Socialization and Dog Parks: Part 2
To Dog Park or Not Dog To Park, That's The Question
The earlier blog article was cautionary about choosing to use the dog park for socialization and hopefully have you postpone that decision with your puppy or adopted dog. So, how does one decide if using the dog park is good for your dog and when to use it?
Why use the dog park?
I use the dog park to provide socialization for “dog” social dogs, with other dogs. Using the dog park in this manner enriches the dog’s life and helps to maintain the dog’s sociability. The dog park is not an appropriate place to socialize a dog that is aggressive, anxious or fearful around other dogs. The dog park is not a place to work on behavioral issues.
Keep in mind that the culture of a dog park is not static but dynamic. The park on a weekday morning at 7:00 AM is very different than a sunny Sunday afternoon. Using the dog park for a somewhat fearful dog may be a positive experience on the weekday morning but not on that sunny Sunday when the park is highly utilized. Your judgement is crucial, if in doubt, postpone your trip. If you need help deciding please consult a qualified professional trainer.
A useful assessment of your dog’s experience is what happens afterwards. A good trip to the dog park is characterized by a tired dog that is eager to settle and rest and within a few hours is refreshed and busy again. If you observe that the dog is exhausted and in need of rest for an extended period of time it may be an indication that the dog was overly anxious and uncomfortable at the park. The rules here are not hard and fast but depend on your awareness of what’s normal for your dog.
So why else use a dog park? Different breeds of dogs have different energy and needs for exercise. Athletic sporting breeds and working breeds were bred for activity and need exercise that a daily walk around the block just won’t satisfy. Large breed dogs need to use the long muscles in their body and the opportunity to stretch and run to develop and maintain health.
Play is an element of socialization. Through play dogs learn how to interact with other dogs. They learn dog to dog manners, how to read dog to dog communication and how to communicate with other dogs. These are dog skills that people can’t teach. Dogs just want to have fun, experiencing fun is necessary for learning, and being socially, emotionally and cognitively fit.
Exploration and sensory experience, dog parks also give dogs the opportunity to sniff, listen, touch and taste their environment. Modern life for dogs often lead us to inhibit these innate behaviors in our homes because they are not polite in the human world or we perceive them to
be destructive or risky to the dog. Dog parks that are enhanced with objects, terrain variation, water features and obstacles act to enrich the dog’s life. Once at the dog park, my dog and his dog friend captured a mouse in the tall grass along the fence and they quickly dispatched it. They then spent the next thirty minutes scouring the tall grass at the base of the fence all around the park perimeter in hopes of capturing yet another unfortunate rodent. Everything about their expression posture and teamwork demonstrated their joy in this adventure.
Choosing to use the dog park is not as simple as it may first appear, but by evaluating your dog’s readiness to attend, being clear about how you expect your dog to benefit and observing your dog during your visit and afterwards will lead to happier experience for everyone. If you’re not confident about this decision, postpone your trip and consult a qualified professional trainer.