-heads up folks, this is a long one-
There are few topics that I can think of that are as vehemently and frequently debated as this past American election, the merits of cherry vs. apple pie, and dog parks.
Bringing up “the topic that must not be named” is always a gamble - you run the risk of being told off, or hearing a long winded and highly graphic story of a friend of a friend’s tragic experience. Maybe you have that awkward dog at the park who can’t seem to make any friends so the whole conversation is embarrassing. Or perhaps you adore your local dog park and a pox on anyone who doesn’t feel the same!
So what is the deal with dog parks?
Are they a breeding ground for aggression? Could this be an excellent place to socialize your dog? How do the dogs figure out who their alpha is? Why does there seem to be more poop than park?
I think based on who you and your dog happen to be, your stance on dog parks is your own business however I’ve included a few points below to be considered for you to arrive at your own conclusion.
Not all dogs are cut from the same cloth
Who is your dog? Some dogs love to play with other dogs, some exclusively with a specific set of friends, and some dogs prefer their own company. Keep this in mind when considering a trip to the dog park as they will be exposed to new smells, lots of new dogs and people, and their social etiquette is definitely going to be put to the test! Simply put, not all dogs are cut out for the dog park nor do they need to be.
Is your dog an avid reader?
Would you say your dog is more of a sci-fi fan or do they like to stick to the classics? Kidding. Knowing whether your dog is good at reading social cues from other dogs is SUPER important - the same goes for their ability give cues. Dogs are constantly sending messages to each other using their ears, tails, mouths, and eye contact. If you have a dog that was undersocialized or adopted, you might find that these are not skills that they’ve mastered - it may not occur to them that they are being warned, asked to play, or scaring another dog in the park. Conversely dogs that have been physically altered in any way can be a “difficult read” - this is common where ear or tail cropping is present, and with brachiocephalic (scrunchy face) breeds.
In a nutshell, if your dog seems to be constantly butting heads in the park they might just be part of a big miscommunication - dogs do not fight with one another for no reason. This is a good time for you to practice your recall, or put them in a time out if they “aren’t getting the message”, or pull the plug on dog park visits altogether.
All intact dogs are dangerous. Period. No exceptions
This is not true. Some of the most obedient, fun loving dogs I know happen to be intact. I have seen quite a few fights at the park involving intact dogs, but often this is because their scent can be extremely distracting and intimidating to others.
This would be like if you showed up to a party with an iPhone that’s not yet on the market, and way cooler than anything we’ve already seen. You’d have to answer a lot of questions, put up with people wanting to play around with your phone all night, and despite repeatedly asking everyone to be careful - it ends up in the hands of the clumsiest guy at the party and down the stairs it goes. We all have breaking points don’t we?
If your dog goes undetected, is NOT in heat, or is extremely patient, by all means - what are you doing reading this article, get them to the park!
Is it my friend or my snack?
If you are contemplating your local dog park and there is no divide between dogs of drastically different sizes - be wary. Certain dogs have extremely strong prey drive. Even putting the world's best trained Chihuahua and Husky in the same high speed, high enery playground is a recipe for disaster as dogs can become caught up in their play and easily mistake high pitched barks for the sqeaky sounds of prey that their ancestors were bred to hunt. It's hard to break old habits unfortunately.
The dog park is your happy place
If this is the case, fantastic. We’re happy for you. You’ll see a scuffle from time to time, and this is normal when bringing so many breeds, play styles, and training backgrounds together in a high energy environment; but the dog park can be a great place for you to facilitate appropriate play, practice your recall, and get some exercise in. We hope your next visit is safe and tons of fun if you decide to go =)