Dog Parks – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

What all dog parks have in common is the reason for their existence. Dogs and their owners need a place where they can run free, without leashes and do dog

dog  parks, yes or no

Dog Parks – the dog, the bad and the ugly

things. Many dog owners have no yards and the dogs would otherwise spend their entire outdoor lives on a leash.

Advantages of Dog Parks

Dog parks provide a safe space in which people can exercise their dogs, and watch them play.  Our culture is becoming less and less tolerant of our canine companions, and often they are not welcome elsewhere.

Dog parks can facilitate socialization with a variety of breeds and breed types. They can be a wonderful resource for adolescent dogs that have too much energy and no place to put it. Many also function as a social center, a place where people gather to chat, to exchange news, and to commiserate with one another’s problems.

Disadvantages of Dog Parks

The disadvantages are not so simple, but can be even more powerful, depending on the dog and its owner. The real problems, both short and long-term, are behavioral.

Often, owners unwittingly contribute to these problems because they don’t recognize, or don’t interpret correctly, what their dogs are actually doing and learning. Some of the problems cause difficulties only when dogs are meeting and interacting with other dogs. Others can cause future behavior to deteriorate. And still others directly impact dog/owner relationships.

The Power of Knowledge

Owners play an important role in dog parks, and often don’t accept the responsibility they should. Many don’t pay attention to their dog, and many have no idea what constitutes proper behavior, or what a dog may be signaling to another dog. Some defend their dogs when the animal exhibits poor or inappropriate behavior. Some overreact to a normal interaction, in which one dog discourages the attention of another. Occasionally, some owners use parks as babysitters, even leaving their dogs unattended while they shop. And most owners have far less control over their dogs than they believe!

Educating owners is a tough job. Many believe firmly that they are socializing their dogs in the proper way, and don’t like suggestions that they limit dog park time or monitor their dog and others. Teaching them what good play looks like is a first step, and empowering them to actually interrupt poor interactions is a necessary second step. Often, people don’t want to offend other dog owners, so they allow poor behavior to continue.

Trainers can help them learn by describing what appropriate interactions look like, possibly by narrating what the dogs are doing as two dogs play. I’ve found that owners really enjoy learning what good play manners are like and they appreciate the same kinds of descriptions that they hear from sports announcers during games.

Finally, some dogs should not go to dog parks. They can be too shy, too bold, too defensive, or have tendencies to guard toys and balls. Often, when consulting with clients, I ask them to consider giving parks a pass and concentrating on walks or runs, either alone or maybe with some special friends. I’m occasionally surprised by the relief these people feel when they find out dog park play is not mandatory! They thought they had to do it.

Behavioral Tips For Dog Park Attendees


  • Check out the entrance before entering to make sure dogs aren’t congregating there.
  • Pay close attention to their dog’s play style, interrupting play if necessary to calm their dog down.
  • Remove their dog if the dog appears afraid.
  • Remove their dog if it is bullying others.
  • Respect their dog’s wish to leave.
  • Leave special toys at home to avoid resource guarding problems.


  • Allow your dog to enter the park if there is a pack of dogs right next to the entrance.
  • Believe that dogs can work it out if you just let them do so.
  • Congregate at a picnic table or other area and chat with dog owners without watching their own dog.
  • Let their frightened dog remain in the park and hope things get better.
  • Assume a dog is aggressive when it is only trying to communicate its discomfort.

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