dog parks - two labradors

Dog Parks and Socialization Classes Can Go Horribly Wrong…

Dog Parks and Socialization Can Have Adverse Effects

Dog parks are sort of a newer craze among pet owners.  The general thought here is to let dogs interact off leash, play, and socialize.  This concept SEEMS great.  Here’s the problem though…

Luna and Mila- Endless Mt. Labradors

Often I’ve seen and heard of incidents at dog parks where playing turns into bullying… And too often, the owner of said bully is not right there to intervene, or worse, chooses not to.  Have you ever heard these excuses?

“Oh they’ll be fine!  That’s what dogs do!”

“Your pup’s gotta toughen up!”

“They’re just playing…”

“They’re establishing their roles…”

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

Molly and Megan at dog parks - Endless Mt. Labradorsmolly and megan at dog parks- Endless Mt. Labradors

Here’s the problem with all of that nonsense logic… The pup who’s roughed around can have long term behavioral effects of his or her own.  Aggressive behavior can stem from these exact situations.  Think about it.  The victim here is being bullied, ganged up on by multiple dogs sometimes, and nobody’s intervening.  He learns that MAYBE if he gets to other dog first, if HE plays the bully role, he won’t get picked on.

The biggest thing to take away, is knowing the difference between playing and bullying. Bullying should absolutely not be acceptable!  If one dog is showing submissive signs and the other isn’t backing down, it’s bullying. 

And I have to tell you, an aggressive LABRADOR is RARE.  It makes me wonder if some of those cases had bad “socialization” incidents themselves…

Mia, Emmy, and Doc at dog parks- Endless Mt. Labradors

Happy Labby Play!

Bottom Line: Socialization IS important, and dogs NEED other dogs… but make sure it’s SUPERVISED socialization, and never be afraid to be protective of your dog.

11 Comments

  1. The other issue with dog parks is catching parasites, fleas and other health issues while we do have other dogs in the neighborhood that are “friends” with our dogs, we stay away from the dog park!!! we know the health care our neighbors dogs get & the dogs are socialized BEFORE they run free together and play.

  2. It’s nice to find someone who thinks the way I do on this subject! I prefer to have play dates with dogs that I know…..I know if vaccinations are current; if they are being treated for fleas or worms; and I know if the owner will step in and stop a bullying situation. I also have more control over my own dog. He can’t start up any rude behavior without being checked for it. He also can’t get into any trash or dead animals either.
    Play time is great but only in a well supervised environment.

  3. I completely agree with you about dog parks and will never take my dogs there again. One of my dogs has agression issues because of bully dogs and owners who were clueless or didn’t care. My dogs are my kids, I feel horrible for ever having put them in a positon of being stressed or scared. We are all very happy to play in our own large fenced in yard now instead of leaving playtime up to chance.

  4. I despise dog parks! Play dates with family and friends, known and vetted, dogs are great. Puppy manners class where there is virtually no actual contact, just exposure, with other puppies is great.
    Maxx started classes at 10 weeks, he took puppy manners, beginninig obedience through advanced obedience. He is now 2 1/2 and on his 3 rd session of nosework classes which he LOVES. He has his CGC and we do therapy work at the library with kids. He is the first dog I have done this much work and socialization with and he is the most well rounded dog I have ever owned. Of course his awesome EM pedigree could have something to do with his rock-steady personality! 🙂

  5. It is too bad that all of you have had bad experiences. In my town, the park is part of the park service. You have to pay a yearly membership and it is locked. You have to have proof of vaccination. If you don/t provide prof when it is due your key fob is turned off. Thjere are occasionally aggressive dogs, but most of the owners are very good about keeping them under control. When the owners don’t keep them in check, they get expelled from the park. We have had many hours of great fun at the park. Maybe your local parks could learn from our park!

  6. We are fortunate to live 10 minutes from a large centrally located park, Shelby Farms, in Cordova TN. (http://www.shelbyfarmspark.org/) Within this 4,500 acre park is a 100+ acre area dedicated for an “off-leash” dog park.

    With a variety of terrain, including open fields, woodlands, marshlands and five ponds, this dedicated dog park area is Disneyland for our two labs. There is even an area designated for field trial training and whether you’re training your dog to retrieve or just watching, it’s quite beautiful watching working dogs show their stuff in the field.

    This off-leash area also provides dogs with a way to develop their socialization skills by interacting with other dogs and their owners, runners, bicyclists, and the occasional horseback rider or two. You will also see the occasional beaver or deer if you’re lucky.

    And you will see families along with their kids, some still in strollers, providing their dogs with a socialization opportunity that they might not otherwise have. For a dog, especially a lab, being able to run free across open fields, scout through the woods for creatures, retrieve and swim in different ponds, can never be duplicated in a leashed neighborhood walk.

    And while we have had the occasional “dust up” it is never tolerated. Sometimes, it is just part of the process of growing up and learning the rules – Similar to a child misbehaving on their first outing to a nice restaurant. And for the occasional inattentive dog parent, or repeat offender, we’re also not too shy to explain the expected rules of behavior; We are at the dog park because we love our dogs and want the best for them, yours and ours.

    And while I agree with the statement that dogs should always be supervised, it would be unfair to group all dog parks together. Just like all dog owners, and all dogs – all dog parks are not the same.

    If you are ever fortunate enough to be in the southwest TN area, please stop by and give us the opportunity to show you some southern hospitality and what we believe to be the best dog park in the country. It will be a treat for you and your dog.

  7. Since I own a Lab from Endless Labs I am very aware of his socialization and movements at our dog park. I can certainly understand people’s reservations and have witnessed idiot owners with all those same comments, “oh, they’ll be fine” and “you have to toughen them up”.

    I am vigilant with my pup. We waited till all shots were done, try to keep him away from the community water bowl. Since he’s an intact male he has shown some dominant issues with other pups. I pull him off immediately when I sense him getting overly aggressive and we go to a quieter section of the dog park and work on our training skills from class, till he clams down.I have seen the pack at work and watched him join in and immediately grab him if he’s again showing aggressiveness.

    I am a responsible owner and VERY protective of my dog. If i sense an owner who is not and his or her dog is more than aggressive, I will step in on both the dog and the owner.
    I experienced 13 great years of socialization, friendship and exercise with my former Lab, and I want my new little guy(for now anyway) to have that some experience. I won’t let a out of touch dog owner ruin it.

    Speak up, be forceful and protect your pet.
    Nine times out of ten the dogs figure it out before the owners, but I do understand it can take 1 bad experience to ruin that for a long time.
    In our town we have fought many battles to keep our park open for the dogs from 7-9am and 4-6pm. With daylight savings it goes from 6-8pm.

    I have made lifelong friends and loved so may furry buddies over the years. I have cried with owners after a death and cannot tell you what the outpouring of thoughts and condolences meant to me when we lost our lab after 13 years.
    Yes, there are issues, but if you are vigilant and protect your pet, in the long run it will be great for both of you.

    1. This is put so perfectly, Phil!

  8. I took my Emma to the Del Mar Beach Dog area, thinking that she’d love the interaction and fun of the sea. She did. But guess what, the second time we went a large, mixed breed dog ran out of the surf and murdered a small dog that was standing on the beach right next to it’s owner. A horrific scene and by the time the large dog was pulled off the little guy had a broken neck. We never went again. Just a cautionary tale.
    Kathleen

  9. We have 2 labs. They are brothers from the same litter and are 5 years old. One can be aggressive. Since a pup he has to have all the toys. He works himself
    up if he doesn’t have all the toys and this makes him crazy. His brother is more submissive. But his brother gets excited with other dogs and ‘humps’ everyone. We DON”T GO TO DOG PARKS. It is too difficult. The more submissive one also has allergies and gets skin issues from dog parks. The more aggressive one gets himself so over excited he nearly hyperventilates. Best to stay home, go for long walks on a leash and play in the fenced yard.

  10. We take our 17 month old lab, Chudleigh, to Doggy day care at our vets office several days a week. Each dog has it’s own run. All dogs are taken out to the three large outside areas at 10, 12 and 2. They have all been personality checked, have to have all their shots and stool samples up to date and are arranged in groups according to size and energy levels. One group is the older, quieter, lowered energy level dogs, another the small dogs and the third is the high energy, mostly big but some small, dogs. After an hour playing together they return to their individual runs for an hour of rest. They are then excited and energized each time they go out to play with the others. There are at least two people in with each group to oversee. If anyone is bullying or out of control they are removed to a small area nearby to calm down. If it happens again they are returned to their run. There are multiple cameras at different angles so owners can watch their dogs playing and see how they get along on computers. One of the people overseeing everything also is the principal dog trainer. We done training for beginner 1, beginner 2, intermediate 3 and now taking the CGC course there. Chudleigh loves going there and as it is connected to the vet’s office, she looks forward to going there too. We have no one in our neighborhood with dogs who are ‘user friendly’ for playing. This is a perfect solution for us. We do occasionally go to dog parks. For the most part there have been very few incidences and those have been resolved by owners pretty quickly. Fortunately if anything is going on, Chudleigh will immediately come to me and pretty much avoid getting mixed up in anything. It’s not really that dog parks are good or bad, it’s the owners. I have stepped in to break up a dog who was humping another dog. They owners of both were right there and neither said or did anything. I just said it was unacceptable behavior. The owners of the offending dog eventually carried the dog out of the park. By the way, Chudleigh despite being a lab, is not terribly interested in playing ball or frisbee after three or four tosses. But she loves playing with other dogs and that is the best way to get rid of her energy. All our other labs could play ball for hours at a time. I think she is a cat in lab clothing. Time to get another puppy I think. Hopefully from EM labs!

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