Is a Dog Park the Right Place to Socialize Your Dog?

Is a Dog Park the Right Place to Socialize Your Dog?

Dogs are so much better teachers of what is and what is not appropriate amongst each other than we could ever be.  Dogs learn from each other, so when a young dog or puppy is learning the correct body cues and greeting process, it’s extremely valuable to have a nice pool of dogs to pull from.   More and more dog parks are popping up across the country and they seem to be very popular, especially the dog parks here in the Austin area.  The idea of a fenced in area that is dedicated to dog play sounds like a great idea; your dog can play with other dogs, run around and get tired.  To many, a dog park would seem like a great place to have your young dog play with other dogs, right?

There are tons of great dogs in dog parks, however, some dogs have their limitations and not everyone follows dog park etiquette and issues often arise.  As they say, one bad apple…

Over the years we have personally witnessed many dog bites, tons of inappropriate dog to dog behavior, incessant humping, resource guarding, and a laundry list of other occurrences that you would not want your dog exposed to.  We have seen owners drop their dogs off at the park and then get in the cars only to return an hour later.

However, the best worst stories has to be about a dog that we will call “Spot”.  Spot and his human frequented the same park that we visited a lot.  Spot was very intense, over the top, edgy, and often got into scuffles.  All of a sudden, Spot and his human stopped going to the dog park and we hadn’t seen them in about a month.  One day, Spot shows back up at the dog park and I struck up a conversation with his human.  Spot’s absence from the park was attributed to the grand opening of another dog park that was much closer to his home which is where they had been for the past few weeks.  I casually asked why they decided to return to this park being that it was much further from his home.  Spot’s human informed me that they were recently banned from the other park because Spot had killed another dog at the park.  Even with a kill, Spot’s human decided that it would still be appropriate to subject other dogs to his extremely dangerous dog.

Thankfully, extreme cases like this are not common.  Even still, it takes a group of extremely well-balanced dogs to help a new dog socialize properly.  So to answer the original question in the title of this article:  No, it is my opinion, that a dog park is not the proper place to socialize a dog.  A dog who is already social will absolutely benefit from an environment like this.  However, I would not want my dog learning what is and what is not appropriate from the, sometimes, motley crew at dog parks.

Here are some tips for socialization ideas that don’t involve dog parks:

  • Consider visiting a doggie day care with a screening process and staff on hand to manage and interrupt unwanted behaviors.
  • Get your dog around other social dogs owned by trusted friends and neighbors.
  • All puppy training classes should incorporate social/playtime into their classes, consider enrolling.
  • If you are an Unleashed Unlimited training client, come to our Group Play classes.


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