There are dog owners who either swear by dog parks or swear off dog parks. Our last trip to the local dog park (our favorite, most spacious one) was an unpleasant experience.
While I do believe that dog parks serve many useful purposes of offering enclosed off-leash exercise, socialization and stimulation, training, etc it is unfortunate that I too often see irresponsible dog owners bringing their reactive and/or aggressive dogs to the park as a solve-all way to release their unstable energy.
Long story short, Alaska was attacked by 2 German Shepherds. An owner brought his 2 hyperactive dogs to the park and as soon as their leashes came off, they raced through the park as if they’ve never seen freedom before. Simultaneously they encircled and pounced on other dogs nearby, making both dogs and owners uneasy. Knowing this was a potentially troubling situation, I ushered Alaska to the farther end of the park. She was standing by my side when one dog, with ball in mouth, approached Alaska. They made brief eye contact and the next second, the Shepherd was on top of Alaska. The next few seconds passed so quickly; it was almost a complete blur. I heard Alaska give a warning growl of her own as she put up a fight and ran towards the park gate. The dogs’ owner just stood there calling his dog’s name to no avail. The second I thought it was over, the second Shepherd ran over and grazed Alaska by the neck. Not only was Alaska traumatized, but I was extremely upset over this, and we immediately left the park. Luckily, she was physically unharmed.
While I do not swear off going to dog parks in the future, I will certainly take more precautions to prevent an incident like this from happening again. Go with your gut; you are your dog’s ultimate leader, so if you sense a potentially risky situation, it is best to remove yourself and your dog before something escalates.
Why is socialization so important?
Socialization is crucial to puppy development, and it is a continual process from puppyhood to old age. Meeting other dogs can be trickier than you think, especially if your dog is not too comfortable or even if he is way too confident.
There are dogs I’ve come across that are unstable and somewhat puppy-intolerant. If you introduce your puppy to a dog for the first time, and you sense tension and instability in the dog (aggressive, fearful, or too rough), your pup might associate meeting other dogs to be a negative or uncomfortable experience.
Start early in a controlled environment and have an introduction with a dog you know very well and is a calm, tolerant, and balanced dog that will guide your pup and be a role model.
Tips for the Human
- be calm, confident, and assertive at all times – this is important to show your dog that you are the leader and are trustworthy in making good decisions, leading him/her in safe situations, and are able to protect your pack
- do not act like a nervous wreck if you encounter an uncomfortable situation with another dog – your energy will pass to your pup and set him/her off
- do not baby your dog such as picking up your dog when another dog is walking towards you. Just simply walk calmly in another direction away from the other dog (picking up your dog may cause him/her to feel more empowered by you holding him/her up and he/she will feel more defensive or dominant)
- if you visit the dog park to socialize your dog, do not bring any toys that your dog is territorial over. Playing fetch is a great activity, but if your dog is prone to attacking other dogs who might also want to play fetch, this could be a potentially dangerous situation.
This is fairly simple! Expose your pup early on to different people of all ages and sizes. Let them pet and interact with your puppy. Obviously supervise and make sure your dog is being treated well/gently. Invite guests to your home regularly to teach your dog that invited guests are welcome in the house and it can be a fun, pleasant experience. This will help your puppy in the long run, especially if he/she is exhibiting territorial behavior.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional dog trainer, nor do I claim to be one. All opinions stated in this post are of my personal experience training my dog. What works for me may not work for you, and all dogs are different in disposition and training.