by Bailey Coldwell
We, as dog trainers, receive a lot of questions about dog parks.
“Should I bring my dog to a dog park?”
“Is it safe to bring my dog to a dog park?”
“How will my dog get exercise if I don’t bring them to a dog park?”
I will begin by mentioning that we as trainers give advice and recommendations. If a situation still feels best for your household after our advice, then continue on. We are here to provide information to help you make an educated decision for you and your dog.
Dog parks are places that can seem appealing. The dog park might seem like it can be a fine place for your dog to interact with other dogs. The problem is, however, that there are many unpredictable factors that are involved in dog parks.
Here are some factors to think about when determining if dog parks are right for you:
You never know if sick dogs are in there or have been in there, who could transmit diseases to your dog.
Other dogs could have some fear based aggression and/or reactivity stemming from overstimulation. These behaviors can lead to dog fights and injuries, which can physically and emotionally affect your dog.
Other people could encourage behaviors that you don’t want, such as giving attention for jumping or feeding your dog unknown treats.
Other people could be fearful of your dog and hurt your dog in self defense.
Many dogs develop a lack of recall when going to dog parks. This is because of the large amount of freedom. The dog gets to choose if they would rather come back to you or continue playing.
Dogs often start getting more rough when playing because it is an over stimulating environment.
Dogs can become more reactive due to other dogs barking.
Your dog may start to think that every dog they see, they get to say hi to. This can bring on more reactivity as well.
Dogs can copy other dog behaviors such as digging and eating objects they find on the ground.
It is difficult to monitor your dog’s body language, which can lead to intense fear and/or stress.
With all of that being said, we tend to steer away from going into dog parks. We do, however, enjoy to remain on the outside of dog parks and socialize our dogs to it from afar once our puppies are fully vaccinated. It is great for dogs to learn to watch other dogs interact, while you are rewarding them heavily for looking up at you instead.
In regards to dog socialization, it tends to be better to see way more dogs than your dog is able to say hi to. Think about service dogs. One of the reasons they behave so well is because they don’t expect to say hi to every other dog they see. With that being said, I tend to find a few times a month where my dog gets together with 1-2 other vaccinated dogs, that I know, in a fenced in yard or other safe area for some actual dog interaction. Remember, your dog does not need to interact with a dog in order to get socialized to other dogs.
It is also okay to focus a lot on mental stimulation and indoor physical stimulation. You can do activities like food puzzles, hide and seek, scent work, and tossing toys up and down a hallway. It is good for dogs to not get over exercised constantly, as this is just creating a “fit dog” where it takes more and more physical stimulation outlets to make them feel satisfied.
I hope that this helps to understand the controversy related to dog parks, so that you can evaluate if dog parks are a good fit for you. Feel free to chat with one of us trainers if you have further questions!