Dogs are social animals. They have benefited from the group culture for hundreds and thousands of years. Whether that be with their own kind, or with us, dogs cannot survive on their own. It is because of this that we feel we must provide our dogs with the company of other dogs, and the best way to ensure this is possible, is by going to the dog park.
If you know me, you know that I essentially detest most dog parks. Allow me to describe them from my point of view. To me, a dog park is an open space, available to a range of different dogs at the same time. These dogs are all different sizes, ages, breeds and temperaments, thrust together in the middle and assumed as friends.
The expectations we have of dogs to make friends with all other dogs is like dropping your child off at school, with people of all ages, personalities and sizes, and expecting them to get along with everyone. Then when the bullies pick on them, you continue to expect your child to appease the bullies. When they get beaten up and chased, you still make them go back the next day but when they finally get hurt, you blame the other child as the only perpetrator. But guess what? We are also at fault by putting our dogs into environments that are not controlled, unpredictable, nerve wracking and often, unsafe. The unsocialised who attacks your dog is only part of the problem.
If you choose to visit a dog park, watch it from afar. Observe the dynamic of the dogs AND owners there. What do you predict will happen if your dog goes inside the gates? Can you control the experience your dog has? If you are unsure and cannot answer those two questions, then a dog park is not an appropriate method of socialisation.
Instead, reframe what socialisation means. Rather than a free-for-all oval, find like-minded people who have dogs. Join your local community facebook page and put the word out for creating a positive play group with your dogs. Increase your dog’s mental and physical stimulation in general, rather than relying on them aimlessly running around a dog park each night after work. Try trick training, treat dispensers, hide n seek or an agility course in the garage/backyard. Set your dog up for success but offering them a stimulating and purposeful life, without risking their safety.
I very rarely take my dogs to an off-lead park. Even though they will never look for trouble or cause it, that doesn’t mean they deserve to be challenged by it. So, I engage my dogs with others who are respectful, understand boundaries and don’t domineer the interactions. I recently adopted a chihuahua (not a staffy for a change), because my dogs prefer the company of smaller dogs. Larger dogs can be intimidating to them at their age. So Cash, my chihuahua is a perfect fit for our family. Always try to think about the world from your dog’s point of view. Look for the signs of anxiety during socialisation. And, always have your dog’s back. They cannot control this world we live in. We must do it for them. How are you controlling the world for your dog?