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Monday, April 25, 2011

Dog Park Visits: Learning to Hang with the Ruff Crowd

by Carrie Boyko, CEB

© Carrie Boyko
Vigorous Play: 
A Common Sight at the Dog Park

Dogs, just like humans, are social beings. They need contact with their own kind. Navigating the social scene of a dog park is a learned-skill. Just like kids who enjoy wrestling, dogs need to learn their boundaries for rough play.

Socializing your dog works best when he has the opportunity to interact with other dogs in an off-leash environment. Their perceptions of one another are different when they are not connected to you by a leash.

One basic premise to remember is that a proper ‘hello’ between canines is considered good manners. This classic butt sniff helps dogs gather information about one another, as well as give permission to greet. It lays the groundwork for a face-to-face hello.

Learning to interact with a group of dogs is a skill best acquired in smaller groups, at first. You may wish to choose slower dog park times—weekdays—to offer your pup a chance to work on his skills and build up to the frenzy that is Saturday afternoon at the dog park. Another option is to locate the smallest park in your area, where groups may be less over-whelming.
© Carrie Boyko
Tight Fit!

One of my favorite parks in our area is a less-popular destination because of its small size. The watering hole at this park is often busy with pooches that enjoy a dip in the kiddie pool for some water playtime. This is a fun way to gain social confidence.

I do have some suggestions on what not to do while socializing your dog at the dog park:

1.     Toys may not play out well in your socialization efforts, so leave these at home. As a general rule, toys focus the dog on the plaything, rather than on the other dogs.
2.     The same goes for treats. Better to do your training at home, and use the park as a place to focus on building social skills.
3.     Skip the stick play. Even a friendly game of tug can turn bad when one dog re-grips, only to catch the lip of the other. Take sticks away from your dog and discourage playing with such debris.
4.     Abandoned toys in the dog park may be claimed by a new dog. While your dog is gaining confidence in his place as a part of this group, it is best he not have a negative experience. Prevent potential problems by removing these temptations.

A couple of notes:

Socializing a puppy from an early age is the ideal way to ensure the best result. However, even this perfect beginning is not completely fool-proof. If your pup is anxious, fearful, or aggressive at a young age, you need help, and quick. Turning Fido around before his problems become major issues, is critical. Seek the help of a qualified trainer or dog behavior specialist if your pooch displays these unwanted behaviors at any age.

In order to be socially accepted, your dog does not need to be the life of the party. In fact, an aloof dog that will allow a social sniff without a negative reaction may still never enjoy frolicking with other pups. Some dogs are simply loners, just as some people are. This is fine, if it works for your dog.

Remember, keeping it light and fun is your goal. Leave the park on a high note, after a particularly enjoyable romp. Return often and watch your dog blossom. 

Help protect our precious dog parks
© Carrie Boyko, all rights reserved

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Adien Crafts said...

Some brilliant advice there thank you. Dexter is the most sociable animal and everyone's friend. Louis, despite having had the same socialisation and training as Dexter is a loner and doesn't like other dogs 'in his face'. They can't all be the same can they? For this reason Louis is affectionately known as 'Grumpy Drawers'! x

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Mr. Grumpy Drawers, if he is not aggressive, may be perfectly normal. Not every human or every dog has to be a social butterfly. Face to face greetings can be misinterpreted; dogs need to learn that a tail-end greeting first is the most appropriate way to meet a new friend. Good luck with Dexter.

Elizabeth said...

Nice post! I love the idea of joining a new blog hop!

One question-- What are your thoughts on allowing a little dog into the "big dog" area if there aren't any little dogs in the little dog area?

Sage said...

Dog parks ARE a great place to socialize your dog and you are right, all the toys and especially treats should be left at home. Sage was drooling over the pool though. If there's water, there's Sage!!

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Good question Lizzi: It all depends on your dog. If he is confident and has been socialized around bigger, active dogs, he will probably do well. Oliver has grown up in the big dog area and knows how to handle himself. This is definitely a decision each owner must make based on his confidence with this step as well as the dog's confidence with himself in a social situation. Good luck!

Inspiring You To Save! said...

Thanks for the advice. Thanks for stopping by and following. I'm your newest follower.

Inspiring You To Save

sisko said...

I like posts like that, but I do use a tug rope to stick in the middle of a few dogs when play gets a little exciting.

I guess I'm a dog park junkie 'cause I'm there with our boxers quite often and volunteer at our park. You meet a lot of people and dogs. My texting has become out of control come weekends keeping in contact with who is going when. :)

Tough Cookie Mommy said...

Hi, Carrie. I love your blog and I am hoping to talk my husband into getting a dog within the next year. He says I'm not responsible enough to have a dog and that he will get stuck taking care of it. Go figure, he thinks I'm a great mom and trusts me to raise his kids but not a dog. Lol Thank you for participating in the Monday Mingle and for posting the blog hop button, I really appreaciate it. I look forward to seeing you back often.

Nature by Dawn said...

I never thought about the dog toys before, but that makes sense.

Sephi is not good at the dog park. She pretty much minds her own business until a dog starts running. Then her herding instincts kick in and it doesn't look good when she chases them down while barking and growling (in a bossy way, not an aggressive way).

Maya, on the other hand, is a social butterfly. She loves children, adults, and dogs with equal measure.

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