Dog Training

The Case Against Dog Parks

german shepherd dog playing at dog parks

What Purpose Do Dog Parks Serve?

The general idea behind dog parks is that they are a place where dog owners with little space at home can go to get the dogs the exercise and play that they need.

white german shepherd playing with smaller dog

It would appear to be the ideal spot for those who live in the heart of the city or in an apartment complex.

Another common notion is that dog parks are a place where dogs can go to socialize, and it is there where the biggest issue tends to come to light.

Dog Parks and their Inherent Dangers

white german shepherd dog

It is worth noting that the basic premise of dog parks is one that was well-intended, but which doesn’t work so well in an off-leash setting.

It is not the fault of the dogs, but rather the owners who have no knowledge of the pack culture of dogs. That essentially boils down to well-behaved dogs being allowed to get out of control.

Very few owners take the time to learn about how pack structure with dogs works.

5 dogs at dog park

Pack instinct is something that is totally foreign to the average owner, but it is something that is built into the DNA of every dog. That instinct goes to the next level at the dog park.

There will be dogs that go to the park every day, and it is those animals that are likely to look at a new dog as being one that is essentially invading their territory.

They don’t view this new dog as a buddy, but rather as an enemy who may have to be dealt with aggressively.

The Formation of Packs in the Park

german shepherd playing in dog parks

It only takes 3 or more dogs to form a pack, which is not that difficult at the dog park.

They will essentially become a pack without a leader, which is what the human role should be. That leads them to build a pecking order within the group, which is where many of the problems start to take shape.

The end result of this need for a rank is that the dogs will take to fighting one another.

You make a critical mistake as an owner by merely assuming that every dog in the park will be as well trained and obedient as yours.

Seeing a dog that plays well with others is not a sign that he will play with yours in the same way.

The dogs that are playing together may have already settled on rank, which means the introduction of your dog to the group upsets that apple cart.

german shepherd playing with stick

Your pet will be blissfully unaware of the pack rules in place and could lead to problems. Your dog may fight the leader, causing the rest of the pack to jump in and help their pack buddy.

You will often hear people complain that their dog is constantly shying away from other dogs that he encounters when out on a walk. These are people that have no idea of how pack structure works.

Most dogs just are not interested in becoming pack leaders and are happy to allow you, the owner, to adopt that role.

What that means is that they will be looking to you to be the one who protects them.

When a dog feels threatened, there is a reason that he runs back to you, and that is because he views you as the pack leader. He will quickly lose confidence in you if you do not deliver that protection.

Failure to notice that he feels threatened could lead to him adopting a fight or flight mentality.

Try to think of the behavior of your dog in another way. Would you expect your children to go toe to toe with adult intruders in your home?

german shepherd puppy with bigger dog

Of course not, yet there any may owners that believe their dogs should do just that when face to face with older dogs.

Again, this all comes down to a lack of understanding of pack culture and dog training.

There is an assumption out there that, for example, getting a dog that has working bloodlines means getting an animal that will be naturally strong and tough. That would be the wrong assessment.

2 german shepherds playing

Owners that adopt the role of the pack leader from the very moment they bring a new dog into the home will end up with a confident adult dog.

Those that don’t will end up with an animal that is either overly aggressive or scared of its own shadow.

There is no way that any good breeder can guarantee the temperament of a dog, as it can be significantly affected by the role that the owner takes on when raising the dog.

Proper Handling Skills in the Dog Park

If you see a dog heading towards yours in an obviously aggressive manner, it is up to you to take charge of the situation.

The main sign of potential aggressive behavior in a dog will be a stiff body and legs.

black and white dog posturing

Their tail will be either pointing straight up or straight back and never tucked in a submissive posture.

The reason dogs take on this stance is to make them appear larger than they are.

Watch out for dogs that TEE OFF on yours. They do this by placing their muzzle across the shoulders of your dog in a display of dominance.

You need to:

  1. Let the owner of the other dog know that they need to get control of their animal.
  2. If you have no luck doing that, it is your cue to leave the park. Any aggression towards your dog should be reported to the police, making them aware that you were also concerned about your own personal safety.
  3. If the situation has already passed the point of no return, use a deep voice to let the other dog know in no uncertain terms that it is time for him to leave. This is often enough to make the aggressive dog back off. Even if that does work, you have to assess the situation and decide whether or not the threat is completely gone. Safety should always be job one.
  4. Do not resort to taking weapons like sticks and pepper spray to the dog park. If you don’t know how to break up a dogfight in the proper manner, it is best to avoid the park until it’s a skill you do learn.
  5. There are situations in the dog park when strays find their way inside and take to becoming very aggressive. A verbal warning will often not work with these types of dogs when they become aggressive, which is the point when a walking cane or pepper spray may be what is needed to prevent your dog from getting hurt. Hitting the animal HARD between the ears will often get him to back off in these situations. This is not something that every owner will be comfortable doing, but what everyone can do is make a call to the proper authorities to let them know that there is a stray dog in the park. They do not belong there.

Some breeds will be more likely to fight than others, but every breed has a bully in the bunch.

Too many irresponsible owners are looking at these fighting breeds as being the ideal pet. When they then fail to train them properly but still insist on taking them to the dog park, you end up with a recipe for disaster.

Another thing to be aware of is that puppies and dogs that have been attacked by another dog can develop an aggressive streak of their own.

A single, solitary attack is sometimes enough to change the temperament of a once demure dog permanently. Owners quickly discover that looking after an aggressive dog is a real challenge.

If you notice that your dog is one of the aggressive bullies, it is up to you, the pack leader, to let him know the behavior is unacceptable.

Some dogs will get the message via verbal reprimands, while others will need a more severe correction strategy.

Some of the latter include prong collars or a remote collar, which is actually something that should only be used after proper training.

Dogs that are very aggressive need this form of correction so that they will not soon forget the consequences that come with aggressive behavior.

The dog has to be made to understand that the consequences that come with aggressive behavior are so severe that it is really better to try and control themselves in those situations.

This is why it is vital for the owner to deliver a correction that is swift and severe when they see that their dog is about to engage in aggressive behavior.

Once the dog gets the message, they will soon become a much better-behaved animal.

The truth is that these types of severe corrections are seldom pretty, which is why many owners do not have the stomach to deliver them.

Not doing it to the full extent required, though, will mean that the corrections will not have the intended effect.

If you fall into that category, you need to seek the help of a dog professional or find a more suitable home for the aggressive dog.

One solid tip that dog owners might do well to heed is to learn how to correct dogs at a level beyond their normal strength (IE a small woman with a Great Dane). This is something that can be done with a remote collar.

An owner that is not able to assume the dominant role with their dog should refrain from visiting the dog park until they do.

If you cannot adequately control your dog at home, how can you expect to do it at a park where a bunch of other dogs with similar problems may be hanging out?

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