Should You Avoid Dog Parks?

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When dog caregivers think about socialization and exercise, often two words come to their mind – dog park. Not only are those places enclosed areas for dogs to run and play, they are places where people meet other people who share a love for their pets.

However, while, yes, those are some of the benefits to bringing your dog or puppy to a dog park, there are also many considerations to think about before unleashing your pet inside one of those fences.

Should you take your dog to a dog park? Cincinnati certified dog trainer has some consideration.Michael Shikashio, CDBC, dog trainer with Complete Canines LLC and president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, shared this analogy between dog parks and bars.

“Dog parks are like bars. Having a good time and socializing are their intentions. There are many that enjoy them and do just fine in that type of atmosphere. However, sometimes:

– A fight breaks out — some much worse than others.

– There’s often some really questionable behavior going on, so they’re definitely not suited for youngsters. Gratuitous, unwanted humping comes to mind…

– Mobbing and bullying happen with people…and dogs.

– You might leave with a communicable disease, so you better use protection…I mean be up-to-date on your shots.

It takes just the right “type” to be able to handle what can happen in that environment sometimes.

So if you’re not up for the bar scene, it might be best to find an alternative.”
Let’s break this down a little bit more. Here are a few more considerations.

If your dog does not have rock solid foundation obedience behaviors learned, a dog park is NOT the place to teach.

Talk about distractions, oh my!  Remember, to effectively teach your pet behavior, you need to begin in an environment where you know you can succeed (where your dog AND you can focus on learning) and only add criteria as you are seeing success. If you have not worked through your training well enough, the competing reinforcers will be far too great. And, every practice you have with your dog of asking for a behavior after which your dog does anything BUT that behavior, you are working to immensely weaken the cue and even teach your dog to ignore the cue altogether.

Dogs who do not feel ‘safe’ in that environment, can learn more fears and learn they cannot rely on their human to get them out of harms way.

A quick way to teach your dog not to trust you is to keep ignoring your dog trying to tell you through body language that it is not feeling safe. If it is cowering with its tail low, becoming hyper vigilant, or exhibiting other language, and you fail to take it away from its source of stress you may be strengthening your dog’s emotional response rather than teaching it how to feel better about being near other dogs or people. A dog that is bullied or chased in a dog park may very likely learn that dogs are bad news.

Your dog can practice over arousal, resource guarding and even aggression.

Over arousal can begin from the moment you leave your car as your dog pulls on its leash in excitement. You may react by pulling back or yanking on the leash, and the closer you get to the park, the more that arousal will have built up in your dog. By the time you actually unleash your dog, that arousal can lead to other unwanted behaviors, even aggression. Resource guarding can also occur as dogs may guard their toys.

If you are bringing your dog to a park so that it can play while you sit and read a book or socialize, please reconsider.

If there are other dogs around, especially dogs you do not know, this is not the time to be turning your attention away from your dog. If your dog is bullying or doing other inappropriate behavior to other dogs, it is your responsibility to redirect or remove your dog from that situation. And if your dog is in a situation where it does not feel safe, it is also your responsibility to get it out of harms way. Before you visit a dog park, it is a great idea to understand dog body language so that you can intercede.

These are just a few considerations. There are many.

To exercise your dog, some alternatives to dog parks are:

Walks, positive training, and games with you.

Play dates with dogs you know, whose play styles are compatible with your dog.

Activity toys for your dog.

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