A Common Sense Approach
What do Dog Parks teach our dogs?
One of the most common places where dogs find conflict with other dogs is at busy dog parks, where adrenalin runs high and excitement is the name of the game. The concentrated chaos of an ever changing group of dog personalities can push even the most social dogs past their limits. Scuffles, corrections and even damaging fights happen with ALL types of dogs at parks, and if one occurs, your maturing dog might just find himself smak dab in the middle of it. However it goes, if you own a pit bull, you can bet that you and your dog will be labeled the bad guy. Protecting our dogs involves avoiding situations - like busy dog parks - where dogs are so often set up to fail.
But LOTS of people bring pit bulls to dog parks with no problems whatsoever. What's up with that?
Good question. Dogs that succeed in rowdy play sessions with larger groups of unknown dogs are typically youngsters. Parks can be great places for them to blow off steam and socialize, but as dogs begin to mature and feel their adult bravado, it's normal for them to lose patience with other dogs' rude behavior.
No matter how much good socializing and training you've done, your dog's tolerance can still disappear if he's triggered into conflict by another dog's challenge, a tussle over a toy, a tug-o-war game or even a friendly wrestling match that gets a little "too exciting."
Because we dog people love to be optimists, many of us let ourselves get lulled into a false sense of confidence after months or even years of success in the parks. Common misperceptions: "Dog parks are the best place for socializing" or "I can call him out of trouble if it shows up - He listens to me."
Here's why you REALLY don't want your dog to fight at the Dog Park:
Because dogs of all sizes visit dog parks, larger dogs have the potential to hurt smaller dogs, bringing large vet bills, problems with your local animal control, liability concerns, and, in the some instances, you could lose your dog for good. In addition, setting your dog up to fail can negatively affect his future interactions with other dogs.
Want to increase his odds of staying dog tolerant? Never let him get into his first fight. For real. Whether or not your dog starts it, many a dog is forever changed by his first fight and may never be quite the same around other dogs again. And finally, during this time of breed prejudice, even the smallest display of bravado involving pit bull type dogs will set off alarm bells in onlookers and ding the reputation of the breed yet again. It's not fair, but it's the reality we're facing right now.
Photo Above: This pup is about to get a noisy correction from a dog who doesn't appreciate his pesky play style. A healthy correction can be a great learning lesson, but an over-correction from an angry dog who takes it too far can frighten a young dog so much that he's never the same around strange dogs again. Having a really bad experience with other dog(s) can be traumatic and is a key cause of fear-based aggression issues with dogs.
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How do I keep my dog socialized without the drama?
GREAT question. Creating fun socializing opportunities for your dog starts with finding other conscientious dog owners. Meet them in obedience classes, hiking groups or through your neighborhood message boards. Another way to socialize your dog is to sign up as a foster home for a local rescue group.
Most of our adopters maintain small play groups for neighborhood dogs in backyards, fenced in ball fields, tennis courts and small, low traffic neighborhood parks. If yours does not, see if you can't find one or two dog owners in your area who might be willing to start a small social group.
Honestly? Some of most well socialized dogs in BADRAP are able to stay that way simply because we've chosen to avoid setting them up to fail in situations like dog parks. Our dogs benefit from curating their list of 'dog friendships,' much in the same way parents seek out good playmates for their small children.
If your dog just isn't fond of other dogs - No sweat. He gets the fun of enjoying play time with you all to himself. Dogs don't have to have other dog friends in order to be happy.
- Understanding Dog-Tolerance Levels: Dog/Dog
- Living well with: Multi Dogs
- Socializing your pit bull: Socializing
Share the Smarts! If you see people in the dog park who seem especially novice and/or overwhelmed by their dog's play style, please kindly point them towards education resources so they can make safe, wise decisions for their dog.