To Park or Not to Park

June 15, 2011  

Why dog parks may not be the best place to socialize your dog

By Stephanie Lam and Marthina McClay of Our Pack, Inc.

(All photos courtesy of Melissa Lipani)

Dog parks have fast become a popular (and to some, essential) part of dog ownership. While some dogs may do well at dog parks, we feel that for many the dog park may potentially cause more problems. Why?

Dog Parks May Not the Best Idea for Socialization

Some owners see the dog park as a “babysitter” and are not even aware of what their dog is doing; they prefer to chit-chat with other owners while their dog plays unsupervised at the other end of the park. For some dogs, a trip to the dog park is the only exercise they get! They arrive frustrated and keyed-up – not a good playmate for your dog! Even well-mannered dogs may pick up the rude behaviors of other dogs.

Stubbydog: News & Views - Dog parks may not be the best place to socialize your dogMany owners, especially of new puppies, bring their dog to the dog park to socialize them with other dogs. While their intentions are well-meaning, the chaotic and often uncontrolled environment can be frightening and traumatic for a young puppy or unsocialized adult dog. Because other dogs are not leashed (and may even have bad manners), they may swarm and overwhelm the newest visitor.

From the moment your dog or puppy is brought into the dog park, she may be surrounded by dogs all clamoring to sniff, lick, shove, bark at, or play with her. She may try to hide behind you or under a bench to protect herself. She may decide the safest thing for her to do is lay on her back in a submissive position in hopes the other dogs will stop bombarding her. She may even lash out and bite or attack a dog that is being rude or not giving her enough space. At this point, your dog may have learned that the dog park is a very scary, overwhelming place and that other dogs can be unpleasant creatures! This can possibly cause behavior issues in the future.

From Puppies to Adulthood

Most young puppies do great in social settings like dog parks. However, as your puppy matures her attitude with other dogs may change. In the chaotic and confusing setting of a dog park, she may be threatened or may be pushed around by another dog and feel that she needs to defend herself. If there is an altercation and you have a “pit bull,” she will likely be blamed for it whether she instigated it or not. Should the media get wind of the event, you will be “wrong” in the news regardless of what actually happened. The myth of the “pit bull” will be reinforced, and yet another person will have a misconstrued story to tell. The best way to socialize your dog to other dogs is through controlled positive interactions with balanced playmates that your dog has been introduced to slowly please see: Introducing Your Dog to a New Dog. This way, you can create a positive atmosphere and closely monitor your dog’s reactions. This sets your dog up for success. (Also read Your Pit Bull: A Social Butterfly).

Socializing your pup very early on in life is important. Up to 12 weeks is a crucial time. However, even with heavy socialization, as dogs mature their attitudes may possibly change towards other dogs. This happens with all dogs of all breeds. Many dogs will be social with dogs throughout their lives; some will not get along with any dogs once they mature (around 2 – 3 years old). Many dogs may be somewhere in between. If you have a dog that may be uncomfortable around other dogs, you can socialize him by taking him to a class where he can learn to be more comfortable around other dogs while on leash. (Visit our Classes page for more information). Please call in a trainer if you feel you need help.

The Safe Alternative: Small Play Groups

Your dog can still enjoy the company of other dogs. The best way to accomplish this is through supervised play groups of with dogs your dog has been properly introduced to. The other owners should also be present and supervising the play. Periodically stop the play and have each dog return to his/her owner to take a break. This will prevent over-arousal and helps keep things controlled.

Keep in mind that dog parks are not a necessity, and your dog is not missing out if she doesn’t attend them. Leisurely walks or jogs with you provide the best exercise, and small play groups give her a wonderful opportunity to play with other dogs!

If you feel that your dog may have issues with other dogs, e-mail us at

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10 Responses to “To Park or Not to Park”
  1. says:

    We were banned from our nearby dogpark because another dog attacked our dog. The park has a policy of banning both parties. The owner of the dog had no controll over her dog and it was roughing up all the dogs.

  2. RebeccaTomlinsonDoane says:

    Thanks for sharing and caring!

  3. StubbyDog says: Sorry you were banned, it’s a shame people think their dogs are suited for dog parks. But hopefully this article will give you peace of mind, knowing that your dog can be just as fulfilled without dog parks.

  4. StubbyDog says:

    @RebeccaTomlinsonDoane You’re welcome!

  5. morrigan says:

    this article is so true. my trainer doesn’t even take his own (very well-behaved dogs) to dog parks. as he puts it, “i can control my dogs, but i have no idea if the other people can control theirs.” i’m personally not fond of dog parks. one time, my dog was chased and harassed by another dog there who would just not let up. the other owner did nothing to stop it. finally, my dog had enough and snapped at the aggressor, and of course my dog (an APBT) was the one who was given the dirty looks.i’m fine with taking my dogs on leashed walks and letting her say “hello” to the other neighborhood dogs that we pass. the parks are just too uncontrolled and chaotic, IMO. not worth it.

  6. StubbyDog says:

    @morrigan Thanks for sharing, and as you can see, dog parks aren’t the only solution to socializing your dogs.

  7. We didn’t socialize my dog as a puppy in dog parks, mainly because of what’s been said — we had no control over the other dogs and how they might treat our young pup. That’s led to him being not properly socialized as an adult dog, but I think even if we could go back and socialize him more, we still wouldn’t go to a dog park — we’d do in another, more controlled setting.

  8. StubbyDog says:

    @annedreshfield Thanks your comments, a controlled setting is best, check out Our Pack’s other helpful article:

    It will probably be a lot of help to you in socializing your dog.

  9. @StubbyDog Thanks for the link! I’ll definitely check it out.

  10. marthinam says: That’s one of the things that can happen is just the owner not being in control and allowing a random environment. Thanks for commenting!