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As dog owners, most of us are aware that our furry friends have some basic needs to be happy and manageable at home. We take our dogs on walks and outings for this reason but for many pets, this may not be enough.

Dogs on walks don’t always get the freedom to smell and learn about the natural environment and many pets have a hard time around traffic or other human world distractions.

Many dogs have a hard time on leash and their behavior is such that it may be embarrassing for the owners leading them to walk their dogs less.

Because of some of these concerns, it is no doubt many dog owners turn to dog parks for a way to exercise and stimulate their dogs. This not only gives us a feeling that we are helping our dog get his energy out but it also allows our dogs to be social and meet without the hassle of having your dog behave on a leash.

It sounds like a simple solution to caring for your dog’s needs but I want to suggest this may not really be the best idea for many of the pets I know and work with.

I would look at dog parks are playgrounds as if they were any other playground that children play on and consider if they have the same standards.

When you arrive with your child at a playground do you walk right in and let your kid run up to whomever they want to?

Do you hang back and let a swarm of other children gather around your child and hopefully let your child figure out who is safe to play with?

If disagreement about a toy or a specific space in the playground arises do you let the children “work it out” and be kids.

Are you watching every interaction with your child or are you paying more attention to the other parents? Lately, I have noticed that most owners are consumed with his or her phone.

Would you leave when you feel uncomfortable with the play or other children, even if it is socially awkward removing your child from the group?

While I can’t say every child-parent would be more vigilant about caring for their child over their pet, it sure seems like these considerations go unheeded more than not while pet owners are supervising at the dog park.

There are all sorts of dog personalities at the dog park. Some are cautious, some are over-friendly, some are real bullies, some have no clue what play even is and some are terrified. On top of that, some are older with limitations and some are very young with no manners.

It is a different scene every day with different risks not limited to behavioral concerns. Let’s not forget about the diseases and parasites that are lurking at the dog park.

I know this doesn’t paint a pretty picture of dog parks and some of you will say your dog has a great time. I know many very responsible dog parents that break the mold and are very involved from the beginning of the dog park experience to the end. I just think they are the exception and that most pet owners are likely there to relax and let their dogs do mostly what they want.

So what is the alternative?

That depends. Personally, I prefer to play and socialize with people I know so I generally take my dogs to play with other dogs that they have gotten to know over the years. My dogs have gotten used to their play styles and body language. They also have the opportunity to play more one on one which is generally preferred in the canine world.

If I want free space for my dog to play I visit local people parks or fenced off school grounds that aren’t being used. I understand that in many states the only place to legally be off leash is the dog park but I’ll tell you now that I really don’t adhere to those rules.

I started visiting people parks with my dogs at a young age, working on long 30 feet leashes with tie downs and used food and play to train a good recall and sit around distractions. I took time from lunch when the parks are less crowded to visit and train at these parks.

I know my dogs and from what I can tell, they aren’t social butterflies to all dogs. They warm up to some and they completely ignore others. They have that freedom away from a dog park.

When they say no to an interaction, it is an easier conversation than one at the dog park. Usually, the park is big enough that on the right day, I can have my own little corner to myself to play ball or have my dogs smell around. This is partially just because there are fewer dogs around.

Also, if your dog just smells the perimeter of the dog park and stays near you or lays under a bench, that isn’t a dog park dog. I bet he would happily take you up on the venue change.

On a side note: If you are respectful and courteous, city police or park officials generally are pretty forgiving even if you are honest with them about why you are there. They would likely rather warn you about a leash law than give a ticket especially if you look like your training and are using some kind of leash even if its, a 20-30 foot long line. Now if your dog is causing problems that is a different story.

Wherever you go to play with your pet remember to pay attention and use an ounce of prevention. Scan the area before you walk in, stop play when it’s too rough, institute timeouts, and leave when you aren’t comfortable.

For more perspective on this subject I encourage you to read the following article by the author and dog behavior consultant Nicole Wilde, which some of this blog post was referenced from by clicking here.

Be well and wag tail!

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