Dog Socialization: To Dog Park or Not to Dog Park
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Dog socialization is important, but how many times have you heard my dog got attacked at the dog park? How many times have you heard my dog was fine until an incident at the dog park? Or my favorite they were so absorbed into their phone they ignored their dog at the dog park.
Dog parks can be wonderful things if correctly designed and used. On the flip side, they can also be one of the worst things you can do for your dog's confidence/ behavior. Often times they are convenient and lit for night walking and sometimes are the only solution for urban dogs.
Dog parks are not a place to let your dog roam without supervision. This is not the time to check your Facebook status. Your dog deserves your complete attention in this situation. Body language in dogs is so subtle and can change so fast even a split second can be the difference in a polite greeting and a dog being pinned to the ground by a snarling dog.
Small dog parks are for a quick romp with a few well known doggy friends. Not for running randomly up to unknown dogs and seeing what happens. Larger dog parks are excellent for forward, continuous movement which allows some meet and greets to happen but not to linger in one spot too long. The best dog parks are not actual dog parks, rather large ( like multiple hectares) parks. We are lucky enough to have several in just a few minute drive from us. These parks allow for long distance walks, climbing mountains and rarely running into other unknown dogs.
If you have a herding breed the first two style of parks is not for you. Herding breeds are breed to....well herd! For lack of sheep or other livestock they will herd dogs. Which is fine for some and others definitely not. The hard intense stares herding breeds have are also misread by other dogs and will cause major issues. Herding breeds need the room to run. Small spaces with other dogs running around will drive them nuts!
The same goes for working dogs. The dog park is not for you.
If you have an affable lab, golden retriever or similar, you can probably use the dog park to substitute for a proper walk from time to time. If you have a dog with any reactivity the dog park is not for you and should only be attempted under the supervision of a experienced and knowledgeable trainer.
Most people that work with dogs avoid dog parks at all costs. There are too many people who use them and other people to watch their dogs for them while they socialize or stare at their phone.
Think carefully before you decide to head to the dog park. Look to see who is there before entering if there is a dog yours has had issues with or large groups congregating in one area, drive on by. A leashed neighborhood walk is far preferably to being attacked or exasperating a budding behavioral issue.