My lab Tucker is now 2.5 years old, and some may think he has led a bit of a sheltered life.
For many reasons that are perfectly articulated in Nicole Stewart’s blog comparing dog parks to singles bars, I don’t think that dog parks are a great idea for a lot of dogs. I KNOW that they aren’t a great idea for Tucker. He tends to be somewhat anxious and can feel intimidated by dogs he doesn’t know. I know that being put into a crowded, enclosed space with a bunch of unknown dogs would be about as much fun for him as it would be for a person with social anxiety to go out to a loud, crowded nightclub.
The video was for a client of theirs who makes a retrieving toy. Now if there is one skill that Tucker gets an A+ in, it’s retrieving. I knew he’d be perfect. He drops objects when asked and swims and runs joyfully and tirelessly when playing fetch. I tried to think about how we could film Tucker retrieving the toy in a safe, but scenic location. Then I remembered a place I had heard about, but never been to – Prairie Wolf Dog Park in Lake County. Turns out, this is a fabulous place for people who are looking for something different from your typical dog park experience.
I suspected that with all of this space, we could find a quiet place where Tucker wouldn’t need to worry about other dogs too much. When we arrived, however, I was a little apprehensive as there were quite a few dogs milling right near the entrance. When we entered the park, I just pulled my trusty Chuck It toy and tennis ball out of the bag, and Tucker suddenly cared a whole lot less that there were a bunch of dogs in close proximity and focused on the promise of his favorite game instead.
Once we proceeded past the entrance area, we walked up a trail toward the ponds. We encountered several dogs along the way but after a brief sniff, Tucker would leave the other dog behind and be on his way with me. I discovered that the wonderful thing about this park was that just about every dog that was there was there to have fun with his owner, not the other dogs. There was very little play between unknown dogs but there were tons of happy interactions between owners and dogs – toys were tossed, trails were hiked, lots of happy petting and praise were given. The dogs and owners were really connected and paying attention to each other. To follow Nicole’s analogy of dog parks to singles bars, this park was much more like an evening out at a nice restaurant. Yes, there are other people (dogs) there and you may give them a polite greeting (sniff), but you are really there to socialize with the person you came with, not make new friends.
I highly recommend checking out Prairie Wolf , not as a place for your dog to play with other dogs, but as a great place for your dog to run and swim off leash, practice some training exercises and strengthen the bond between the two of you. It just so happens that there may be other dogs there, too.