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Are Dog Parks a Good Idea?

Dog parks are not the best idea for socialization. For many dogs, the dog park is the only exercise they get. They arrive frustrated and adrenalized, not good playmates for your dog! These dogs also tend to swarm and overwhelm the new arriving visitors, a very rude behavior. The moment your dog enters the dog park, he is surrounded by dogs wanting to sniff, lick, bark, or play.
dogs fighting at dog park
Some dogs can handle this, while others may lash out and nip or bite a dog that is being rude or not giving enough personal space. Your dog may learn that dog parks are a very scary, overwhelming place and that other dogs are to be avoided. Your dog may also learn that dog parks represent out of control excitement and that they can behave without rules. This is similar to parents letting their kids run around on a playground, out of control, yelling and pushing, while the parents do nothing until someone gets hurt.
Many owners will ignore their dog while at the dog park, not recognizing or doing anything about their own dog's rude, dominant, or aggressive behaviors. Other owners never realize their dog has made several attempts to get their help while trying to avoid these bullies. These dogs may then attempt to resolve these issues on their own, usually resulting in a dog fight. This teaches the dogs to not trust the owners for help and they learn to be dog-aggressive. If a dog fight does occur, your dog may be blamed for it whether or not he instigated it.
Besides your dog learning bad social behaviors, you and your dog's safety are both at risk. Most dog owners don't know how to prevent or how to break up dog fights. This means everyone is at risk of being severely injured or killed. There are also health risks. The fecal matter and urine left on the ground by unfamiliar dogs puts everyone at risk of contracting parvo, worms, or parasites such as giardia.
The best way to socialize your dog is through controlled positive interactions with other healthy and balanced dogs, where there are rules and referees and you can closely monitor your dog's behaviors. This sets your dog up for success. You can accomplish this through supervised backyard play groups of dogs with whom your dog has been properly introduced.
Dogs socializing and playing under proper supervision
The other owners should also be present and supervising the play. Periodically stop the play and have each dog return to his/her owner to take a break. This will prevent over-arousal and helps keep things controlled. You can also seek out dog socialization classes or doggy daycares run by a professional trainer.
Know also that your dog may not want to interact with another dog or human. When you are in public, do you feel compelled to meet strangers? Of course not. So don't insist on your dog stopping to meet every dog or person you encounter. Doing so is a "forced interaction" and can create undue stress for your dog. Being able to simply co-exist with others in social settings should be acceptable. Similar to going to parties, there are "social butterflies" who mingle and meet everyone, and yet others who stay close to those they know. There are even "wall flowers" who like to just watch everyone without interacting. If your dog can just "be" with others, content to sit and not growl or bark, consider him a socialized dog. For dogs who just want to hang out, consider visiting coffee shops or other places that allow dogs.
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