How Much Does Your Dog Enjoy the Dog Park? – High energy dog socialization and its effect on our canine companions
Brittney Frazier – CPDT-KA, APDT, CGCE
Taking your dog to the dog park seems like a no-brainer. How often do our pets really get to stretch their legs and run when living in the tight quarters of Chicago anyway? Surely there is no reason my dog shouldn’t enjoy being rushed at a gate by twenty other maniacs slobbering and barking like mad, then having to push their way through this mob all while being sniffed over every part of their body with several humans leaning over their head ooh-ing and ahh-ing at every hair on their head. Yeah, sounds stressful, doesn’t it?
It may be easy to imagine every dog having its own personality unique to its breed, past experiences, and other factors such as age and current environment. But what we as our dogs’ caretakers may not take into consideration when exercising our dog is how that personality may affect the way he or she perceives social situations. Much like human personalities, dogs tend to fall into a variety of categories when it comes to the issue of how social the dog may be with others of its own species.
If we only think of our dog as “social” or “anti-social,” we can easily oversimplify behaviors which have been developing for over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Although our dogs have domesticated alongside humans and have been able to form a special relationship with us for that reason, the expectations we have of our dogs living in a city setting may be far overreaching when it comes to expecting our dogs to be “friendly” to every other dog they meet.
The question begs to be asked: Are you polite and accommodating to every person you meet all of the time? Have you ever had a bad day and blown up on a person due to outside influences, regretting it immediately? Sure, we pretend we can relate to our dogs and tell ourselves we would excuse a snarl or snip here and there, except that we live in a world where we allow our own social expectations affect how we view the way our dog behaves.
For example, it is common for part of a dog’s personality to transform around the two or three year-old mark. This is similar to when a person becomes an adult or experiences a sudden life-altering change. Why then, are we so surprised when our puppies, who have been socializing at the dog park their entire lives, begin to choose their friends more selectively as adults, and choose to exhibit an aggressive behavior to communicate a message to another dog? It’s easy to relate when you think of any disagreement you’ve had with someone you just didn’t “gel” with.
Looking at the dog park from the four-legged perspective leads me to think our dogs see the experience as similar to a rock concert. While you may see your teenagers rocking to their favorite bands there once a week, adults would view the excitement, loud noise, and overall stress as a once-in-a-while experience, or perhaps not even at all.
Another factor to note is that it is common for dog owners to bring toys or treats to the dog park to interact with their dog. Of course your dog enjoys spending the extra time with you and special treats, but they most likely don’t want to share them with other dogs, and who come blame them? If you crave an intimate experience with your dog, create one. The dog park is not the place to spoil your friend with attention that may get displaced amongst the chaos of “dog park” play.
It’s only fair to our dogs to really listen to what they’re saying. How “social” we expect our dogs is not something our dogs understand. They are not aware when they “embarrass” us by snapping at a friend’s annoying puppy or attempting to mount the most dominant dog at the park. Forcing our dogs into social situations they may fail within is unfair if the dog has demonstrated they would rather be spending one-on-one time with their person or another best dog-friend instead. We must allow our instincts to kick in and evaluate how the dog feels about a situation unemotionally and realistically.
Just like we may not want to visit our neighborhood bar every day of the week, a high-volume social scenario may not be where your dog wants to spend their evenings. Instead, get to know your dog’s preferences and talents. Maybe trick training is right up your terrier’s alley, or perhaps your bully breed is content to go out for a jog with you. Find what fits your dog’s personality and run with it instead of deciding what you want for your dog. Your dog may surprise you, and your relationship with them will be much better for it.