We get a lot of questions about dog parks and whether they are good or bad for dogs. It is not always a simple question to answer. Dog parks, like dog daycares, can be good for many dogs but they aren’t always a positive experience for some. It can depend on each individual dog; their temperament, personality and past experiences. It can also depend on who else is at the dog park and how responsible the dog owners are.
Dog parks can provide an excellent energy outlet for dogs and give dogs a fun way to meet new people and other dogs. Off-leash play allows dogs to run and explore their environment and dog parks often provide the locale to do so safely. Dog parks should be used for the right reasons and with the right dogs.
Not every dog belongs at a dog park and being good at the dog park is not mandatory for every dog. There are three main groups of dogs that should not be at the dog park.
The first group is the adult dog that is not well socialized and may growl or snap at other dogs. Dog parks are great for well socialized and friendly dogs but a dog park is not where you should take an adult dog that needs socialization. In a dog park, you can’t control the interactions between dogs and sometimes the uncontrolled exposure can cause the behaviours you are trying to improve become worse. What is really needed in these cases is a very controlled exposure to carefully selected dogs along with positive reinforcement behaviour modification. A competent and knowledgeable trainer or behaviourist will be able to help with this.
Another group of dogs that don’t belong at the dog park are the fearful dogs. A dog that hides behind the owner’s legs, under the bench , behind a rock or just sits trembling and not playing is not having any fun. If the dog isn’t having fun, they shouldn’t be at the dog park.
Some dogs are a bit aggressive in their play. Dogs have different play styles and it is important to match them with appropriate playmates. However, any dog that pins, rolls or knocks over other dogs all the time is being a bully and they should not be allowed to practice this kind of bad behaviour. Good dog play is fun for all the dogs interacting. Good dog play is where the dogs take turns chasing or rolling around on the ground. If this isn’t happening, then there is a good chance that at least one of the playmates isn’t having fun.
If you have one of these types of dogs it may be better to find another energy outlet for your dog. There are other environments that may work better. Take a hike alone, do training such as agility, Rally or nose work, or just hang out at home. There is no reason every dog needs to go to the dog park. The most important thing is that you choose the best activity for your individual dog.