As dog parents, we want to ensure that our dogs are properly socialized. While the dog park appears to be the ideal spot for many people, it is not the best place for a dog to socialize. It is, in fact, intended for dogs that have already been socialized. So let's debunk a few dog socialization myths.
1. Dogs learn to like other dogs at the dog park
Bullying and aggression are two of the most common behavior issues that arise when undersocialized dogs visit a dog park. The dog park is teeming with rambunctious teenagers brimming with hormones, newfound strength, and size. To keep order, dogs rely on rank and status, and these adolescent dogs are working to improve their status. Status-seeking dogs may mount other dogs, place their necks over the necks of other dogs, or place their paws on the backs of other dogs.
When posturing turns into bullying
While occasional posturing is acceptable, persistent posturing is bullying. Bullying can develop into aggression around the age of 2-3 years. If your dog is concerned with their social standing, the dog park might not be the best place for them. Instead, find a few dogs with whom they get along and avoid large dog gatherings.
2. Puppies should go to the dog park for socialization
The dog park is overwhelming for most puppies, and they are the first to be picked on by status-seeking dogs. In addition, between the ages of 4 and 9 months, dogs go through a fear imprinting period. That means a bad experience during this time can permanently alter your puppy's attitude toward dogs. While you and your pup sit safely outside the fence, you can socialize your dog with other dogs by watching them play. It can also be beneficial to meet dogs one-on-one as they come and go.
When your dog is shy
Consider going into the small dog section if you have a shy dog or a puppy under 5 months old, or find other puppies or well-socialized adult dogs for socialization. If your puppy is under the age of four months, enroll them in a good puppy socialization class where they will learn how to play with a variety of breeds and play styles. A good instructor will ensure that nervous dogs do not become overwhelmed, and that boisterous dogs do not learn to bully.
3. You should let dogs work it out
Many people believe that if two dogs aren't getting along, they should be allowed to work it out. True, most scuffles end in a matter of seconds with no injuries. However, neither dog is playing appropriately if one is bullying and the other is being bullied. So how do you know when to intervene? Step in when the interaction continues to be one-sided without a break in play.
When your dog is pestering other dogs
Step in if your dog is persistently bothering another dog. Call your dog and start moving away quickly or throw a ball near them as a distraction. Avoid getting upset or nervously repeating your dog's name. Your anxiety will only make things worse for your dog. Bullied dogs may decide to fight back later in life. Ultimately, bullying or being bullied can cause aggression.
Below are a few tips you can use to maximize your dog's enjoyment of the dog park!
Keep moving and provide something for your dog to focus on. This is beneficial for both shy and boisterous dogs.
When other dogs come or go, call your dog away from the gates. This is the most dangerous location. It's also unjust for the new dog to be surrounded by a pack when he first arrives.
Make eye contact with your dog. Play ball, Frisbee, or just have a good time with him. This is beneficial for inexperienced dogs who require minimal face-to-face interaction with other dogs.
Remove your dog's dangling collars and leashes. Training collars, pinch collars, and Gentle Leaders are all examples of this. Dogs' paws and teeth can and do get stuck in these resulting in an instant and terrifying fight. Loose items are hazardous to both the dogs and those attempting to separate them.
Leave if the park gets crowded, if the dogs are playing too roughly, or if your dog isn't having fun. Your dog will gain nothing by being present in those circumstances.
Visit the park during off-hours or on rainy or cold days if your dog is young or inexperienced. Avoid after work hours, sunny weekends after a storm, and holidays.
All proceeds from Thousand Hills Pet Resort support New Life K9s. New Life K9s provides service dogs to veterans and first responders with PTSD at no cost to them.