Why We Don't Do Dog Parks
Perhaps not a popular opinion, but here it is: we don’t do Dog Park. We don’t like Dog Park. We avoid Dog Park. There, I said it. Y’all come at me, I’m ready!
Being country dwellers, we don’t experience the challenges of locating a safe space for our dogs to burn off excess energy. We have the luxury of exercising our dogs and trainees right here at home, so going to a Dog Park has never been on our radar. We simply haven’t had a need for it. Until we did.
We made a cross country drive to visit my kiddo in Colorado a couple of months ago. Sister the Airedale came with us, and a four month old puppy too. Somewhere in Texas, we stopped to fuel up and use facilities, and I was pumped to see they had a fenced dog park. Until I saw it up close. Multiple signs reading “clean up after your dog” were clearly ignored. Eww. Just gross, y’all. Sister took two steps in the gate and turned around with pleading eyes. Please don’t make me go in there, it’s disgusting. Agreed, girl. Plan B.
Now I get it. This was not a city park maintained by tax payer dollars. This was a Love’s Truck Stop. But still. We didn’t want any part of it.
Our next dog park experience was a few days later in Colorado. My son has an adult sheepie, and he was dogsitting a vacationing friend’s goldendoodle. Off we go to the public dog park with the two of them, plus my two, all of whom had been cooped up for days (snow, snow and more snow), with a ton of pent up energy.
In the hour spent there, we saw two bonafide dog fights, and several brewing. Some of the dogs couldn’t even be seen by their owners, much less supervised. So many ignored poops, instead of proper removal and disposal. C’mon people. There are free poop bags at the entrance. Absolutely no excuse.
Sister the Airedale stayed on a leash almost the entire time. She’s not one to start sh!t, but she won’t take any either. The one bully who might decide to challenge her would be making an egregious error. I don’t want to see her injured, and I don’t want her to hurt someone else’s pet, so keeping her leashed and under firm control was the only answer. Sounds like a blast, huh?
Listen, there is nothing natural about dogs that aren’t familiar with one another to be put in large groups and expected to play together. You are not besties with every person you meet. It is completely unrealistic to expect a dog to love every other canine they come across.
Why we avoid the dog park:
Dog Park Bullies: many people bring their dogs to the park to burn off excess energy, but these dogs can display over-aroused and rude behavior that can trigger issues between dogs.
Owner Oversight: having your dog in a dog park requires trusting that everyone in the park is monitoring their dog, and is a good judge about whether their dog should be in the park in the first place. That’s a lot of trust to put in a stranger. Ahem, multiple strangers.
Injury: often, dog parks don’t have separate enclosures for large and small dogs, or when they do, owners can choose to disregard those spaces. Even in play with no aggression or malicious intent, a large dog can easily cause serious injury or even kill a smaller dog.
Disease: even clean and well maintained dog parks can pose health risks, in particular the spread of easily communicable diseases. Being an unregulated public space, there is no requirement for proof of vaccination. Again, putting too much trust in strangers.
Body Language: reading and understanding canine body language is key to assessing and supporting your dog’s comfort and safety. Subtle signs of fear or aggression include lip licking, yawning or panting when not hot, stiff posture and erect tails. A wagging tail does not always mean Let’s Be Friends, y’all. Watching for these signs can give you the edge to intervene on your dog’s behalf before an interaction with another dog escalates. But you can’t interpret your dog’s body language if you aren’t watching them - which is the biggest dog park problem we encountered.
So if dog parks are not appropriate venues, how do you socialize your new puppy? In terms of canine behavior, the term socialization isn’t just dogs interacting with other dogs, but rather, “the process of exposing young puppies under 20 weeks of age to new experiences.” The goal is instilling confidence and providing the tools to adapt to new situations.
In socializing young puppies, we aim to ensure they have only positive interactions, avoiding overwhelming ones. There are ways to do this without visiting a local dog park.
Friends and family are our first choice. People you know. People you have an established relationship with, and trust.
Doggy day care or play groups are often a solid option. Environments where participants are prescreened and supervised by canine professionals. (Read that again: Canine Professionals) Far safer than a public venue with no oversight.
Trainee BusyBee gets her share of canine socialization, just from being here at GVD. No shortage of doggos here. But to broaden her horizons, we like for her to meet strangers as well.
In the case of this photograph, she is meeting Hara for the first time. Hara is my father in law’s dog, so I know her. I know her temperament and her disposition, and I trust her with this puppy. Even so, introductions are always leashed with a human in control of each dog. Hara and Bee were fast friends, but it could’ve easily gone the other direction. Being prepared for either outcome is the key.
Dog parks just aren’t my thing. Feels like a ticking time bomb, and the risks just don’t outweigh any benefit in our experience. Running with dozens of strangers in a small, smelly pen as people stand by, looking at their phones or chatting up other dog owners - I see nothing but a recipe for disaster.
We prefer to make the time we have with a dog meaningful, enriching and enjoyable, rather than stressful for dog or for human. High Alert mode is no fun for anyone.
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