Training Tip: SKIP THE DOG PARK!

Dog parks are quite an anomaly, mixing strange dogs and people in a gated environment to play. The biggest argument FOR dog parks is that they teach dogs to be social and offer them great exercise.

So why skip it?


NOUN.1. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. “preschool starts the process of socialization”

There is often confusion that “socializing our dog” means: letting people (strangers) pet them and letting them play with other dogs at dog parks or meeting other dogs on leash. Most people want to be able to take their dogs places with them and have a productive and calm experience. Steps to achieve this: 1) practice obedience in low stimulation environments leading up to more difficult environments 2) Have our dog’s back: practice environmental awareness so that we can prevent unnecessary or counterproductive interactions. 3) Just say “no” to strangers touching and interacting with our dogs.

Things to ponder regarding interactions with strangers and other dogs:

1. Socializing with and accepting strangers is not a natural behavior for dogs. Although dogs do make friends and some dogs do enjoy playing with others, asking them to enter an enclosure with a high stimulation level is a set up for failure, and for our dogs to be put on the defense. It does not give them a natural and proper social introduction sequence, and since body language is everything between dogs, it can escalate quickly if a dog is unsure or if a dominant dog enters to meet other dominant dogs, already there. This is also true when dogs are leash. Their whole countenance is altered by the handler’s presence and the barrier created by their attachment to the dog.

2. Running around at the dog park does NOT equal socialization. Socialization is the ability to behave in socially acceptable ways in social settings. We don’t learn table manners playing at the park, we learn them at home at the dinner table, or etiquette classes. Playing with other dogs can be a part of social skills (if done in a controlled environment) but it doesn’t have to be. Socialized dogs are dogs that can be in public, that are not nervous around people moving by, cars, stimulation etc.

Socialization DOES NOT MEAN: accepting of strangers touching them. It means they can maintain manners in a social setting without becoming stressed. If we allow strangers to handle our dogs ESPECIALLY if our dogs exhibit stress signals or avoidance, it can not only begin the warning and bite sequence, but it can damage our dogs trust in us to keep them safe. Most dogs do not appreciate strangers sticking their hands in their faces, bending over them or even making hard eye contact. Of course, genetics plays a huge part in the dogs’ reactions. IF a dog does enjoy interactions with strange humans, and they are allowed to interact with people on the walk, it makes it difficult and unfair for us to correct them for being excited and/or reactive when a person walks by. If they associate strangers approaching to excitement it is counter-intuitive to having a calm and collected dog in public settings; as well as making a formal heel in high stimulus situations much harder to train.

3. Taking dogs to the dog park for exercise can be very dangerous. Dogs that have not been worked are full of pent up energy. Using other people’s dogs as targets to release that energy is just not safe. Even if every dog there was from a home with perfect leadership and training, the initial outburst that happens when our dogs get to run is often frantic and can trigger other dogs to react.

4. People (including children) are present. So many fights occur at dog parks over a dog or handler getting between a dog and its person or children being children. Even if a dog is 20 ft away from his owner, another dog trotting through that space with body language he doesn’t like can trigger a very serious reaction and fight. Kids and other people reaching down to touch dogs that aren’t theirs can trigger a bite (a natural reaction to a stranger approaching) people leaving leashes on can create unnatural posturing and trigger a fight.

5. The dog that bites gets in trouble even if he did so appropriately. If a bite is never acceptable then behavior that provokes a bite, in an uncontrolled environment, shouldn’t be engaged in. Dogs posturing and antagonizing other dogs go unnoticed, but the dog that bites gets busted and labeled aggressive. Often small dogs are mixed with large dogs and they get hurt. Dogs that are not socialized or don’t respect space can trigger appropriate bite responses from other dogs….and depending on the breed the damage can be severe. Accepting that it is natural for our dogs to reject or not engage with strangers and to focus affection and play with in their inner circles, and that this pack drive can be driven genetically, is a huge step in the direction of beautiful relationship building.

For clarification of any blogged information please feel free to reach out! I am here for you!