Dogs Playing | Pet Quest

Dog parks are a staple in America's canine culture and serve as the go-to destination for many canines and their human companions. These doggie-designated zones, which are usually enclosed, have many benefits for well-balanced pups, including the freedom to run and explore as well as play, socialize and interact with other dogs and people.

But though many dogs thrive at dog parks, not all canines are ideal candidates for off-leash playgrounds. Some dogs become stressed, conflicted, fearful or out of control with excitement. As a result, negative interactions, including dog fights, may occur. Not only do such situations present the potential for physical harm to those involved, but a dog may be damaged emotionally and behaviorally by the experience.

In this article we will give you some things to consider before taking your dog to a dog park. By paying some attention to these you may be able to prevent a fun day at the park from turning ugly.

Not All Dogs Want to Play

I get many emails from pet parents telling me that they get frustrated and upset with their dog's behavior at the dog park. Some dogs may be reluctant to play and interact and only tolerate the experience, which can frustrate people who want their dogs to be social. Others have concerns over behavior from their dogs such as fear-based reactions, overly aroused pushiness or unpredictable interactions that sometimes end in aggressive encounters.

Just remember that just because a dog isn't right for the dog park doesn't mean the dog is a bad dog. What this does mean, however, is that the dog would most likely fare better in other situations more fitting for him. For instance, some dogs are social only with select playmates, and playdates with known friends may be best. Or, for dogs who are fearful or avoidant of other canines or escalate into aggression, activities with people only, such as training sessions or scent work, is preferable.

Unrealistic Expectations

Another area of importance that many pet parents don't think about is that not every dog is savvy with social situations. Especially one as varied and unpredictable as the dog park. Many pet parents have the unrealistic expectation that all dogs love the dog park. This is like expecting your son or daughter will also enjoy the same sports or activities that you did as a child. Pushing your dog into something that's not the right fit for his personality and desires can cause tremendous stress to your pet.

Just like people, dogs have personalities and motivations that make them either good fits for dog parks or not. And those differences are OK.

Making Behavior Worse

Many pet parents believe that all dogs should go to the dog park. And when their dog does not fit into this social group often causes guilt and shame. If your dog doesn't want to go to the park don't force him. And don't use a dog park as a fix for social issues. Doing so will make the animal's behavior worse.

I have often seen situations in which a dog is pushed into to enter the dog park. This is a really bad idea as your dog will suddenly become overwhelmed. This is a recipe for failure and disaster.

Compatibility for the park also changes for dogs as they age. Energetic dogs in adolescence, from about 6 months into early adulthood at 2 to 4 years, are the prime park candidates. After reaching social maturity, energy levels and the desire for play often begin to decrease. Those factors also work in combination with greater selectivity in playmates. So though early adolescence and adulthood are prime times for park-going, a dog may show less social behavior and compatibility at the park as he ages.

Potential Consequences

Another aspect that's important to weigh in deciding whether to take a dog to the bark park is the high cost that may be incurred if a negative situation escalates.

Remember that dog parks are public property governed under the local laws of the area. Thus, if a dog bites another dog or person and the bite is reported, the incident goes on the dog's record. In some counties, all it takes is one bite for an animal to be labeled a dangerous dog. In other counties, the dog's record is labeled with the one-bite warning that's given just before the dangerous dog designation that would happen on bite two.

The bad news for a dog is that even if a bite happens in self-defense, such as when protecting himself against a bullying dog, the one who bites is responsible. The same holds true if a person is bitten. The person may even have put himself in harm's way, such as by attempting to break up a fight between dogs. But if he is bitten, even inadvertently, the biting dog is held accountable.

Repercussions for the Owner

Repercussions that may occur for the owner of a dog who has bitten include responsibility for legal and medical bills, being dropped from insurance or an increase in rates, lawsuits and monetary settlements, and the possibility of ordered euthanasia. The cost of a bite is high, making it all the more important to discern whether a dog is ready for the heightened risks and stimulation that come with a dog park.

Even though dog parks are the icon of a dog's ultimate day out and provide a great outlet for many dogs, they must be approached with caution, as not every pooch is right for a park. If there is any doubt about a dog's comfort level at the park or ambiguity in his behavior, it's best to seek professional help from a veterinary behaviorist or veterinarian working in combination with a positive reinforcement trainer to ensure that your experience at the dog park will be a positive one.

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4 thoughts on “Are Dog Parks For Everyone?

  1. My pet peeve about dog parks is that owners do not pick up the poop. My dog park has a dispenser of poop bags for owners who didn’t bring any bags. Of the 40 or so people who use that dog park about 5 actually pick up after their dogs. By the end of July the park is so full of poop that it becomes a health hazard for both dogs and their owners.

  2. It’s a shame that cities don’t provide funds to hire staff to maintain and control the activities that go on in dog parks. This year I have stopped going to dog parks because many owners don’t control their pets and they don’t clean up after their pets either.

  3. There are many hazards that come with using dog parks. And many times it is the owners who are the most hazardous. I saw someone beating his dog in the dog park and when others tried to intervene he commanded the dog to attack them. Because of that owners actions the animal was put down and all he received was a $150 fine with 1 year probation. A week after his sentence he had another dog and was at the dog park again.

  4. I see a lot of things going on at my local dog park. Yesterday a dog was being a bully to the smaller dogs and the owner was told by many of the other dog owners to control her dog. She just went totally off on the other owners saying that if their dogs couldn’t take care of them selves then they shouldn’t come to the dog park. Well needless to say, someone called the cops and she was forced to leave the dog park. An hour later she was back and brought her pit bull telling it to go after the other dogs. Again the cops were call and they confiscated her dog and arrested her. Today she was back with another big dog doing exactly the same thing. Again she got arrested but this time I don’t think she will be getting out any time soon. It’s too bad that we have to put up with people like her and her dog park rage.

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