Let me tell you a secret: Dog parks are great for letting your dog run loose and getting some exercise. However, they are not the best place to socialize your dog.
Are you still a bit confused?
You may be thinking …”Doggy Dan. The only place my dog can play and interact with other dogs is at the dog park. You might be asking yourself why I should be so cautious.
I’m not saying that dog parks should be avoided. A dog park is not the best environment for all dogs. If you don’t take the time to socialize your dog, it isn’t the best place for them.
One poorly socialized dog can cause a negative experience for all, or even make it dangerous.
The dog park should be a place where you feel free to let your dog roam around freely and have fun. It’s important to realize that your dog may not be ready for a dog park environment right now.
It is for this reason that I advise you to exercise your dog with caution.
This is how you should think about it…
Dogs are social creatures by nature. Dogs are similar to wolves in their ability to form hierarchies and gravitate towards packs. Because dogs work within hierarchies, I often talk about how important it is to be the pack leader for your puppy.
You will see dogs from all walks of the region gathered together at the dog park. Dogs do not like this. They are more comfortable interacting with their “pack,” which is a group of close friends.
Properly socializing your dog does not mean exposing them too many strangers. This is what many dog owners miss.
“So what exactly does socialization mean?” Let me tell you…
You can’t simply expose your dog to other dogs as socialization training.
A properly socialized dog does not mean they will greet everyone who crosses their path.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
This means they are comfortable with other dogs and people. They don’t need to greet, sniff or jump on everyone they see. This means your dog will be happy to simply be with others and to wander through the crowds without having to interact with anyone.
A well-socialized dog can be comfortable in many places. This includes a busy street or large crowd.
Being socialized doesn’t mean that you should expose your dog to every stranger possible.
If you place a toddler with other toddlers, they will be able to bond to their parents and become wary of new people. It is not normal to force them to play with others they don’t know.
Instead, parents arrange playdates with their children, and over time, these children form bonds and become close friends.
Dogs are the same.
They thrive in a pack environment where they can play with trusted companions and build relationships.
It takes time.
Throwing your dog to the dogs at the park is not the best way for them to get to know each other. This is not how your dog might feel. Also, think about the other dogs that might be there.
There are many things to worry about, not just your dog.
A dog that is easygoing and well-socialized may be someone you have. They seem to be happy with other dogs when you take them to the park. You don’t have to worry about how they behave with dogs they haven’t met.
It’s great! But you don’t always know what you are getting into at the dog park.
There are so many dogs out there. You can’t trust them all.
One bad dog can ruin your day at the park.
My experience is that the dogs who are not well socialized tend to be the ones who run up to other dogs and try to play. Dogs like these can invade other dogs’ spaces, making them feel uncomfortable.
Rude behavior can cause doggy arguments just as it can between humans.
You are putting your trust in other dog parents by taking your dog to the dog park.
Like playground bullies, there are dogs that can intimidate all other dogs in the dog park.
These bad characters shouldn’t make your dog anxious or stressed. Your dog will soon stop enjoying the dog park and may start to avoid other dogs altogether.
Your dog may also pick up bad habits from other dogs in the dog park.
Even though your dog is well-socialized and happy to play with you, it doesn’t necessarily mean all dogs at the park will be.
If you see a dog that is not well socialized, be alert and ready to let it go.
You need to find the right environment for your dog (hint: it may not be the dog park).
Dog parents have the responsibility of making sure their dog is safe.
Avoid places that are too noisy and stressful for your dog, such as the dog park. He will be anxious and uncomfortable and may fear other dogs.
Accept the fact that not all dog owners are as adept at reading their dogs’ body language as you.
You know me well enough to know that I frequently talk about communicating with your dog using a language they understand. This is why my Dog Calming Code was created.
When your dog is uncomfortable, they will tell you. Fear and discomfort can be characterized by a stiff or erect body, stiffness, pain in the joints, or panting if it’s not too hot. This behavior is common in other dogs, so keep your dog away. Your dog may become aggressive if she becomes fearful.
Your dog should be able to play with other dogs, but also be able to go away for a rest every now and again. This shows that dogs have been socialized well and respect each others’ space.
Dogs that run all over the place and play rough with each other might not be the best environment for their pup.
There are other options than the dog park.
If your dog seems to be interested in another dog at the dog park or a parent, arrange a playdate. This will allow your dog to get to know each other in a calmer setting, such as going for a walk or visiting a park.
Your dog may just want to be socialized with you. Find activities you can do together. Play frisbee together in the yard, or hike on a local trail. These activities are great for bonding and building relationships with your dog.
I just wanted to add that I do not believe dog parks are evil. However, they can be a good place for your dog depending on his personality and the amount of socialization training he has received.
It’s about understanding your dog’s needs and placing them in situations that will allow them to thrive.
Oh, and hello! Start socialization training if you really love the park and your dog does too. This will keep everyone safe, happy, and having fun!
My program, The Dog Calming Code, can help you get started
Socialization Training: Why Dog Parks aren’t the Best Choice for All Dogs. The Online Dog Trainer.