Dog Parks – Things to Think About
Dog Parks – Things to Think About

Dog Parks – Things to Think About

In the past few years, dog parks have become incredibly popular, but there are some things you should know before using a public dog park.

Let’s dig in!

First, let’s talk about the why.

Why do people use dog parks?

  • Some dogs are not reliable off-leash, and their guardian wants their dog to be able to run freely for exercise
  • Guardians want to ensure their dog is *socialized* with other dogs
  • Dog parks are great, fenced areas to work on skills and do some training, whether it’s recall training, obedience training, or focus training.
  • Guardians want to visit and chat with other dog guardians/friends

As always, the most important question is:

But are they safe?

Just like any other interaction between two or more dogs , there is always a risk of a dog fight breaking out.

A dog park is a high energy place and is often a high arousal area, creating big emotions for dogs. Not all guardians will be fluent in how to read dog body language, nor will every guardian be closely supervising their dog. They may be distracted by their phone, their friend, or another dog that they find too cute to resist paying attention to. In short, you can’t rely on the other dog’s guardian to be watching their dogs behaviour and stop anything that may cause an argument between dogs.

Interestingly, most professional dog trainers will advise against using dog parks as many people use dog parks to blow of their unsocialized, untrained, sometimes even aggressive dogs, and do not closely supervise them.

I typically avoid the dog park anyway, due to the fact that you never know what kind of dogs/people show up, and one bad encounter could cause intense fear and reactivity.
– Megan Meyer of Pawsitive Paws

So how do I ensure the safety of my dog?

There are some things to watch for while at the dog park:

  • Body Language of all dogs – knowing what your dog, or another dog, is trying to communicate is crucial in ensuring all dogs are comfortable with each other and therefore, interacting safely together (I’ll add a few infographics below until I write a stand alone post on body language)
  • Play styles of all dogs – play style matters, not all dogs play with the same energy or the same style. Some like to chase, others like to wrestle, some like to play tug, and others still just want to do their own thing near other dogs but not actually interacting with them. So making certain that the dogs present at the park are playing at the same level of intensity, style, and are being respectful of each other is key. This is similar to green flags and red flags of Doggy Daycares.
  • Ages and Sizes of dogs – dogs of different ages and sizes can absolutely play well together, but it’s still a good idea to keep a close eye and watch carefully that everyone is happy, safe and content in their play together when there are different sizes and ages. An older dog may not be as patient with puppy play as another puppy would be, for example.
  • Supervision by all dog guardians – if you’re noticing that guardians are not paying attention to their dog, or the behaviour of their dog, it might not be a good time for you to stay and allow your dogs to play together. Supervision is critical in guaranteeing the safety of all dogs involved.
  • Toys – all dog toys should be avoided in dog parks. Even if your dog has never been protective or guarded about their toys before, having a dog come into their space and try to take their toy could result in resource guarding and reactions that have never happened previously.
  • Forced Interactions – do not force your dog to interact with other dogs in an attempt to make them more social. We’ve already learned in my socialization article that dog socialization is not the same as people socialization. In short: it’s ok if your dog does not like other dogs! Don’t force them to! (Click here for the full article)

 It is unnatural and stressful that society forces the idea that all dogs must get along with every other dog they meet to be “well socialized”
Shiloh Holland of Come. Sit. Stay.

So what’s the alternative?

How do you exercise, train, or allow your super social dog to have other dog friends if dog parks aren’t the right fit for you?

  • Sniffspot – There are people who register their properties with Sniffspot in order to rent them out by the hour. There are different types, some are fenced, some are not, some have swimming spots, some have agility equipment… it’s worth checking the website linked here to see if there’s a private Sniffspot in your area.
  • Private Play Dates – Instead of taking your dog to a public dog park with unknown dogs present, why not find a friend for your dog that is about the same age, size, and play style? You could advertise for this in your local Facebook community groups, or talk to your trainer for suggestions for playdates.
  • Doggy Daycares – when set up and supervised properly, Doggy Daycares can provide a wonderful outlet for your dog-social pup… the trick is to make sure it’s set up well, supervised diligently, and all of the other “green flags” found in my Doggy Daycare article.
  • Long Lines – you can get leashes that are verrrrrry long, such as 50 or even 100 feet! A long line can give your dog the freedom it needs to explore and run in quiet, unfenced areas, with the security that you know where they are and can always just step on their leash if they’re gaining a little too much distance, or unable to return via recall. These are actually one of my most favorite recall tools!

Now, of course, just like trainers and doggy daycares, not all dog parks are alike. There are some that are used very little and so the odds of even running into other dogs when you go are slim. There are also some that are really well designed to have different fenced areas in case dogs need to have their own space… here in Yarmouth NS, our dog park is off the beaten path in a low traffic area of town, and has two fenced sections! It’s also not crazy popular and so it’s a great fit for most pups. Our last dog park in Petawawa ON was really big in a forested area with agility equipment, but it was SO popular, and often times, the attendees were not well supervised or trained, and unfortunately a lot of dog attacks and fights happened, causing a lot of reactive dogs in the area. (In fact, I only ever used it as a training tool for my reactive girl from *outside* the park itself!)

As Promised: Dog Body Language Infographics

Dog Body Language httpsgardegriffes.comhealthydogplay Your Happy Dog Coach Yarmouth Nova Scotia Positive Reinforcement Professional Dog Trainer Force Free
Dog Body Language httpsgardegriffes.comhealthydogplay.png Your Happy Dog Coach Yarmouth Nova Scotia Positive Reinforcement Professional Dog Trainer Force Free Dog Park Your Happy Dog Coach Positive Reinforcement Professional Dog Trainer Yarmouth Nova Scotia
Dog Body Language Lili Chin Your Happy Dog Coach Yarmouth Nova Scotia Positive Reinforcement Professional Dog Trainer Force Free

** While compiling these infographics, I found an informative US article called “Have Fun at the Dog Park -How to Best Handle Yourself and Your Pup at the Park“. Since we can never have too much information, I wanted to share it here as well. **