Ask most professional dog trainers what they think of dog parks and they will usually tell you that they are “bad news”.  Why is it so you may ask?  It probably has something to do with trainers getting calls about certain reactive (aggressive) dogs.  These dogs were previously fine with other dogs until…….

“one day at the dog park it got into a fight with another dog”

and ever since it is either a: reactive to all dogs or b: specific types of dog either size , breed, look etc.

So why are dog parks “bad news”?

Some considerations.

Not every dog is suited to a dog park and that is ok.  Being an 80’s wham, duran duran type of guy I am not suited to the doof doof music of a rave party and do you know what? it’s ok.  There are different strokes for different folks.  The same goes with dogs.  The problem is not that some dogs are not suitable for dog parks the problem is that some PEOPLE take those dogs to the dog park!

Some people have an inkling that their dog is reactive to other dogs and will use the dog park as a TESTING GROUND to see if it is the actual case.  I am not kidding you.

Some people consider the dog park, their park and subject to their rules.  These people believe that within the confines of their park, that the law of the land does not apply.  Yes these people are even so bold as to display their own rules at the entry of the park.  What these people don’t realise is that local councils have rules governing the use of dog parks which are markedly different to theirs if they ever bothered to look.
Dogs at off leash parks still require supervision as even dogs that are suitable for dog parks may still find that they may get into trouble.  Literally it is no different to a kids playground.  Kids need to be supervised and if things look like they are heading south it is time to intervene.
The weekend warriors.  These are the people who do not exercise their dogs at all during the week and take their dog to the dog park on the weekend to run a muck.  This under exercised, under stimulated dog is full of beans and can find himself getting in other dogs and peoples faces!
The dominant dog.  This dog runs like a bull out of a gate towards another dog and stands face to face or tees across the shoulders and stands as tall as it possibly can.  Most times I have seen this nothing happens because the other dog submits.  It is still unacceptable behaviour from the charging dog.
The opinionated dog trainer.  Watch out for this one! and yes that’s me.  When I go to the dog park, yes I occasionally take my collies, I see so many potential time bombs that I find it hard to keep my mouth closed.  Yes I have learned the hard way, still opinionated but button the lip.   I see two, three dogs(pack/mob mentality) on one, this is not balanced play and the dog being chased is clearly not enjoying it…all this is oblivious to the owner whose attention is elsewhere.  Wrestling…unless the dogs are evenly matched in temperment and build/size then your asking for a disaster.  If not matched there will be an underdog, and underdogs can and will lash out if it feels overwhelmed or threatened.
The humper.  This type of dog, well, likes to hump anything and everything.  Despite the constant pleas from the owner he  just keeps on a humping.  The danger here is beside it being just down right rude is that it may hump the wrong dog and learn the lesson of its life.  Unfortunately the owner of the dog who dishes out the good manners lesson will probably be the one up for the vet bill.
Dog parks by nature are an environment in which you have little or no control simply because the dogs are not on lead.
So that’s the bad side of dog parks and if you were to read between the lines you would find that dogs aren’t the problem at dog parks.  People are.  People need to assess whether they have a social dog who enjoys the company of other dogs.  If not then don’t take your dog to a dog park, it really is that simple.  Your dog will not hold it against you if you never step inside a dog park.  So stop putting pressure on yourself.  Take your dog for a good long walk on lead.  He will love it just a much.  Even if your dog is the social type he will not hold it against you if he never goes to an off leash park.  Remember every dog is different, so know your dogs strengths and weaknesses, know what you can change and what you can’t.
So you are probably thinking where is the good.  You’ve shown me the bad and the ugly.  Here is the good.  
From what I have observed. although incidents invariably happen they are rare and when you consider 30 to 50 dogs roaming around an enclosure off lead and the dogs aren’t trying to kill each other really is an amazing thing.  What a testimony to the owners and breeders in socialising their dogs.  Such a scene would certainly be unheard of thirty to forty years ago!  
So am I saying to never take your dog to a dog park.  Certainly not.  I take my dogs to the dog park now and then for something different but I am aware of the hazards, are you?  and I do have social dogs, do you? and even though I have social dogs I am aware of their strengths and weaknesses and I am prepared to intervene should I see them in an uncomfortable position, would you?
If you answered yes to the above then you are cool to cruise and enjoy an off leash park, if you answered no then you might want to give it a miss.
Dog parks, the good, the bad, the ugly!

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