Socialization: The Truth Behind Dog Parks

Proper socialization is a must when it comes to our pets. When I ask my clients how they socialized their dogs in the past, their first comment is “a dog park”. The next place is a daycare, socials, some trainers offer day training (like myself), group classes and then a regulated dog park. Most trainers that you ask this question to may recommend everything but a dog park and most pet owners don’t know why. I really want to break it down, so here it goes…

A dog park and the theory behind it used to be a good idea until it turned into a really bad one. Go to one on a really busy sunny Saturday and look around. What percentage of people actually watch their dogs? How many people are on the phone? Talking to each other? And here is the big one, how many are cleaning up after their dog? I’ve gone out there and it’s like a minefield of poop. When people don’t pick up the poop, there is ecoli, parvo, dog flu, distemper, leptospirosis (urine), coronavirus, Canine Herpesvirus (CHV), Ringworm and all types of nasty worms, Rabies (100% fatal in humans), fleas and ticks. Some of these can be transferred to humans, and most dog parks don’t regulate vaccinations. People have brought their sick dogs there because they need to run. Another thing that happens here is that people bring their aggressive dogs to play and socialize, but they actually start most fights. When I get a call to help with an aggressive dog, I always ask if they know when it started and a large percentage of people have said that their dog was attacked at a dog park and now they are showing aggressive behaviors. Fights at dog parks are very common and that will forever change your dog. Later in this article I will discuss what to do when a dog gets into a fight. With this being said, the safest place at a dog park is outside of it. I’ve taken dogs there personally to work them outside of the fence. If you are going to choose to go to a dog park, look for one that is not busy. Five minutes at the dog park can turn into a behavioral mess and can totally ruin all of the training that you have done with your dog. If you are still going to frequent dog parks, despite the risks, please get a foolproof recall on your dog before you set foot in one.

Let’s talk daycares. You have to have the vaccinations up to date here. Some divide them up into bigs and littles, but if your dog is in a training program that includes training throughout the week, a daycare situation can and will undo some of that training. Not all daycares are structured, so that can set your dog back. I have sent some of my clients to daycare because they have a really young dog that wants to play and play, and an older dog that wants nothing to do with the puppy. So, this is a very good option. I can always recommend daycares in different parts of the city.

The next topic is my favorite and it is dog socials run by trainers. You bring your dog and you both participate. Redeeming Dogs runs a social a couple of times a month and this is a fantastic option for all dogs. I have recommended this to both clients and rescues. This is very structured and can give you insight into dog body language. The group keeps the dog moving and can be helpful for reactive dogs. I can give you more information if you are interested.

Day training is a fantastic option and it is something that I personally offer and I know other trainers also offer it. This is similar to a Board and Train, but you drop off your dog in the morning and pick them up for the evening and you, the client, have them over the weekend. Other trainers may have a little different schedule and offer different things, but mine consists of basic obedience that is taught by me and my assistant. Your dog will get to socialize, but for the first couple of weeks it focuses on teaching the dog the information.

Group classes can cover some really fun things, change your relationship with your dog, and give them an opportunity to socialize. Some trainers offer trick classes and those can be a blast. So while your dog is learning new things, they are given the opportunity to be around the other dogs.

Rumor has it that regulated dog parks are scarce now, but we are trying to get this to become more common. It is basically a dog park that requires proof of vaccinations and has “referees” watching behavior. This is an amazing option that I wish would finally take off. The downside to some people is the cover charge, but I would rather spend those few dollars on that than hundreds at the vet. A place like this is setting your dog up for success.

To sum this up, to give your dog proper socialization, go to a daycare/day training or socials run by trainers. To find a reputable trainer in your area, you can always reach out to me and I can get you that information.

Pack walks are being held by some trainers, this is a fantastic opportunity for your dogs to socialize. Some groups take a group of dogs alone, while others hold events for the owners to join too. These really are a lot of fun for all of those involved.

As promised, should your dog be involved in a fight, grab the back legs and pull. If you have access to some type of hose, spray them. I’ve seen an air horn or something that makes a loud noise work (pet corrector or even a taser-don’t tase the dogs just use for shock value). Please, please never put your hand in it no matter how much you want to pull them apart. You may end up at the emergency room and have to put your dog into a 10 day quarantine.

Please, if you have any questions, reach out. I am not saying that every single dog park is bad, I personally don’t know of much good that has come out of a dog park, so share the good stories below or by pm. If you want your dog to be able to get out and run without a leash, there are tons of programs out there that you can signup for to have your dog unleashed. I wish I could go into much more detail, but the article would turn into a novel.

While stores like Home Depot and Academy allow dogs, I have never seen more than 1 dog there at a time, so use those when you want your dog to socialize with humans.

Thank you very much,

Sarah Gill

Owner/head trainer

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