I'm not gonna lie.
I'm kind of opinionated.
I tend to keep my opinions to myself most of the time unless someone asks me for my thoughts; at which time they immediately regret asking.
I spent the last two posts telling you about one of the things I feel strongly about- puppy classes. If you missed it, then luckily you can go here and here to catch up.
Dog parks are another of those things that I feel strongly about. I feel very strongly that dog parks can be a GREAT opportunity for you and your dog to socialize and exercise, or a terrifying and dangerous place for you both. Why the extremes? Because dog parks can be very unpredictable, that's why.
Lets put this in human terms with a few different scenarios.
The first scenario is a birthday party for a close friend which naturally, you will gladly attend. You will know most of the guests in attendance and can easily converse and interact with them. You know who you like best and who you only talk to for a few minutes at a time. A good time is had by all, even the one guest who drinks a little too much and gets a bit loud towards the end of the evening. You all understand that he/she doesn't know they become such a close talker after a couple drinks, and otherwise they are a respectful, easy going person. This scenario is easy enough, you just take turns getting that person home safely and they apologize profusely the next day, but overall there is no harm done to anyone.
The second scenario is a work holiday party which you are ok attending, but you know it's more of a required duty for you all than an opportunity to get together and have a good time outside of the office. You make the obligatory rounds to the boss(es) and cordially greet everyone else along the way, being careful to remain professional. At the end of the night you realize you did have some fun, got a little fun gossip, and free refreshments for the minor hassle. There were a few people who got especially obnoxious by the end of the night, so cabs were called and the night ended with minimal offense and structural damage to the building. You leave the party tired and glad that it only happens once a year.
The third scenario is a party that your sister/brother drags you to because they want to go but don't want to show up all by their lonesome. You are really only there because you are being nice to the one person you know and you don't know anyone else there. You're not even sure you want to know anyone else there. Your sibling abandons you to go flirt with the real reason they are at the party and you are left alone counting the minutes until you can leave. You may find a few individuals who seem as out of place as you, but in the end it's an akward and lonely evening for you and you can't wait to get back home. You make your sibling promise to never torture you in such a manner ever again.
The fourth (and final) scenario is the mall on Black Friday. You were again dragged here by a friend or loved one, but you spend the whole time questioning this relationship. There are people everywhere, running, yelling and pushing. They run into you and you're pretty sure you were just pick-pocketed. You try desperately to cling to the one person you know in this madness; after all they have the car keys. She/he keeps telling you to go find something in a store that looks like an epicenter for the craziness so they can go to another store to find something even more important. You start pushing back and yelling because you can't take it anymore and it's getting hard to think, let alone hear which blender your friend needs. You end up grabbing an old lady's walker and throwing is across the store and just running out. She had it coming and you're 95% convinced that she just had it for sympathy anyway. As you walk out and breathe fresh air you are grateful that you don't have to navigate this parking lot, but can't understand how anyone can look forward to this every year. Regret for tossing the old lady's walker and screaming obscenities at strangers sets in and you want to curl up and sleep the rest of the week. You have vowed to lock yourself in your house next year to avoid all human contact on this day...maybe every day.
In my experience, dog park trips tend to fall into one of the above 4 scenarios. Some dogs will thrive in all of these scenarios, just as some people can go into a party where they know not a soul (or only one) and have the best night of their life. Unfortunately, this is not most dogs.
-Sometimes your dog is that person who gets to excited and annoys everyone.
-Sometimes your dog is the one who is squirming to get away and is counting down the minutes until it is time to leave.
-Sometimes your dog is so uneasy that she feels the need to defend herself with all these creatures she doesn't understand.
-Sometimes a dog park is full of friends and good times. These are the times when the park is a wonderful opportunity for the dog and dog parent- exercise, play and overall good times will ensue.
-Sometimes a dog park has some friends, but there is an underlying tension that keeps everyone from relaxing completely (maybe one individual in attendance is pressuring everyone in some way).
-Sometimes there are friends/family, but that one individual everyone tries to avoid because they are a little difficult to deal with due to social ineptness or annoying habits.
-Sometimes there are no friends, but your pup is able to make due avoiding just about everyone in attendance.
-Sometimes a dog park is a busy, confusing place where everyone else seems to have their own agenda and honestly, it is scary.
That is the answer I give when people ask me about dog parks. It can be a great place, it can be a scary place. It can be a few things in between as well. If you can take your dog to the park at the same time with the same dogs, and they all like one another (or at least know how to properly navigate each other) it's a good time had by all. If you show up with your dog on a Saturday morning with 20 other dogs that neither of you knows, it may be a bit stressful.
In addition to my long-winded answer, I tell people that there are great alternatives to dog parks if they are not something ideal for them and their pup. A group obedience class is a wonderful opportunity for socialization and exercise with people and other dogs (even though it's all on leash, there can still be opportunities for safe on leash interaction). A well run, organized, supervised doggie daycare that does assessments and places dogs in supervised play groups can also be a wonderful, safe play opportunity for your dog. Getting together with your sister/brother/aunt/uncle/parent/friend/coworker who has a dog your dog gets along with and letting them play off leash or go for a hike is another great play opportunity. What's the best way to determine whether your dog is happy or not? Watch your dog play. Is she happy when she gets there, but still able to listen long enough to get her leash off? Is she playing with her friends but taking occasional breaks to sniff around on her own or slurp up some water? She's probably ok. If your dog wanders off and never plays with other dogs or always clings to you or *eek* blunders up to every dog in sight like a charging bull (not a polite greeting in the canine world), you may need to rethink what's going on and if the dog park is your best option.
I'll go into detail later on about canine body language, but in the
meantime I'll refer you to one of my favorite books- Canine Body
Language: A Photographic Guide, by Brenda Aloff. This is absolutely one
of my favorite books and I end up referring it to my clients whose dogs
are sensitive, aggressive and fearful, but it can be helpful for any dog
A personal note: My dog would do one of two things in a dog park: play well with most of the dogs, but kind of harass everyone as she gets would up OR run up and grab onto someone's neck and hold on, having some trouble letting go. Oh Crap. Terrifying. For Everyone. The day she did that was one of the most terrifying and embarrassing days in my life. I had no idea she was even capable of doing such a thing, she had always played well as far as I knew and is the most gentle dog with people, especially kids. We hadn't had Roxie very long when this happened and honestly I did not know much about canine body language. Looking back, there were clues along the way that she was uncomfortable and the dog park was way too exciting for her. She's not safe to take to a dog park, so we don't. She is only off leash in the house, and if you passed us on a walk, you would only see a dog wagging her tail and looking at her human momma as you pass us. I think she prefers human company to dogs anyway, and she's great with our son, so she's doing ok without the dog park.
What has been your best/worst experience in a dog park?
Is your dog the annoying close talker that all the other dogs just put up with?