Jul 29, 2014

Dog Parks – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Proper socialization, supervision are the keys to happy play!

Dog Parks – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Dog Parks – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


The approach of spring means more time outside for both people and their dogs.

On any warm weekend the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff communities are teeming with dogs and owners, many looking for opportunities to socialize. Dog parks offer both a chance to interact, enjoy the outdoors, and take a break from the work week.

Visiting the dog park can be a wonderful way for your dog to obtain sustained exercise. Most dog parks are fenced on the perimeter, with many offering smaller enclosed areas within them. Ponds and streams offer water enthusiasts a chance to splash and play; activities which they might not be able to participate in otherwise. Unspent energy is often the root of destructive chewing, barking, and other problem behaviors.  

Dog parks are also a wonderful place for dogs with proper social skills to interact with others. Most dogs live in a world where their social structure and playtime revolves around the human’s desires and schedule. A trip to the dog park offers the dog a chance to interact with its own species, often without human interference.

While the dog park signals fun and games for many dogs, it is important to remember that not every dog has the social background to enjoy interactions with unfamiliar dogs. Dogs that were not properly socialized during the first 20 weeks of life may not have the foundation for playing with others.

Even properly socialized dogs, those that have had positive experiences with a variety of other dogs, can have trouble playing with dogs whose skill set for social play is poor. One or two “bad” experiences from your dog’s perspective are enough to change a fun play space into a nightmare.

So how do you know if your dog is a good candidate for play in public?

Here are some things to consider before you visit the dog beach or dog park:

  • If your dog attended a puppy socialization class and enjoyed playing with a variety of other puppies, he might enjoy the dog park.
  • If your dog has a solid foundation of basic obedience you might enjoy taking him there (can you call him to come to you, effectively interrupting play?)
  • If you can tolerate muddy paw prints in your car, you might be ready to take your dog to the dog park.
  • If you are not fazed by dog play involving tackles, mouth games, vocalization (including growling), and tug of war with objects in the environment (sticks and small furry animals), you might be ready to visit the dog park.

Some challenges you might encounter at the dog park:

  • Owners who are there for their social benefit and fail to supervise their own dogs. Play between unfamiliar dogs can, and sometimes does, turn into a social squabble quickly.
  • You should always be aware of where your dog is and what he is doing. Interrupting play by calling your dog, and rewarding your dog for checking in with you, is always a good idea.
  • Some owners also mistakenly believe that by taking their dog to the beach or dog park, they will help their dog overcome socially aggressive behavior. They unfortunately hope that repeated exposure to other dogs will somehow “break” their dog’s aggression.
  • This is often dangerous and can result in injuries to one or more dogs. Dog to dog aggression is one of the most difficult behaviors to change without help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist.

Now that the days are longer get out and play with your dog! Enjoy the outdoors, but play responsibly!

Don’t miss updates from Patch!