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Dog Park vs. Singles Bar

Author: Nicole Stewart | Date: September 9, 2013

I’m going to tell you a little secret…

I don’t really need, nor want, my dog to be overly interested in other dogs.

Gasp!

I know.  Seems weird, huh?

I’ll tell you another one…

Though I did a lot of time in a bar with friends in my early 20’s, I’m not sure I was always really enjoying myself.

Gasp!  What?!?

Here’s how I see it:

I got my dog to be a companion to people, specifically my family, first and foremost.

We are whom he has to live with, listen to in all situations, and with whom he really needs to form a bond.  I like that he looks to me for everything, and therefore really cares where I am when we are out in the world. (I’m a little indifferent on his stalking me all the way to the bathroom, but I’ll take that over an obsession with other dogs.)  I like that my dog is a “people dog” and can simply co-exist around other dogs.

If I had a quarter for every puppy client who asked me when he or she could take him or her to the dog park for socialization, I would be a very rich woman. What they don’t always understand is that puppies don’t have to play for an hour straight at a dog park to get socialized to other dogs.  In fact, that kind of socialization can give dogs the idea that the only way to be around other dogs is by being amped up and playing.  Then they go to a coffee shop with their human and expect to do the same with every dog that they see.  The dog park is not always a great place for building good social cues.

My biggest argument with unmonitored puppy play is that we have no real idea what a dog’s experience really is as they run away from or jump on top of another dog. I agree that dogs need to learn how to act and play appropriately with other dogs, but, in my opinion, often they are actually learning the exact opposite.

Similarly, think of this:

  • How many people are actually learning good social habits in a singles bar?

  • How many people are actually having fun at a singles bar?

  • How many people are learning good social cues at a bar?

I could go on, but I think you get my point, and the truth is that some of the answers to the above questions are positive.  That’s true for dog parks and puppy play dates too, but I would argue that more often than not, in both scenarios, the participants are developing coping mechanisms rather than good social etiquette.

So, what do we do?  I have some thoughts:

  • Find a good puppy class that doesn’t focus on letting dogs “work it out” on their own.  A puppy class that has free play should allow it to occur for a few minutes, and then break to get focused on the important stuff – you and your dog building a bond.
  • Find known, safe dogs that don’t get overly amped during play and keep the session short – about 5-10 min at a time (shorter if it gets too rowdy) with longer breaks in between.
  • Have your dog’s exposure to other dogs on leash during “working” walks*** significantly outweigh their time at a dog park or other kinds of free play.
  • When you go to someone’s house, don’t let the play happen until everyone is calm by keeping all dogs on leash.  Once everyone has relaxed, take off the leash with very little fanfare.
  • Even on regular walks, dogs can interact briefly and successfully with other dogs on leash, but then should keep moving, which will keep the practiced arousal level down. I much prefer a dog who interacts for a minute, but then looks to their human to continue the walk.

*** “working” walks are walks where the focus is on basic training and checking in with you periodically while loose leash walking.

I know that it seems like fun to see your dog run around with his or her four-legged friends, and I’m aware that there are benefits to the human well, not the least being a good and tired dog at the end.  However, there can be less desirable things that come out of that repeated activity such as a dog that is reactive on leash.

Let’s be honest, have you ever met the guy who’s the life of the party and the staple at your favorite bar?  Is he who you would want to escort you to the inauguration ball at the White House?

 


When I think of how my dog was when I brought her home from the shelter, I marvel at the change.

Karen M. | View Client Testimonials

 

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