Dog parks are becoming more popular across the country. Are they a good thing? It really depends on a few factors. Is your dog easy going? Can you read your dog and other dogs to know if a problem might be right around the corner? Are you confident in your own abilities to handle any situation that might occur? Are you willing to risk your dog for the socialization? No bones about it, dog parks are a huge risk.
With all that said, I’m a fan of dog parks. I like to watch the dogs interact without a human yanking on their leash. I like to see my dogs ‘buttons’ in action. What are the triggers for my dog? I can learn this best by using a park, but using it wisely.
Today I took Jazz and Mocha to the new dog park here in town. It was the first time either had been to an off leash park. I prefer my dogs are exposed to a dog park when they are younger, but they are still young enough at one year of age to not to take another dogs reaction terribly wrong.
Mocha did fabulous. She’s always been a bit more dog aware than Jazz. She is a touch more reserved with dogs and much more reserved with people. This translates well to a park situation. She rarely invaded a dogs personal space bubble and if she did and they barked at her out of fear, she backed up.
Jazz was more of a challenge. Jazz has an extremely high prey drive. Running = chase = JOY!! She also gets over stimulated easily and takes a dogs panicked screechy barking to mean play or that she should investigate more, which causes a dog to screech more. I had to place Jazz in ‘time out’ 3 times during our hour stay. I’m sure with each trip she will improve, she was already grasping the concept. When I leashed her for the third time and told her to ‘Caaaaaalllmmm, Eaaaasssy, Reeellllaaaxxxx” she quickly took on a ‘zen’ look and was released from her stay calmly in less than a minute.
Here are my dog park tips:
1. Pull up and watch the dogs that are currently inside for a few minutes before you ever leave the car. See if there is a ‘bully’ or any bad behavior going on. If so, drive back home or take the dogs on a leashed hike somewhere else.
2. Leave your dog(s) on leash for a few minutes or the entire time if they can’t calm down. Do not let them off if they are acting like a fish on a line or barking and lunging. They must have it mentally together before being able to go play. There are a few reason’s for this. When on leash my dogs must behave, I don’t care what is going on in the world. If that means I spend their dog park time doing distraction obedience work, so be it. They have a choice. They can calm down and go play, or they can stay leashed and work. Second, if they are mentally unable to focus on leash, they will never listen to you off leash. Stay at a distance that your dog will listen to you. If they can’t listen you move them back from the excitement. Dogs are not stupid. They grasp you are going the wrong way when they act silly, and that if they act nice, you move toward what they want!
3. If you take more than one dog, release them one at a time and let them drag their leash. You will have a line to step on to stop them if they decide to play keep away or act badly. You only have one dog to watch and make sure they are not getting over stimulated or picked on. Once the first dog has run a bit, pick up their leash, then let the second dog go play. Once the ‘new’ has worn off the experience, you can release both dogs. Let them both drag their leashes until you are sure you have voice control.
4. Watch your dogs the ENTIRE time. This is not “Let my dogs run while I read a book or check email” time. A dog fight can happen pretty fast, but there is always some warning the situation is getting out of hand. Jazz, Mocha, and two other dogs were chasing a new dog that someone brought in, The new people did not bring their dog in on leash, to let the other dogs get use to them first. The new dog went from having fun, to concerned, and was quickly heading to panic. I went over and pulled Jazz and Mocha off the chase. I leashed Jazz and made her do obedience because she was going into ‘crazy dog’ mode. Mocha was fine once I interrupted the chase. The other two dogs lost interest because the new dogs panic level dropped once half the problem was removed. The dog who was being chased came over to see Jazz and Mocha and they all were fine, but if I had not interrupted them, who knows what would have happened.
5. Use ‘time outs’. Remind your dog that they behave calmly and can’t run around barking and acting like a nut. If they are to rough, remove them from the situation. If they can’t grasp what they are doing wrong, you are not doing a long enough break to calm their mind. They stay on leash until they are calm and focused. If they aren’t calm and focused, you move them away until they are, and that might be well outside the dog park fence. There will be a point where they can watch the other dogs play, but still listen to you.
6. Know your dog. Some dogs can NEVER go to a dog park. Merlot was one such dog. He was domineering, he was big, and he was extremely prey driven. He never ‘attacked’ a dog, but he rolled many dogs and felt they all should bow to his will. He was also a rough player and extremely mouthy. All bad combinations. Even my own dogs hated playing with Merlot when he would get a wild hair. Flash can’t go now either. He went all the time the first few years of his life, but he had several bad experiences with my sisters male dog, resulting in some major slashes on his neck. They got into a serious fight several years ago and I just can’t trust he won’t react poorly in a pinch. Flash is a little bit of a bully at times. If your dog has ever been in a dog fight, be they the attacker or the attacked, dog park is really bad idea. The experience can trigger the time they were attacked and they might snap or panic and cause other dogs to react instinctively to ‘injured prey’. If your dog has triggers that you can’t pull them out of (think of it as a flashback), I would not go to a dog park.
7. Bring a really high value treat. Grilled chicken is great. Show the dogs you have it before you go in. Sure, the park might be totally fun, but if you call them over, giving them a treat for leaving whatever they were doing is a nice bonus.
Before you ever go to the off leash park, you should work off leash obedience, especially a ‘come on’ or ‘here’ command. Not ‘COME’, which to my dogs means sit in front of me. “come on” means they need to leave what they are doing and get near me.
Lastly, you can’t control other people. If you get there and see there is a problem dog (problem owner I should say) and the owner isn’t making that dog go into ‘time out’ for being obnoxious, leave or go sit in the car until the problem person leaves.
The socialization and experience of a dog park is great fun for both people and dogs. Once your dog has been a few times, the new will wear off and they will know the rules if you are ‘firm but fair’ in your training. I don’t let my kids throw sand at the park. I don’t let me kids push or hit other kids. If there are kids doing those things, we leave. Why in the world would I let my dog be rough or crazy with other dogs, and why would I force my dog to endure such behavior in turn??
Here is a one minute video from today’s visit.