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are a staple in America’s canine culture and serve as the go-to destination
for many canines and their human companions. The 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.
first installment of a multipart series on dog parks, trainer Mikkel Becker
looks at how to tell whether a dog park is right for your dog and discusses consequences
to consider when playtime turns ugly.
As an animal
trainer, I've encountered numerous pet parents who are 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.
because a dog isn’t right for the dog park doesn’t mean the dog is a bad dog.
It simply means the dog would 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.
Not every dog is savvy with social situations, especially one as varied and
unpredictable as the dog park. The expectation for all dogs to love the park is
like the expectation of a parent that his son or daughter will enjoy the same
sports or activities that he did. But being pushed into something that’s not
the right fit for that individual’s personality and desires can cause
tremendous stress to the individual.
people, dogs have personalities and motivations that make them either good
fits for dog parks or not. Just as joining a fraternity or sorority is a good match
for many people, it’s an equally poor match for others (as it was for me). And
those differences are OK.
parents live with the unspoken rule that "good dogs go to dog parks"
and "good people take their dogs to dog parks." The negative
connotation of their dogs not being good fits for a dog park often causes guilt
and shame. For that reason, despite a dog’s hesitance or involvement in
negative incidents, upset dogs are frequently taken to the park in hopes of
making the canine more social. With most dogs, when a park is used to “fix”
social issues, the behavior only becomes worse.
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