Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Dog parks attended by well informed, responsible dog owners can certainly be a fun place for all.
The reality is that not all dogs enjoy the dog park. Many dogs, once they have reached social maturity lose interest in interacting with other dogs. When my dog Everest started spending most of his time at the dog park keeping an eye on the more exuberant dogs, interrupting their play and being the Fun Police, I knew it was time to retire him from the dog park and find him another activity. The dog park had ceased being a place where his mental and social needs were being met.
Is your dog truly enjoying the dog park? Notice where your dog is choosing to spend his or her time. Is Rover taking off into the woods to sniff, as a strategy to avoid all interactions with other canines? Or is Rover sticking close to you the entire time, because he is very shy and nervous?
Not all dogs behave well at the park. Some dogs are modelling appropriate behaviour, but some dogs are most definitely not. From overly aroused, impolite and uninhibited dogs, to resource guarders, the dog park has seen them all. If your dog guards sticks, balls and toys, is very nervous around other dogs, or very bold and defensive, you may want to consider going to the dog park with a small group of other dogs, or skipping the dog park altogether.
To help make your dog park experience as dreamy as possible, actively supervise your dog. If your dog appears to be having fun, it doesn’t mean you should stop paying attention to him. Things can change quickly in the dog park. Behaviour exists on a continuum. Therefore, what may look safe one moment, can turn nasty in the next.
Help your dog remain a good role model at the dog park. Step in and interrupt any humping. If your is dog barking incessantly or excessively, give him a short break to settle back down. If your dog likes to steal toys, teach your dog the “drop it” cue. Why not step it up and teach him a wonderful recall? Then your dog can fetch the toy, return it to you, drop it and you can return the toy to its rightful owner.
If your dog is a puppy and your goal is to socialize your dog, you may wish to consider attending a playdate with dogs that are good role models. Puppies can learn so much from older dogs, but a dog park is an uncontrolled environment.
If your goal is to try to teach your unsocialized adult dog to enjoy being with dogs, then low-pressure interactions with calm known dogs are a good place to start.
Dog parks are a great place for some dogs. It certainly can be a wonderful way to allow your dog to get exercise. That young adolescent dog with a surplus of energy can benefit from a good run at the park! Dog parks can also be a wonderful place for people. Many folks meet up there for a regular dose of socialization.
But remember, you do not need to take your dog to the dog park to be a good dog owner.