Are Dog Parks A Good Place To Visit?

Dog parks may have been a well-intended idea of open, legal, secure spaces for off-leash dogs, particularly in urban settings or for dog owners with limited space. But from our perspective they invariably fail to measure up.

Here are some of the reasons:

Lack of supervision

First and foremost, dog parks lack all meaningful supervision, so you’d be swimming at your own risk. One could argue that the individual dog owners should be supervising their dogs. In theory, yes they should. However, owners are often seen engaging with other people or their cell phone, while others appear hyper-vigilant, nervous and as such are not being helpful either. The average dog owner has little to no idea about appropriate canine pack behavior and body language, let alone actionable knowledge on if, when and how to interfere.

Pack instincts and dog aggression

When a group of three or more canines are without a strong human pack leader, they will instinctively establish a rank order. Sometimes this order establishes without noticeable conflict, but fights will determine the rank of a dog if some try to assume the same position in the pack. Once your dog has been subjected to attack by another dog, the likelihood of dog aggression in your own dog exponentially increases and even a single incident may cause permanent temperament change that is very difficult to correct.

Put yourself in the shoes/paws of your dog: When it enters a park for the first time, it is not seen by other dogs as a new buddy. Instead, the new dog is perceived as an intruder, potentially leading to aggression secondary to fear, territory or dominance instincts. Most dog owners vastly underestimate the power such instincts have in driving their dog’s behavior. You may assume that every dog in the park is pretty well-mannered, based on watching these dogs over a few minutes. Wrong. Several dogs playing with each other does not mean they will play with your dog who doesn’t know the rules of the existing pack and stir the pot just by entering. This is what dogs do. And if your dog only gets to be with other dogs at a rowdy dog park, he won’t learn to be calm and attentive in the presence of other dogs.

Varying play styles

Here is another question: What would happen if you take the high school football team, the drama club and the jazz band, mix them into diverse teams and let them play a contact sport without common rules and supervision? Exactly. Would you let your child participate? Probably not.

In dogs, certain breeds have very distinct play styles. They range from chasing, quick snaps and dashing away to initiate being chased (spaniels, hounds, terriers), nipping at heels or flanks in order to make the other dogs move (herding breeds), to body slamming and bites and wrestling matches (bull breeds). And just because they are all dogs does not mean they speak and understand each other’s play gestures and body language equally well. You get the point.

Is there any silver lining here?

Yes there is. Remember the fundamental difference between training and testing your dog. You can only train your dog when you are able to control the outcome. With your dog off leash at a dog park you would be testing your dog, often with a poor outcome. But, if you have a dog park nearby, you control your dog (leash) and don’t allow unleashed dogs to come near you (fence), you have a great setting for training with distractions. And don’t forget teaching your dog that you are much more fun than any other dog at the park, simply by engaging in play your dog loves, away from the other dogs. And when your dog is off leash, 100% of your attention should be on your dog, with a contingency plan for unwanted situations. Likewise, socializing your dog with other dogs is fine; as long as you maintain control, i.e. have your dog on leash.

Our team at North Edge K9 is comprised of active police K9 handlers and trainers with decades of street experience. We always advocate knowledge, control and training and we are available to guide and assist you in all your dog training and personal protection needs. Contact us with any questions you may have.