Why Dog Parks Are Unnatural & How To Properly Socialize Your Dog
We all know the importance of socializing our dogs but often this is mistaken by the thought of “My dog has to play with as many other dogs as possible”! So most people think the dog park is a great place for socialization.
Trust us, we do think dog parks are a great idea for some dogs and owners but not really for socialization.
In many dog parks we witness dogs with very poor social skills and owners who do not understand or underestimate their dog’s communication.
Dog park discussion aside for now though as there are other important factors when we talk about socialization.
What is a “properly” socialized dog?
A well socialized dog is used to all kinds of people of different shapes and sizes and doesn’t feel the urge to go say hi and jump on everybody. But rather he is simply comfortable mingling between people and is able to ignore them unless somebody is asking for interaction and he is confident enough to do so.
A well socialized dog is comfortable and confident in different environments such as close to a busy road, a large gathering of people, different surfaces such as gravel or unsteady ground and so on.
A well socialized dog is comfortable around different temperaments of dogs and trusts in his handler that they will protect and guide him to the right decisions no matter what. Therefor the dog doesn’t feel the need to react to other dogs in any way, negative or positive. He doesn’t get up and stick his nose deep into every dogs butt he doesn’t know and then tries to force them to “play”. A well socialized dog understands and respects the space and boundaries of other dogs and simply ignores most of other dogs when walking along. He also speaks dog very well and can communicate his wishes in a respectful manner and also will accept the same from another dog.
Back to the dog park...
Why are dog parks unnatural, I thought they are the best thing ever for my dog?
We all know that dogs are not wolves but there are still some similarities. When you look at an established wolf pack, most of the time the pack consist of close relatives and maybe a couple outsiders that were integrated into the pack for breeding purposes. Wolves and dogs are both social animals and enjoy interaction with trusted companions.
When you observe street dogs, you will notice that they are usually forming packs to serve a purpose such as hunting. It is however very normal that these packs split up randomly and each dog goes its own way again. New packs might form on a regular basis and split up again, some dogs might stay together longer than others and some might form a bonded pair/small pack.
Even then, dogs do only closely interact (or play) with other dogs they trust and know. It is unnatural to adult dogs to just go and play with another dog they have never met before. The reason for this is simply because dogs that haven’t been a part of the pack are strangers!
Imagine if you were sitting in a café, enjoying a cup of coffee and a stranger walks up to you gives you a hug, possibly a kiss on the cheek, sits down and tells you his life story! A little awkward OR even threatening don’t you think? Why? Because he’s a stranger! On the other hand, if they person would approach you and say “Hi, min name is Randal, would you mind if I have a seat?” he is being polite and you actually have a choice to say yes or no. If you say no, he should respect that and go away and if you say yes and he’s polite, he may sit down and you can slowly get to know each other.
… This is how a normal dog interaction should go...polite and slowly getting to know each other.
So in the dog park, when you do think “let’s go and socialize my dog by playing with strange dogs”, you put them into a situation that is kind of awkward for them. Some dogs are happy go lucky and do enjoy those interactions and play fine with everybody but be aware of your own dog’s limitations and who you might meet there.
In my personal observation I find that often times dogs that want to play right away with any given dog, have very poor socialization or dog to dog communication skills and most of the times interact inappropriate and rude.
What is proper dog to dog socialization:
In the “wild” dogs don’t run around like maniacs with each other but rather they just mingle…they just hang out.
You don’t throw a party every time you see your friends, you just like to hang out and maybe have a good chat and a drink. If you do throw a party every time and get drunk, oh well, maybe you are still in your teen stages, just like the adolescent dogs that still have to learn that it is NOT normal ;)
So how can you properly socialize your dog with other dogs in a controlled and structured environment?
Find somebody, a friend or maybe somebody you meet at the dog park and go for on leash walks with your dogs in a neutral environment. No pressure to interact, no play on leash or excitement… just walk together. This is a great way for the dogs to familiarize themselves with each other and get to know each other better. They can sniff the other one by simply walking along with them and get a feel for each other of who they are. Once you have done that with them a few times, maybe let them hang out (no play, just hang out) while you have a coffee.
After a few meetings the dogs know each other, they are not strangers anymore and one might politely encourage the other for a play session. If your dog still seems a little pushy, then it’s on you to teach your dog the right manners and intervene if you do think the other dog might not agree just yet.
Again a well socialized dog is a dog that typically ignores other dogs that don’t belong to his “pack” but is comfortable with polite interactions with strange dogs. He respects their space and boundaries they communicate.
Now we don’t want to keep you from the fun of attending a dog park. Dog parks are often one of the only areas where your dog can be off leash so please grab your dog a ball and enjoy him if you feel your dog is well suited for a dog park. Going to the dog park doesn’t mean your dog has to play with other dogs, he can also just play with you, but be prepared that other dogs might interrupt you and you want to ensure that your dog will be okay with that.
Important is that you choose wisely. Choose a park that is big enough so that you can get away from other dogs if needed and just enjoy the time with your own dog. Also look for a park where you know the people and maybe the other dogs. Get to know everybody and see who you think would be a good play partner for your dog. Be picky and better be safe than sorry! If you find somebody suitable, maybe take the dogs for a stroll together so they have a chance to sniff each other first without any pressure of having to interact, let them get to know each other slowly. And once your dogs are comfortable with each other and in fact do like each other, then give them a safe play date where you can control your dog’s behaviour if needed.
About the author:
Simone K - Owner and Canine Lifestyle Coach at K9 Possible Dog Training. As a certified Dog Trainer, certified Pet First Aid Instructor, certified Animal Aromatherapy Specialist and dog crazy chocolate/cheese addict, she's providing holistic dog training and pet services helping dog owners live their best possible life with their canines. “My life revolves around dogs day in and out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is my goal to help enhance the lives of as many dogs (and their owners) as possible.”