Not all dogs are suited to dog parks, and it’s up to us as owners to decide whether it’s a good place for our dogs to visit.
For many dogs, an off-leash dog park can be a highly stressful and overwhelming environment to find themselves in.
Laura Mundy has been a dog trainer for 13 years and says while your dog may appear to enjoy the dog park, it does not necessarily mean the park is a suitable setting for them.
“If your dog is rushing in highly aroused, barking at and persistently pawing at other dog attempting to bully them into playing, persistently mounting and humping other dogs, your dog is learning that it’s OK and even fun to engage with other dogs in this manner,” says Mundy. “This can lead to other behavioral issues and highly aroused play is not necessarily good, healthy play.”
Visiting a dog park every day while your dog isn’t exhibiting the best etiquette will make him more frightened, says Mundy. “It’s crucial to instead focus on positive and less overwhelming social interactions rather than flooding your dog in a dog park because you just want them to socialise.”
“No matter how well-behaved or social we feel our dogs are, we should always be looking for changes,” says Mundy.
Before stepping inside the dog park, you should observe the dogs and owners and ask yourself:
Are any of the dogs bullying other dogs to play and not taking a hint it’s unwanted?
Are they respectful of signals from other dogs that they don’t want to engage in play with them?
Are owners visibly supervising their dogs’ interactions and recalling them back to them at appropriate times?
Is there a lot of rough play that you know your dog wouldn’t enjoy?
Are owners actively engaged with their dog or ignoring them and their behavior?
Are there particular breeds of dogs or behaviors of dogs present that you know your dog is fearful of or uncomfortable with?
Once you feel the park is a safe environment for your dog, it’s crucial to continually observe your dog’s body language and behavior.
“Those dogs showing obvious stress signs such as pinning back of the ears, trying to show avoidance, tail tucked, drooling, trying to retreat or get picked up by owners, hiding, yawning, lip licking and much more should be taken out of the situation immediately,” says Mundy. “These behaviors signal your dog is highly stressed and will eventually resort to more reactive behaviors to get other dogs or people to leave them alone if they feel avoidance does not work.”
If your pooch isn’t a dog park kinda guy, there are plenty of other stimulating options.
“Play in the back yard, go to other parks and reserves with your dog on a long training line and allow them to explore and do some training, have friends with dogs your dog likes come over to visit, go to private dog parks and recreation spots where you can hire the space to use with your friends and their dogs who your dog is more familiar with,” says Mundy. “You may find merely going for a walk in familiar areas could be what your dog truly enjoys.”