“Michele, when is a good time to start taking my dog to the dog park?”. Have you seen that question in my FB group, Puppy Training with Michele Lennon? Or maybe you were about to ask it yourself? Well, I’ve got some important news to share with you today. I don’t recommend dog parks. Not for your DOG anyway. Wait. What? Why not? And if not for my DOG, who would they be for?
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The way dog parks have evolved
Don’t worry. I’m going to explain those confusing statements. This sounds like a great plan in theory. But unfortunately, the way dog parks have evolved, they are usually NOT a great idea. There are a lot of potential diseases that your dog could pick up at the dog park. The first problem is that you don’t know the vaccination status of all the dogs there. So they could be carrying diseases that their owner did not protect them against.
And even if people had to show proof of vaccination before they could enter well that’s usually only showing the rabies vaccine. There are a whole lot of other diseases that are going to ruin your day – and maybe your wallet – that your dog can easily pick up at the dog park. You also don’t know if the dog started showing some signs of illness recently that their owner did not notice.
But if you’re not watching, you might miss it. In addition to other dogs carrying disease, it’s way too easy for a disease in the environment to spread, like Parvo or Giardia. Both of these illnesses are very serious and could cause a life-threatening sickness or at the very least an expensive vet bill. Giardia is often found in standing water. There’s usually standing water at dog parks because active dogs mean thirsty dogs.
Dogs are quick to take a few drinks
Dogs are quick to take a few drinks and soon you’ve got a sick pup. Your best effort to prevent it is probably not going to be fast enough for a thirsty dog. Some dog parks even have lakes or pools for dogs to play in. Water is a great activity for many dogs, but you need to choose your bodies of water carefully! A stagnant pool of water at the dog park makes it to my NOPE list. Leptospirosis is another disease that is commonly picked up from the water.
Just the SOUND of that one sounds bad, you do not want your dog to go through that! Another downside to dog parks dogs who don’t want to be there. Don’t even get me started on this topic, we will be here all day! It drives me crazy to see dogs who are out in public and who clearly would rather be at home. But their owners think they need to be out with other people and, even worse, other dogs. Hear me clearly on this next statement.
You can have a well-socialized dog
It’s if your dog is not fond of other dogs. Socialization does not only mean playing with other dogs! You can have a well-socialized dog who just prefers the company of humans or even cats! So at the dog park, if the puppy owner isn’t tuning into their dog’s preferences, they might bring a dog who is not dogged-friendly to the park, insisting he gets some socialization. Socialization means your dog is comfortable with all the new things they will experience in this big wide world.
Helping your dog have a healthy relationship with new things is the goal of exposure training. But that exposure training is about so much MORE than just dogs! Yes, we want to help your dog not react negatively to other dogs if you happen to run into one, but if your dog says thanks but no thanks to a puppy playdate well that’s his choice. Unfortunately, not all owners pay attention to their dog’s temperament and they often come barreling into the dog park even if the dog is resistant or afraid.
This will make their pup’s fear even worse! I have a great video on fear if you think your dog is experiencing some of it. Check that one out here. These fearful or stressed dogs and their oblivious owners do not create the dog park vibe you’re looking for. This would be like going to the playground with your young child and encountering a child who is screaming. Just screaming. You might be thinking, I’m sorry you’re having a tough time but.
Negative at dog parks
We’re trying to enjoy ourselves so could you take that somewhere else?”. Unfortunately, canine body language is not well understood by a lot of dog owners. Those signs of stress and discomfort in the dog are overlooked or misunderstood. So the bottom line here is that if your dog isn’t so fond of other dogs, don’t force it. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of dog owners do at dog parks and you’ll get the short end of that stick if you go there.
Another negative at dog parks: distracted owners. Many owners think that a benefit of the dog park is that they can just take their dog and let him run, while they chat with other dog owners or check out their phones. I’ve even seen people pull out their laptops, get on live zoom calls or become totally immersed in a phone call at the dog park. Do you think those owners are watching for appropriate dog behaviour, in their dog or others?
Nope, nope and nope. Even if you are watching your dog – which is critical if you want to know what he’s saying – others are probably not doing the same. This could quickly result in a fight or at the very least some behavior that you may not want your dog to copy If you’re following my channel or progressing through my online course, you’re probably working hard to train your dog. Don’t lose your hard work by allowing him to pick up bad habits from other dogs!
Did you know that all dog parks?
I’ve probably convinced you about the aversions to dog parks already but I still have more to tell you about. Let’s talk about resource guarding. Did you know that all dog parks – any that understand canine science anyway – post signs that treat and toys and food are not allowed? . And yet, you’ve probably seen tons of dogs with toys for fetching or chasing, treats or food during a break or even humans with food.
These are all “resources” and some of those are pretty high value to a dog. These items could easily cause conflict among dogs who have not been trained. Even dogs who have no resource guarding issues at home could get caught up in this excitement and start showing you some unwanted behaviours. Resource guarding is normal but we train our dogs not to do it because it could lead to a safety issue.
Don’t undo all your training by exposing your dog to this unwanted behaviour at the dog park. If you are struggling with resource guarding in your dog, or just want to be aware of the signals, In addition to undersocialized dogs, we often see dogs with a lot of pent-up energy at dog parks. I appreciate that these owners might want to let their dogs get out some energy, especially if they’ve been at home all day while the owner was working.
The dog’s brain can process up to 40 times
But a free for all with a bunch of other unruly dogs isn’t the best way to do it. It’s so important that our dogs have a balance of mental AND physical stimulation. Too much physical exercise alone creates an imbalance that might lead to some frustrating behaviours for humans. Let’s talk a little more about that mental stimulation. This part often gets overlooked when people just want to tire out their dog. Did you know that the dog’s brain can process up to 40 times more information from a scent than the human brain? Our dogs are getting a LOT from that sniffing! And allowing the dog to do it in a way where they can calmly take it all in and process it is important.