overstimulating for your dog at this time and would advise to pick another time where that dog, or less dogs don’t frequent at.
Behaviors you should be seeing at the park when playing:
*Proper play (Play that is not over stimulated, i.e. over growling, bite and holds, pinning, mounting, etc)
*Sharing toys great
*No resource guarding
*And when dogs tell another dog off, they don’t pester the dog until they are calmed down
Behaviors to avoid and if seen, leave and pick another time or another park for play:
*Resource guarding people, space, dogs, etc
*Dogs overly focusing on specific dogs aggressively
Dogs learn from each other very quickly and dogs learn what works. This is called Social Learning. By removing dogs from certain situations and then teaching them outside the problematic environment what to do, and then take them back in and teach them, they will learn much quicker about what is proper behavior and what isn’t. Dogs do teach each other, however, having two insecure dogs try and teach each other is not the best idea because they already don’t know what to do, and all they end up doing is frustrating themselves. If you have a dog that is confident and knows the ins and outs of proper play, they can then teach the insecure one that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
How to pick a good Dog Park
First I would go there by myself and observe the dogs there at different times of the day for a week to a month. What I would be looking for is dogs that play well together, dogs that don’t get into fights and the pet parents are actively interacting with their dogs. If you see these things, you will know that that time or park is great. You will also go off of what your dog likes. Does he like a lot of dogs? Does he play well with certain breeds, sizes, etc? Factor in everything when you are looking and even talk with the parents that are there about the a park, if they’ve noticed anything negative, how their dogs are etc. This ensures the best time for your pup!
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