Is the dog park the right place for you?

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Dog parks can be a great place to burn off doggy energy. But, make sure your dog wants to be at the park when other dogs are there.

For the first time in my life I own a dog park membership. As a matter of fact; I have two. I got one for a park in Indianapolis because I am there frequently and I got one for the park in my home town.

Skywalker is the first dog I’ve had who actually enjoys playing with other dogs. Batman would go to a dog park, find the people and insert himself into wherever they were sitting. He never wanted to play with the dogs; he was too people focused. Condor didn’t care about other dogs; he only wanted to play ball. Condor was also not very confident when he met other dogs; and an underconfident dog can cause serious issues in a dog park setting.

I hesitated in getting the park memberships because I knew they would be difficult for me. There are MANY dogs who should not be in a dog park. The owners are oblivious. I know it is going to be difficult for me not to butt in where my wisdom is not wanted and it will be difficult to see dogs being traumatized. I have already tried to point out to one man that his dog isn’t having fun; but he won’t listen to me.

If you are wondering if a dog park is the right place for your dog; read on.

Dog parks are for SOCIAL dogs who enjoy playing with other dogs. Dog parks are NOT a place for you to take your under socialized dog for it to learn to be social with other dogs.

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These two dogs were awesome play partners as they had the same play styles. Dogs that are having fun will often turn their heads away for a few moments to take a slight break in the play.

I have been to the park in Indianapolis four times and twice I’ve met the same man who has two dogs who don’t enjoy the dog park. The first time the only dogs in the park were his two and Skywalker. Sky would go up and sniff and one of the dogs would immediately curl her lip and growl. She kept her tail tucked and her body hunched up. Everything about her said “go away.” Sky tried several times to engage her; but eventually he just left her alone. The owner kept encouraging her to “go play” and told me she had never been socialized with other dogs and she just “needed time” to get to know other dogs and “then she would be fine.” This is like shoving an introvert into a black-tie affair and saying “it’s fine; make friends.”

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Dogs generally prefer to be sideways to each other; rather than head on. Both of these dogs show very nice, curved bodies and loose body language. They are inviting each other to keep playing.

But, it was the other dog that turned out to be the problem. She would initiate play and the minute Skywalker ran just a bit too fast; she would growl and snap at him. At one point she got up on her hind legs and was trying to push Skywalker over so he got up on his hindlegs and they were both growling at each other. I was able to call my dog to me and we immediately left the dog park and the man was apologizing and saying the dog just didn’t like playing with all dogs.

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Small dogs can have a tough time in a dog park unless there are separate areas for smaller dogs. This little dog was awesome. If it got overwhelmed it just turned away from the bigger dogs and the bigger dogs respected that and walked away from it. It did get overwhelmed later when two larger dogs were running and accidentally bowled the smaller dog over.

The second time I saw the two dogs; there were other dogs in the park. The one dog still came in with a tightly tucked tail and when she was surrounded by five happy, jumping dogs; she basically just shut down. So, it appeared to everyone else that she was fine; when instead she was just hoping she made it through then next several minutes without dying. The other dog left the group and went to hunt squirrels so she wasn’t an issue.

However, I ended up leaving again. I just couldn’t watch the scared dog and I definitely did not want my dog to be there if things went downhill. It doesn’t take much to turn a nice, friendly, dog-social dog into a dog that is scared of meeting other dogs.

Plus, one of the people in the dog park thought Skywalker was his own personal stuffed toy. Every time Sky came near him; the man would hug him and at one point got him in a bear hug and kept kissing the top of Sky’s head. Bless all of my training and working with Sky and strangers; he backed out of the bear hug; did a big shake off and ran to play with a dog.

Since I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere telling any of the people that their dogs weren’t having fun; I instead talked about one of the dogs there who was amazing. There was a young Doberman who loved playing with Skywalker. Both of them were having a great time and the Doberman was exactly the kind of dog that should have been in a dog park. He listened when other dogs said they didn’t want to play and he was social with people. I’m hoping that over time if I focus on the dogs that should be in the park and why they are doing great; maybe the other dog owners will start to look at their own dogs.

I’m sure the other dog owners thought I was rude. They were all in a group talking and having a nice time when I came into the park. Instead of staying with them and talking; I followed my dog around the park. I never took my eyes off of him; which meant I could not make eye contact with the other pet parents. But, dog play can turn into dog fight quickly. I always wanted to be aware of what was going on near my dog. I also didn’t want to be clear across the dog park from him if things went wrong; so, I followed him around the park instead of just standing on top of a hill watching from a distance. I also didn’t pet or play with the other dogs. The Doberman came up to me and rubbed against me several times; so, I eventually did pet him; but most of the dogs kept their distance from me so I didn’t go around trying to hug them.

I’m sure my dog park memberships will provide much fodder for future blog posts.

These photos show two dogs meeting for the first time. Skywalker (darker dog)  gets low in a play bow to encourage the other dog to play. The other dog runs, but keeps her body loose to show she wants to be chased. The dogs then reverse and Skywalker becomes the one being chased. Great play often involves dogs taking turns chasing each other.

4 thoughts on “Is the dog park the right place for you?

  1. efotsch

    Can you provide advice for those of us with dogs who are nervous, but would like to make friends with some other, very friendly dogs? You helped me learn to train my reactive dog and told me that she will never be very social, but may be selectively social. My question is: is there a good way to go about dog introductions that may make my pup more comfortable?

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    1. connieswaim Post author

      This is a great question. You would want to find a very social, very laid back dog who has met tons of other dogs and been fine with them. I like to let dogs sniff through a fence with zero pressure on their collars from leashes. Or if they are ok; let them sniff butts in turn (don’t let them meet face to face). You could also muzzle train your dog so she loves wearing a muzzle and that way she can’t hurt another dog and she may be able to tolerate another dog. However, this is a huge question and you would want to probably meet with a trainer first or have someone on hand who can guide you through it

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  2. Naomi Helmer

    I love watching adult dogs revert to puppyhood when they play! My dogs are big, and kind of rough players, but very friendly. I agree that unsocial dogs shouldn’t be let loose in a park. It is every owner’s responsibility to make sure their dogs are well adjusted! Even shy, adopted dogs can be socialized slowly.

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