Having frequented dog parks all over the country for the last 30 years or so, I’ve seen most of what there is to see within these fenced areas of social interaction for dogs. Most owners are very responsible – making sure their dogs have all their shots, picking up their dog’s poop, helping to make sure there’s water available, not bringing food into the park, etc. But there are a few other things that owners can do to ensure the dog park is a great social experience that’s fun and safe.
First is my personal pet peeve. Some owners, when picking up their dogs poop, will walk right be another pile and just leave it there. Remember why we’re picking up these piles – to reduce the chances of spreading disease (your dog won’t catch something from his own poop), and preventing your dog from running through poop and bringing that home in between their toes.
Next, to keep things more peaceful and fun within the dog park, exercise (walk) your dog before going. Don’t take your dog to the park to exercise them. Dog parks are for socializing with other dogs, a very important and primal need all dogs have. We’ve all seen the situation – the dogs are having fun, playing, relaxing, and in comes a very excited high energy dog and chaos follows. Some dogs will go after the excited dog, some dogs will turn on each other, and some will become so agitated themselves that they can become dangerous for other owners. For the health and safety of all, try to bring a calm dog into the park.
Probably the most common problem we all run into at the dog park is the one dog that is just a bully and for whatever reason will not leave another dog alone. And the owner says the same thing every time,”oh, he’s just playing.” Play means both dogs are engaged. If your dog happens to be the bully on this occasion look at the other dog. Is he/she trying to get away? Is he/she on her back trying to give up? Is he/she trying to defend himself? Doesn’t sound like play does it? We bring our dogs to the dog park to have fun and experience pleasant social interaction, not to have to defend themselves. Please try to recognize the difference between play and bullying and be respectful to other dogs and their owners – just rein your dog in and don’t allow that behavior. Also, in the dog park you can expect dogs to challenge each other every now and again. This has nothing to do with dominance, alpha or hierarchy, it’s simply dogs that may not have great social skills trying to figure out the best way to co-exist. And often these dogs will engage in a process that sounds and looks like they’re trying to kill each other, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Their attitude really is lets do this mock fighting so that nothing serious will happen. As a matter of fact, it’s extremely rare for one dog to hurt another unless they haven’t been properly socialized in early in life. Dogs are absolute masters with their teeth and if the intent was to draw blood they could do so at any time. The worst fights I’ve ever witnessed occur when the owners don’t recognize what’s really going on and interfere with yelling and reaching in to grab/separate the dogs. Literally hundreds of owners are bitten every year for just that reason, and so are the dogs when aggression levels escalate because of inappropriate human interference.
Finally and most importantly, if your dog is aggressive towards other dogs and has been in a bloody fight, please seek out an experienced professional trainer to work with your dog before ever going to a dog park. Never put other dogs at risk because you are hoping everything will be okay. The socialization period is between 3 and 16 weeks of age and to a much smaller degree up to 6 months. After that window has closed you will not be able to socialize your dog and hoping to do so at the dog park is futile and can be just plain dangerous. Behavior modification is the only option after that point and I strongly advise enlisting the help of a trainer.
The dog park is a fantastic bonding activity to share with your dog, and it satisfies several primal needs. Let’s all try to be good dog park citizens and make the experience the best it can be for the dogs and their owners.