So as a dog trainer, I generally avoid dog parks. However, last week we had a visitor, Cooper who is a 7 month old mutt who enjoys other dogs and needed the extra play time, so we went. I left my older more refined dog at home with the husband and the 2 year old daughter. Upon arrival my inner voice started screaming. This is what it said:
Your dog doesn’t want to be here!!!
If you’ve been to a dog park you know which dogs I’m talking about. These are the dogs who walk into the dog park and immediately start attacking other dogs. Their guardians usually yell something like “stop that!” or “be nice!” 2 minutes later it’s the same thing all over again.
I generally try to avoid these dogs at the dog park. They don’t enjoy the company of other dogs and they certainly don’t want adolescent dogs up their trumpet for an hour. These dogs are starting fights because they don’t want or need to be at the dog park. The message is pretty clear to me but for some reason their guardians insist on bringing them to the dog park to “socialize”, for exercise, or whatever other lame reason they come up with. Go home or leave them there in the first place. There are plenty of other ways to exercise, or socialize your dogs.
You should have left 5 minutes ago!!!
These are usually the dogs that have been at the park for 30 minutes to an hour already. They are tired and need a break. These dogs either get over aroused and overwhelm other dogs (when my daughter does this I call her frantic) or they get snippy with new dogs that arrive and want to play with them. Leave before you’re dog gets to this point!
You’re OVERsocializing your 4 month old puppy!!!
Yes, there was a 4 month old puppy at the park. This puppy was receptively overwhelmed by groups of dogs and occasionally he was attacked by one of the “I don’t want to be here dogs”. The guardians thought they were doing such a good job socializing this puppy, despite him being severely uncomfortable.
The only thing this puppy was learning was “when other dogs are around I’m overwhelmed, I get attacked, and my guardians don’t help me”. Guess what? Once that puppy grows up and starts to protect himself from other dogs (read: becomes dog reactive) his guardians will be calling me completely bamboozled about why their dog doesn’t like other dogs. They will tell me they socialized him a lot by getting him around other dogs since he was a puppy and they’ve never had problems with him before!
Get your puppies out, YES!!! but make sure when you socialize them in this critical period that their experiences are GOOD and HAPPY experiences for them. Introduce them to one appropriate dog at a time or take them to puppy socialization classes that are well monitored.
Note: I would also add that puppies should avoid going to dog parks anyway as there is much to high a risk of contracting a communicable disease such as Parvo. Which is not an excuse not to socialize your puppy but just be smart about it.
Take the choke chain, prong collar, shock collar off of your dog!!!
Not only are these training tools unnecessary but leaving them on your dog in a dog park can be downright dangerous.
Dogs play by biting and jumping at, on or around other dogs. Should another dog get tangled up in one of these collars there is no quick and easy way to get them off safely. Entanglement can result in bites, fights, broken limbs, or lost limbs. Not worth it. Not to mention if it’s a chain and your dog is off leash, you most certainly aren’t using it as a training tool at the moment so take it off!
Additionally, there’s the behavioral component of the use of punishment. Dogs that learn when they are shocked around other dogs stop offering behavior out of fear. However, that fear can escalate and be associated with other dogs. So when another dog does get too close to the dog wearing a shock collar the results can be unpredictable and scary. Dogs with shock collars often have no warning signs to aggression because growling, barking and other calming signals have been punished. These dogs are uncomfortable and when things get to be too much they lash out by biting.
Don’t just stand there! Intervene!
If you’re dog is being chased by a pack of other dogs interrupt the other dogs and help your dog out. If your dog is chasing another dog that doesn’t want to be chased, grab him and redirect him. If your puppy is showing his teeth at another dog, help him choose distance and have the other guardian call their dog away. If your dog was snapped at but he persists, help him choose another playmate who wants to play with him. This is not funny and your dog doesn’t “just need to figure it out”. Your dog could be learning bad habits, making bad associations, or creating bad associations for other dogs at the park.
The day I went to the park was a week day evening around 4 pm. Not ideal. This particular park was about 3-4 acres, so it was a pretty large park and there were multiple areas to the park. So there were multiple areas for small dogs, a main area for the big dogs and and secondary area for dogs with a water feature which was really just mud at the moment.
There were about 50 dogs at the park and guess where they all were?! In the one area used for big dogs. In the picture below you can see the whole big dog area and where are all of the people? Right in the middle, not moving at all. Guess where that puts all of the dogs? Right in the middle. This means that dogs that didn’t want to interact were forced to interact because that’s where their guardians were. The dogs might as well have been on leash. With no spacial relief, dogs who generally tolerate other dogs for short periods of time will become grumpy and reactive. This can be easily solved by their guardians going for a stroll around the perimeter of the park, always moving. Don’t be afraid to exercise a little with your dog.
I saw a lot of things going on at the dog park on this visit probably because of the sheer volume of dogs and the lack of interaction from the guardians. However, Cooper did well. I interrupted him several times as he joined in with group greetings and chases and sent him in a different direction, helped him leave a dog who snipped at him and he was still interested (who wouldn’t be interested in a Chinese Crested?), and left after he finished playing with the one dog he really engaged with before he got too tired. So while it was rather stressful and I won’t be going back anytime soon with my own girl, I hope he had a good time.