By: Jackie Comitino, founder and owner of Back to Balance Training & Rehabilitation
Dog Parks are Dangerous.
I was trying to keep this short but there’s a lot of information that needs to be put out there so that communities of dog owners can be properly informed.
I have been training dogs professionally for 7 years now, and have helped a lot of families who were struggling with their dog(s). I am not a fan of dog parks. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another trainer that is. Every couple of days I get an email from someone asking for help with their dog who was attacked at a dog park. Now their dog attacks any dog they see, or now their dog is fearful of dogs. The list goes on and on. You may think that this is pretty extreme, but it’s actually very common and can absolutely be avoided.
The concept of dog parks is well intended. I mean who can argue with a place where dogs can run free and play with each other? Space is at a premium and many people lack large fenced-in yards where their dogs can safely play. I get it. But the problem is that dog parks aren’t a safe place to play either. Here’s why.
Untrained Dogs One of the biggest problems at dog parks is the lack of trained dogs. While many owners think their dogs are trained, they soon find out that they can’t catch their dog when it’s running from them at the dog park; and they certainly aren’t going to come when called. This poses a variety of problems, because an uncontrolled dog is always at risk for starting or getting into fights, or even escaping the park. Listen, if your dog doesn’t listen to you at home, they certainly will not listen to you at a dog park.
Irresponsible & Oblivious Owners Oblivious owners are the biggest problem when it comes to dog ownership. Many owners don’t understand how to read basic dog behavior and often think their dogs are never displaying any signs of aggression, nervousness or bullying. In fact, a large number of dogs that frequent dogparks do lack social skills. These are the dogs that bully other dogs while their owners think they’re just trying to play. Dogs that mount other dogs often are also typically displaying signs of insecurity and trying to prove dominance over the rest of the group. Even if you have a shy, sweet dog, you’d be surprised how quickly they’ll attack when they feel overwhelmed with fear by a group of dogs running to greet them (not to mention how your dog will lose trust in you for even bringing him into that situation and expecting him to defend himself). The biggest issue when dealing with other dogs and owners is that we really just can’t trust what they know and how much reliable training their dogs have actually had. The question regarding responsible humans is probably the most important one. I’ve been to a few dog parks and what makes me most nervous is how oblivious the people are. It really seems more like a cafe with a playground for dogs than anything else. People believe bringing their dog to a dog park will socialize their dogs while they sip on their coffee or text their friends, that’s just a recipe for disaster. Socializing is actively done in a controlled environment with balanced dogs…not at a dog park.
Sick Dogs We can never be sure all of the dogs visiting the dog park are healthy and many owners have no idea their dogs are even sick. Things like kennel cough, fleas, giardia and other parasites can easily be spread at dog parks. After all, it only takes sharing of water or exposure to other dog’s fecal matter to catch something. Further, many people will bring dogs that might not be up to date on vaccinations or young puppies that haven’t had their full series yet, meaning exposure to more dangerous diseases for your dog. It should go without saying that bringing a puppy to the dog park is definitely a bad idea, for this very reason.
Resource Guarding / Known behavior issues Many owners think it’s funny when their dogs refuse to share toys, but this could create problems, especially at a dog park. Even if your dog doesn’t have problems sharing toys and food with dogs they know, you might find that fights break out very easily at dog parks when they’re surrounded by strange dogs trying to take their prize possessions. If you are a dog owner that knows your dog has some behavior issues, bringing them to a dog park will not fix those issues. It will only make it worse and could result in your dog getting seriously hurt or hurting another dog. Contact a balanced trainer to get that sorted out.
What’s the alternative? You have a few: • Find people you trust that have dogs you trust and set up play dates. • Go to a park, a school or a beach, play a game of fetch or let them run off leash there. Or skip playing with other dogs and just play with him yourself. As long as your dog was properly socialized as a pup, your dog doesn’t need to constantly be around other dogs. Dog parks aren’t going to socialize your dog. If you have adopted an older dog and want to sharpen your dogs social skills, hire a trainer that runs class socials.
If I still haven’t convinced you and you still plan on bringing your dog there, please consider these suggestions:
• Get your dog remote collar trained. Remote collar training is one of the best tools out there to get your dog 100% off leash reliable. If you aren’t sure how to get started contact a balanced trainer. Or if you want to remote collar train your dog yourself, purchase a good quality remote collar (Dogtra or E-Collar Technologies) and there are a bunch of free how-to tutorials on YouTube.
• Wait outside the dog park and take note of who is already there. Does that owner have control of her dog? Does her dog look pushy? Are there too many dogs there? Probably best to leave and come back at an off time, because remember, you are about to bring your dog into that situation.
• Advocate for your dog! Don’t get offended if someone else corrects your dog and do not hesitate to correct someone else’s. If your dog is bullying my dog, I will step in and advocate for my dog. That might be verbally or that might mean physically stepping in to create more space for your dog.
• Work your dog outside of the park! You can use the park to your advantage without even going in. if you are actively training your dog you can use the park as a distraction to proof obedience commands. Establishing even better rock solid obedience, and a deeper bond and trust with your dog.