You want to tap into the benefits of having a well-socialized dog, and give your four-legged family member a full and robust social life. You are ready to get out there, let your dog into a park, and let ’em rip. Hold your horses, or er, dogs, for a moment.
Before releasing your pooch into the chaos of a dog park, they need to be prepared beforehand.
Dog parks are the ideal place to practice social skills, but not learn them.
These skills range from knowing how to heed another dog’s mild warning (such as a curled lip) to not being a complete jerk (bowling over smaller dogs or jumping up on strangers). Once they get the basic social skills and mannerisms down, they can safely navigate this new environment.
Once those handy basics have been established, it’s time to consider if your pooch is suitable for a romp in the park.
If your dog is scared of other dogs or likes picking fights, the dog park is not the right place for them. As mentioned before, dog parks can’t be used to correct these issues. A shy, fearful dog won’t magically become an extroverted butterfly at a park. Behavior won’t improve if they keep practicing the wrong behavior. In these cases, it’s best to work out these social issues in a safe, controlled environment before considering park adventures.
According to trainer Jolanta Benal, author of “The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet“, some socially mature dogs may not enjoy parks. Dog’s reach social maturity between one and three years, and when they reach maturity it’s normal for them to not play as much, or have as much interest in meeting and playing with new dogs. This is perfectly normal. Not every healthy social person enjoys a big party with strangers, and the same goes for canines. Sometimes a walk with familiar canine or human friends may be all the socialization they need. Each dog is different. If your five-year-old still likes wrestling with new friends or playing fetch, then a dog park is a great fit. If you live in an urban area, and the park is the only place where your dog can roam leash-free (and your dog loves it) then go for it!
Puppies and adolescents are more prone to playing with others and open to meeting new friends. For a puppy in the optimal socialization period (roughly between seven weeks to four months of age), it’s important to give them a good impression of meeting strangers both furry and human. Start small by having play dates before introducing them to a park. Puppy play dates can be arranged through friends and puppy play groups are offered by some trainers.The AKC recommends taking pups to the park when they are at least four months old. By this time, they will have a decent chunk of their vaccinations done.
Dog parks are a great way for the young to burn off some energy and learn how to interact with different dogs. According to the Humane Society, these interactions can prevent dog aggression when they become full adults.
With all this info, look at your pooch and determine if they are ready.
- Do they have social skills?
- Would they enjoy the park?
- If it’s a yes to both of these, then go for it!