Do you work on training at the dog park?
The dog park is a strange place, isn’t it?
A free-for-all where pretty much all behavior is tolerated. Dogs charging each other. Lots of humping and growling and chasing. Peeing on things. Nipping and wrestling. No two owners agree on how much herding, barking or butt sniffing is allowed.
So I’m curious, what do all of you allow from your dogs?
There’s no correct answer. Some dog owners let go of all rules as soon as they set foot in the park. This is not a criticism. It’s an observation. The dogs are literally free to do whatever they want. It’s the dog park, so let them be dogs.
And then there are the owners who try to micro-manage everything that anyone else does. No butt sniffing allowed; it might lead to humping. No big dogs chasing the little dogs. No growling during play. Oh my God, no barking.
I’m sure most of us are somewhere in the middle. I expect my dog Ace to walk to the park without pulling, for example. And when I remove his leash, I expect him to remain heeling until I say “OK.” I also expect him to come when I call him no matter what. Yes, even if someone is holding a tennis ball made of gold.
It doesn’t happen often, but I do not allow him to hump other dogs or to bark obsessively at another dog. I also don’t allow him to take other dogs’ toys.
Do you guys use the dog park to practice obedience training?
Personally, I don’t use the dog park as a place to work specifically on obedience training. I use it as a place to, for the most part, let my dog be a dog.
Last weekend I saw a man working on the stay command at the dog park with his shepherd. He had the dog in a down/stay and he backed away about 30 feet. The dog was doing beautifully until a husky-thing charged the shepherd head-on and kind of tumbled over her.
To me, it’s not really fair to put a dog in that position. Distractions are one thing. Expecting a dog to remain a statue with 40 pounds of energy charging her is another. Plus, in this case, it set the shepherd up for failure. Instead of minding her owner she ended up chasing the husky – ignoring both “stay” and “come.” Oops.
What about intervening?
With Ace, I try not to intervene too much. The dog park is supposed to be a fun place. Dogs, for the most part, can handle themselves. I do watch for tension between dogs and do my best to lighten the situation by clicking my tongue or saying “Hey, look here!” in a fun voice. On occasion, I will step between dogs to block heavy eye contact or I might whistle or use a toy.
If a younger, more playful dog is pestering Ace, I make sure to intervene if I think he might growl.
Growling is perfectly normal, but I know some owners don’t appreciate it. So, sometimes I just call Ace to me and we walk away. Sometimes I try to interact with the younger dog so it leaves Ace alone. Sometimes I pat Ace on the butt to encourage him to lighten up and play, depending on the situation.
Of course, it helps that I know my dog really well. He and I can easily predict one another’s behavior by now. I wouldn’t take a newly adopted dog to the dog park right away. I also wouldn’t bring any of the dogs from my dog walking company to the dog park right away (if at all). I want to get to know the dogs a little better and build some trust first.
Overall, I’ve always used dog parks as an opportunity to teach my dog that I expect him to ignore rude and overly excited behavior from other dogs. There will always be a dog or two that charges him. There will most likely be a dog that greets him head on or with a paw over his back. Some dogs will chase or nip or bark. All of these things are opportunities to reward my dog for remaining calm and relaxed, and he does this beautifully.