Dog parks… they can be the source of great joy and the source of severe frustration. Now, not all dog parks are the same, some are certainly better than others but they are, nonetheless, frequently a hot-button topic for “dog people.”
Here’s my take–dog parks are like tightropes. It’s not that they can’t be crossed but they should be crossed with great caution and vigilance. It should be noted that not everyone can cross them successfully and there are many external variables that effect the difficulty and risk (is it a blustery day, is the tightrope 6″ off the ground or 6′). Dog parks frequented by vigilant owners (a core group of “regulars” is even better), appropriate dogs, and with enough space for everyone are good options for people to socialize and exercise their dogs. However, most parks do not have those qualities regularly.
One of the problems I have with dog-parks is that it seems to have been some how communicated that all dogs should go to the dog park and that dog parks are the only way to socialize dogs. So, people end up bringing dogs who are not “dog park” dogs into the facility which can create a dangerous situation. Some dogs may be overly fearful, may simply be uncomfortable with other dogs, may be overly controlling of space/movement, or may be resource guarders. Other non dog-park dogs may be quite friendly and well socialized but are just too pushy, too barky, may not listen to “cut off” signals, or who are just too over the top with play and may upset the balance in the park. Some dogs brought to the park may be outright aggressive but because their people think all dogs should go to the dog park, they put everyone at risk.
Another big issue I have encountered at dog parks is that they are often ripe with people who have zero control over their dogs. This, unfortunately, doesn’t surprise me. Most of these people, who have zero control over their dogs, wouldn’t let their dogs off-leash in an unfenced area–since dog parks offer rare access to large, dog-friendly, fenced areas, they seem to be a beacon for out of control dogs. Adding to the problem is that many of these out of control dogs are also under exercised dogs who come to the park absolutely off-the-wall crazy–and that is not a good thing.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back, for me, is the people at the dog park. While there are many people who are responsible…there are many who are not. People who knowingly bring inappropriate dogs to the park, who pay zero attention to their dogs while there, who have no control over their dogs (and who LAUGH when their dog is being a nuisance), people who leave their dogs unattended in the park, people who have no concept of appropriate dog interaction (and either act at inappropriate times or fail to act at when they should), people who “Tsch” and poke (a certain dominance trainer’s methods) at the dogs (both their own dogs and other people’s dogs) all make me largely avoid dog-parks.
Although I don’t frequent parks, I do have a list of tips that have helped me ensure that Rio has had good experiences at the park.
So, if you are going use a dog park here are Tena’s tips for dog-park survival:
1. OBSERVE before you enter. You know your dog, you know how he/she plays. I tend to watch the dogs (and people) interact for 5-10 minutes before I even consider bringing Rio into the park. If there are dogs who I feel would not work with Rio, I don’t enter. If there is someone at the park who is using rough training techniques with their dogs or other dogs, people who are clearly not paying attention to their dogs, or people who leave their dogs in the park, I do not enter.
2. LEAVE if you feel uncomfortable. If a new dog comes and throws off the vibe of the whole park, it’s okay to just pick up and go. ON the other hand, if YOU come in and the play becomes inappropriate, it’s okay to pack up and go home. Not all dogs play well together and even if you OBSERVE you can’t always be sure until you try…but don’t push it if it’s not going well.
3. OFF-HOURS are the best times to go. The local dog park is about 6 acres of space… during busy hours, there can be 40+ people and dogs in the park and that is just crazy. Dogs and people everywhere (and remember not all the dogs or people at the park are good candidates). On the occasion when I take Rio to the park, I go between 10am-2pm on the weekdays… there are anywhere between 0-7 dogs and it’s generally the same few folks (on different days).
4. GROUPS are a good way to go to the park. If you can go with a regular group of people with a regular group of dogs you have a better chance of having a positive experience-especially if you can sort of take over a corner of the park. Your dogs have the benefit of knowing each other and knowing how to play together and you know the people are responsible owners.
5. TRAINING your dog is super important. You need to make sure you can reliably get your dog’s attention even in high distraction areas. If there is a fight starting you want to be able to call your dog away from the dangerous situation.
So, you don’t want to frequent a dog park, how are you to socialize your pooch? We’ll you’ll have to wait to hear my suggestions…more info on dog-park alternatives in an upcoming entry!