Dog parks often times seem like a good idea to people who want the best for their dog, but are they really?

Before I was a dog trainer, I used to take my dog to the local dog park every day so that my dog could socialize and run around off leash to get the exercise I thought he needed.  It wasn’t until I began educating myself in dog body language and stress signals, that I finally opened my eyes to what was really going on and all of a sudden, previous occurrences at the dog park (including instances with Sam) suddenly began to make sense to me.

The majority of people that take their dogs to off leash dog parks often times take them there because they genuinely care for their dog and really do believe they are doing what’s best.  In a lot of instances, these dogs are not properly trained to walk on a leash, and so it seems easier to owners to let their dog run free.  So many people love to see their dog run around and “play” with other dogs – I understand this, it sounds fantastic!  A problem with these free-for-all parks is that they tend to attract owners who have absolutely no clue how to read dog behaviour and body language.  The issue is that they do not see the little signs or often misread the stress signals coming from their dog, and this leads to bad behaviours that compound over time, or worse, a vicious dog fight.  What starts out as a harmless sniffing of butts, quickly turns into a bite, leaving owners confused and their dogs weary and reactive, let alone money potentially spent on vet bills!

Another group of people attracted to dog parks are those who just really don’t care how their dog is acting and this is down right dangerous.  These are the dogs who have never been given any rules to live by, and have absolutely no respect for their owners.  In my opinion, these people should not be unleashing their dog on the unsuspecting public (pun intended!) without taking the proper time to train their dog as well as themselves.  I’m not saying they are bad people, they are just ignorant dog owners.

An option for exercising your dog off leash is to find a local trail (off-leash designated) where your dog can continuously walk with you, but only if your dog has great off leash recall!  The great thing about off leash trails is that there is more room for the dog to remove pressure from other dogs by simply removing itself from the situation, something that’s not easily accomplished in a fenced off leash dog park.  If your dog is an on-leash only dog, I do not recommend taking them to these trails – it too can cause stress on your dog when in a designated off-leash trail and strange dogs approach yours while on leash.   Keep your dog’s stress level to a minimum and stick to structured walks around the neighbourhood.

If you wish to properly socialize your dog but don’t know how, find a local trainer who has experience in dog socialization, or start a local pack walk with your neighbours or friends!  Dogs function best together when they are moving together, or migrating as a pack, making this a less stressful event on everyone involved!

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