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Dog parks: how to choose the best of them

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Un parque para perros puede ser un lugar ideal para fomentar la socialización de tu compañero canino, pero también puede convertirse en un lugar lleno de riesgos. Todo depende de qué parque escojas, a qué hora vayas, cómo manejes cada situación y, sobre todo, de qué tipo de temperamento tenga tu perro.

A dog park can be an ideal place for the socialisation of your canine friend, but it can also become somewhere that’s full of potential risks. It all depends on which park you choose, what time you go there, how you manage the situation, and above all on your dog’s temperament. 

If you want to try an interesting experiment, take some time one day to spend a good while watching the ways dogs play at a dog park. No doubt you’ll be able to spot different behaviour profiles:

  • Dogs who feel comfortable in the park and who enjoy the ‘rush hour crowds’.  
  • Dogs who don’t seem so keen on the place, but whose humans take them there, thinking that it's an opportunity for them to socialise. 
  • Dogs who constantly create conflict in their interactions with other dogs. 
  • Shy dogs who play discreetly with a particular group of canine friends.
  • Puppies who are learning to relate to other dogs. 
  • Etc. 

But, of all these profiles which ones are good for visits to dog parks? 

Although dogs are by nature a social species, and it’s important for them to relate to others of their own kind, a dog park isn’t necessarily the best option. It all depends on the factors we’re going to take a look at now. 
 

 

How do you know whether or not the dog park is a good place for your particular canine friend? 

Not all dogs are quite so keen on contact with other dogs. Some of the reasons for this are: 

  • Fear and insecurity: some dogs are shy or insecure. Others will have been poorly socialised at the puppy stage, and so weren't able to learn about ‘canine social rules’ when they should have (the socialisation period, and the first year of their lives). This can lead to them feeling uncomfortable in a dog park, they may feel inhibited, or respond aggressively in their interactions with other dogs. 
  • Lack of interest: some dogs simply aren’t particularly interested in socialising with others every day. It’s the same with us humans, some people are more sociable than others. It’s good to respect your dog’s preferences, and not to make him spend time in a dog park if he doesn't like it. 
  • Age: as dogs get older, they sometimes lose the interest they used to have in making canine friends, preferring short interactions with other dogs, or taking their walks on their own. At times this is because they’re in physical pain, and so can’t play in the way that they did before. 

If your dog doesn’t enjoy the dog park, then don’t take him there. You can look for other, less crowded places where he’ll feel more secure when he wants to socialise. Alternatively, just go for a walk with him on your own. 

Dogs who are scared, or who feel insecure with other dogs 

If you want to help him to overcome his fears, a dog park can be a good place for it, provided you take the following into account: 

  • Choose a time when there aren’t too many other dogs: don’t go at peak times, as this is when most conflicts tend to arise. 
  • Make sure that the other dogs are calm and balanced: if your dog is insecure, the last thing he needs is to relate to a conflictive dog.
  • When you arrive at the dog park, talk to the other people there and explain that your dog is learning to overcome his fears - that way they’ll be more understanding and supportive. 
  • Make sure that he has an escape route if he doesn’t want to go on playing, or you feel that he’s had enough. Take him away from the uncomfortable situation before he reaches his tolerance threshold, as if not this could make him even more frightened or insecure. 
  • Get expert help: any behaviour moderation therapy should always be carried out under the guidance of a canine behaviour expert.

Risks to take into account at the dog park 

  • Too many dogs: The busy times are also the times when there’s most conflict, as when a lot of dogs come together in a closed space, the chances of conflict arising increase. 
  • Toys: sometimes toys can start a fight. Some dogs are very possessive, and can’t stand others getting too close to their ‘valuable resources’.  So you need to stay alert and keep an eye out for any possible conflict. And as far as possible avoid things like balls, sticks, teethers etc. 
  • It’s a closed area with no escape route: dog parks tend to be in fenced off areas, and have concrete limits. This reduces the possibility of being able to avoid conflict.  
  • Arrival at the park: one of the highest risk situations at a dog park is when you arrive there, Very often a lot of the dogs who are already at the park will run over to check out the newcomer. This can be worrying for shy, insecure dogs, and may even provoke an aggressive reaction. In order to avoid this, make sure that you put yourself physically between your own dog and the rest of them, creating a barrier with your body, and then walk calmly towards one side of the park, allowing the tension to dissolve, together with some of the interest in the newcomer.  

Taking a puppy to the dog park

If your dog is a puppy, the socialisation process during this first stage of his life is particularly important. For this reason, canine ethologist Alba Benítez reminds us that:  

‘The sort of encounters and interactions a puppy has with other dogs during the socialisation period and throughout his puppyhood will influence his ability to relate positively to other dogs when he grows up. This is why it's so important to find the right balance between socialising your puppy and overwhelming him with exposure to other dogs’.
 

So… is it a thumbs up or a thumbs down for the dog park?

As long as you keep the points we’ve explained in this article in mind, a dog park can be a safe and appropriate place for socialising your dog. It’s a good idea to take him there on a daily basis so that he can create his own group of canine friends. Dogs establish stable affective relationships (lasting socio-affective bonds) with other dogs, and this is part of their social nature. It's good to allow your dog to form these relationships, and to enjoy them.


 

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