Are Dog Parks a good idea?

In my opinion the answer is YES, but like with most things it comes with some trade offs and responsibilities. I disagree with trainers that discourage people from using dog parks instead of training people on how to use them.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of the park you need to consider 3 things: 

  1. To raise and to have a well behave dog
  2. To have a solid recall 
  3. To look out for aggressive dogs or owners that are not paying attention to avoid trouble. 

What are the benefits?

Dog Parks or dog Runs are a great opportunity to let your dog off leash, socialize with other dogs and run for a bit if that’s what they need. Dogs usually love going to open outdoor spaces for a change and be around their own peers.

 If you live in a city, It’s also a great opportunity to be outdoors and get some fresh air. A lot of dog parks  are also beautiful. If you love nature it’s a great way to re-connect or disconnect from our daily routines. 

I truly believe that the benefits of Dog Parks and Dog Runs outweighs the drawbacks by far. In many cities and towns it’s a privilege to have spaces for dogs where they can socialize and run safely off leash. We should keep advocating for dogs with this kind of wins. 

I also think that is been a huge win from the dog community efforts. We should embrace it not criticize it. 

Why do dog parks have a bad rep?

I’ve  heard a lot of trainers and read many blogs not recommending Dog Parks because it’s going to ruin your dog’s training. I personally don’t make decisions out of fear. I think you’re much better off giving exposure and teaching coping skills to your dog than avoiding and making their world smaller out of fear. 

The other argument against dog runs is that things can happen in parks. Although this is true,  crime also happen in cities or towns. That doesn’t mean we need to run to the hills and live in the mountains out of fear. 

Why some dog trainers hate Parks?

This is usually because they are not specialized in Behavior or Family Dog Training. They try to impose their obedience training routines to their dog in the park. They get frustrated because other dogs jeopardize their training. This is fundamentally the wrong place to do this.

Most trainers do obedience training by putting their dogs on high arousal, high dopamine or high motivation mode. This dogs are usually focused on a task and/or on the trainer not on the other dogs. This tasks are usually commands like: “wait” (pent up energy) and release : “get it”(release of the pent up energy). Basically you’re putting your dog in the wrong state of mind and with a tunnel vision focused on you not on the environment around them. This can cause several potential problems: 

1 Your dog will miss social cues from other dogs. 

2.Your dog will get frustrated with other dogs for getting in the way of his obedience. 

3. If your dog is highly trained to the level of ignoring distractions, then other dogs will get frustrated with your dog for ignoring them. 

So, what kind of training should I do in dog parks?

A park is where you should focus your training first on behavior and social skills not on obedience. Social skills, self control and boundaries is what’s  going to give true freedom to your dog. When your dog has good social skills you’ll be able to let your dog off leash out of trust not out of your ability to micromanage every step out of the way.  

What’s the real issue?

The big gap between a well behaved dog and a dog with advanced obedience skills is greatly misunderstood. Behavior skills are based on self control. Obedience skllls are based on impulse control and high arousal training (high dopamine). A lot of dog trainers are confusing people with this, because they don’t know what they don’t know.

If you keep putting your dog on high drive obedience training in a dog park at some point your dog is going to get into trouble or attract trouble. This can feel very good and empowering for the human, but it’s not giving the dog the opportunity to cope and learn how to behave in the environment they’re in. This is basically the difference between behavioral training and obedience training.  Behavior Training is focused on the state of mind of your dog not on high performance. I’m not saying you should not do any obedience training in the park, but the main focus should be on behavioral training not on obedience training.  

In conclusion

I’ve been going for over 15 years to dog parks in different countries and it’s been a great source of joy and happiness for me and for my dogs. My dog’s training have not been ruined by other dogs. As a matter of fact its’ a great place to practice advanced ‘Recall’, dog socialization and build self confidence if you put some effort into it. 

I have hundreds of case studies where Dog parks and dog runs had helped dogs in many different ways.

© Gabriel Riesco, Pawmos Dog Training LLC |   All Rights Reserved December 2022