Should I Take My Dog to the Dog Park?

Should you take your dog to a dog park? The answer isn’t black and white. 

Dog parks can be risky and aren’t a good choice for all dogs. In general, other forms of exercise and play are safer, from both an injury and behavioral issue standpoint. Some great options for exercise and play include: long line walks, trail walks and playdates with friends’ dogs who are known to be compatible. Sniff Spots are dog safe areas that can be rented. They are becoming more prevalent for off leash play with an invited group of dogs. However, we do understand that it is possible to have good experiences at the dog park and that some people are limited on their options. Here’s what you should consider in your decision on whether to take your pup to a dog park. 

Is your dog a good candidate for a dog park?

Your dog may be a dog park candidate if he truly enjoys the company of multiple, strange dogs, and doesn’t become frightened or aggressive in that scenario. This is a tough criteria, which most dogs don’t pass. Additionally, dogs who resource guard their people, toys or water bowls will not be safe at the dog park.

When your dog is at the dog park he should look comfortable, wiggly and happy. If not, the dog park is not for him. Often play at the dog park is at a high arousal level that can result in injuries or can easily tip into a dog fight. A great analogy is going to a “frat party”. Not all people, in all stages of their lives, would enjoy going to a frat party. Dog parks are a lot like frat parties. They can get very raucous and way beyond what most dogs can safely handle or enjoy.
Will trips to the dog park make his behavior issues worse?

If your dog is overly social or a frustrated greeter, going to the dog park could make this issue worse. Taking a break from the dog park while you work on this issue will speed up the behavior change you are working on. If that isn’t a good option, it will be important to work on a Frustrated Greeter protocol when you arrive at the dog park, to avoid inadvertently reinforcing his reactive behavior.  We can teach you and your dog how to implement that protocol in a private lesson. 

Do I have access to a good dog park? 

The very best dog park scenario is one where there are a regular group of attendees, and the park isn’t too crowded. Often weekday mid-mornings will be less frantic and will have a regular group of attendees. Large open spaces, divided by dog size, are best for limiting altercations. Some dog parks are known for having a history of non-attentive owners, dog fights and other issues. Be sure to avoid those locations. 
Have I done the necessary things to make my visit safe?

There are a few things you can do to prepare for a safer experience at the dog park. Having a highly reliable recall on your dog will be important so you can quickly remove him from situations that look like they may go awry. And, as a last resort, having a can of Spray Shield handy will allow you to more safely break up any fights that do happen. And, naturally, you should be sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations before heading to the dog park.

If after taking all of these factors into consideration, you’re unsure whether the dog park is a good idea for your pup, we’d recommend finding other outlets for his energy.  If on the other hand, you think the dog park is a good fit for your dog, proceed with caution.  Even the most social of dogs will find certain playmates unpleasant.  Being ready to leave when it’s clear your dog isn’t having fun is a great way to support your pup.