My clients ask me everyday if there is a solution to the chaos at dog parks and if I would recommend them. My answer is no and definitely not! There are a few reasons why I never take my own dogs to dog parks and I will explain them in detail in this handout.
While dog parks were a good idea, they have become a common place for dogs to run amuck and do as they please. The normal picture at a dog park is a group of owners gathered together drinking coffee and talking to each other or an owner sitting on a bench reading a book. A very small percentage of owners are actually watching their dogs. Dog parks were originally set up for canine socialization purposes. The rules were your dog must be on leash and you had to have control of your pet.
People think socialization means letting their dogs roughhouse with other dogs. This is not proper canine socialization. Adult dogs play rough for one purpose, to gain rank. Now, some people may say that dogs play rough naturally and they will with their littermates. When they are puppies, they learn how to soften their bite, when it is acceptable to play, and when it is too much. Again, they are told when it is acceptable & when playtime is over! Your dog’s mom had complete control over her litter and would not allow vocal rough play. Most people do not understand pack structure or body language and therefore, should not be allowing rough play with other dogs. Allowing rough play at dog parks is about as foolish as thinking you can let children fist fight to get them socialized. You would not let that happen, so why let your dogs fight?
Dog parks are not a proper place to exercise your dog. I have some clients who strictly use them to exhaust their dogs. The reason most dogs are exhausted is due to the high stress levels. Taking your dog to a dog park for exercise creates dog fights because if you take a dog that has been pent up all day or all week and let them loose among other dogs with the same problem, you are bound to have a serious dog fight due to high frustration levels. Picture a child at a playground. If you kept your child isolated all day or all week and let them run loose without any rules, you could imagine what would happen? I have some clients who tell me their dogs never really run around with the other dogs at a park, they tend to stay with the owner and not “socialize”. They think there is something wrong with their dog; the common phrase I hear is they are “socially challenged” or a “loner”. My answer is these dogs understand what is inevitably going to happen. They are reading the body language of other dogs and are staying clear of the unstable behaviors and pre-fighting stances.
In normal pack structure, there is always a “top” dog. If you have more then one dominant male or female at the park, they will constantly be “t-ing off” (a body posture that displays dominance) or mounting each other. These are not signs of play! These are signs of 2 dogs battling for the “top dog” position. If one of them relinquishes then no fight between them will occur, however; the next dog in line becomes the target for the loser. The 2 original challenging dogs will more than likely keep at it over and over again to get the higher rank. This type of pack structure is also the reason so many small “weak” dogs get attacked. I have a client who insists on taking his dog/dog aggressive dog to a dog park even after I recommended he keep the dog on a leash and avoids dog parks. Recently, he contacted me to tell me that his 175 lb. dog had picked up a 10 lb. dog and violently thrashed it around “thinking it was a squeak toy” (words he used). His dog really did not mistake it for a squeak toy. His dog was reacting to a challenge for a Frisbee (which really was not his, but anything at this park his dog claimed because he was the “top dog”). Even after this incident, the owner takes him off leash to dog parks. He admits he never watches him and usually spends his time there socializing with other owners. Is this fair to the other dogs? Of course not, but unfortunately, it happens on a daily basis.
Your dog should be getting exercise with a good, controlled, military style walk. This is healthier for them mentally and gains you more respect as well as a stronger bond. Socialization can be done on leash in a controlled setting. Walk together or go to a pet friendly pet store. Your dog will be happier without the fighting and will see you are in control rather then the other dogs at a park.
If you feel your dog needs to play off leash with other dogs then have a play date with compatible dogs in a controlled environment. As long as you can call your dog and the other dog out of play and there is no dominance displayed, you are in good shape.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at 512-402-4229 or email us at
Tara, Brandie & the “pack”