The dog park is yet another topic that can provide a lot of discussion and disagreement in the dog world. Is it good? Is it bad? Is the dog park right for you and, more importantly, your dog?
I have heard and read lots of opinions from both sides of the dog park debate; dog owners, professionals within the dog training community, city park officials, etc., but ultimately there is no single answer... it's up to you to decide whether the park setting is going to be the right for you and your dog.
Two common reasons for having and using dog parks:
A place for dogs to socialize with each other.
Many urban/suburban dwellers do not have adequate space to exercise their dog, so the dog park becomes a replacement for their lack of a back yard.
Two common concerns about dog parks:
Inter-canine aggression which could lead to injury or the death of a dog, as well as injury to an owner trying to separate fighting dogs.
Health issues passed from one dog to another, and from feces on the ground.
My personal opinion is this: A dog park is only as good as the people and the dogs who utilize it, because the reality of the dog park is that it's a dynamic and ever-changing environment.
Due to this, the suitability of the park can change hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute and even second-by-second. It's all dependent on who is using the park at any given moment.
Dog Park Precautions
All it takes is one dog with too much pent-up energy to create a chain reaction amongst other dogs. Even if your purpose for going to the park is for exercise, the less pent-up energy your dog has the better, so take your dog for a walk around the block before entering the park. Anxiety or high arousal in your dog can cause problems so, again, the more relaxed your dog is the better.
If you're nervous or unsure about going to a dog park it's probably best that you don't go. Your anxiousness can transfer to your dog which can, in turn, create problems with other dogs in the park.
The dog park is supposed to be a place for well-socialized dogs - not a place for dogs to learn how to socialize, or for dogs that are aggressive or fearful. Before you enter the park take a few minutes to observe who is in the park and what is taking place within it. Observe the dogs and observe the owners, then decide whether you think the environment is suitable for you and your dog. If you're not comfortable with the environment... leave.
Stay on the move within the park and guide your dog to areas where you witness appropriate social behaviours and where you see owners being vigilant and responsible for their dogs. Dogs will generally settle minor squabbles amongst themselves but, as your dog's guardian, you should still maintain a relaxed but vigilant presence and intervene if you see your dog acting in an inappropriate manner, or if your dog is under threat.
Many dog parks do not permit dogs to be on-leash within the park because a restrained dog may become stressed and feel threatened when approached by other dogs. Regardless, you should always carry your leash with you in case you need it in an emergency.
You may be required to break up a dog fight. Would you know what to do? It is advisable to prepare yourself in advance.
Basic Dog Park Etiquette
The dog park is not a place for aggressive or under-socialized dogs.
The dog park is not the place for a fearful dog.
Clean up after your dog and repair any damage that it causes (such as filling in holes).
Don't take a female dog that is in heat.
The park is not a place for you to socialize - remain vigilant and prevent problems before they begin by chaperoning your dog's interactions with other dogs.
Toys and treats can lead to competition or resource guarding, which can trigger aggression between dogs.
The dog park is not a playground for children. If children are in attendance they should be properly educated about dogs and properly supervised.
Make New Friends
If your dog makes a friend (or friends) at the park why not introduce yourself to the owner(s) and see if you can arrange a future meeting at the park. What better way to create a good environment for future visits to the park than creating a 'play date' with dogs that yours feels comfortable with?
Still Not Sure If The Dog Park Is Right For You?
If you're still not sure whether the dog park is right for you and your dog, take a trip down to your local park to check it out and talk to some of the users.
At the end of the day, the most important factor is whether your dog enjoys the park setting. In the event that the park is not the right fit for your dog, there are still plenty of things you can do with your dog... and your dog's life is not going to be ruined if it's never introduced to that setting.