Updated: Jul 31, 2020
The Gawler dog park is now complete and ready for hundreds of paws to start racing over its newly laid grass.
And while some are welcoming the new dog-oriented environment, others are worried about how their furry friend will cope in an area filled with other dogs, so we asked Dr Chalette Brown (pictured) to give us an insight into dog parks, and how they can work for your pooch.
“First, it’s important to remember that dog parks aren’t intrinsically good or bad,” says Dr Brown, “for many dogs the park might be just the thing to give them some off-leash time, but for other dogs the whole idea of visiting the park may make them uncomfortable or nervous”.
Dog parks are an environment designed especially for dogs, to let them safely play, explore, meet other dogs and run off-leash. This is great for socialised dogs, but, just like with people, not all dogs enjoy getting out and meeting others.
The key to a successful dog park experience is to ensure your dog has well developed social skills. Socialised dogs can greet others nicely, play appropriately and have excellent recall (meaning they will come back straight away when called by their owner). These “social butterfly” dogs seem to easily make friends with large and small dogs alike, and they are the best candidates to enjoy the dog park experience.
“But, dog parks are not for every dog,” says Dr Brown, “some dogs are afraid, nervous or shy around other dogs, and they may not enjoy the pooch park experience.”
Nervous dogs in a dog park may flee or fight (be on the “offensive”), creating problems for other dogs and owners sharing the space. “It is possible to use behaviour treatment to help your pooch grow comfortable in social situations,” explains Dr Brown, “but simply plonking them in the deep end and forcing them to interact is unlikely to be the best course of action, in fact, it will probably only make matters worse.”
“It’s not fair to push them into a dog park situation that they cannot cope well with.”
Dogs may also struggle at the park if they have incomplete socialisation skills. These dogs will often want to interact with others at the park in friendly ways, but not have the social skills to know what those ways are. They may inadvertently get into another dog’s space, triggering a reaction or causing frustration.
However, if you have a nervous or unsocialised dog, all is not lost, there are things you can do to help your dog develop those social skills vital for those pooch on pooch interactions that occur in dog parks.
The best way to socialise your dog is to start early. Puppy pre-schools can be an excellent starting point to help your pooch socialise. While not all puppies may flourish in these situations (shy and anxious puppies may require extra help), the period between 8-16 weeks of age (most owners get their puppy at around 8 weeks old) is the ideal time to teach appropriate behaviours and set your pup up for the life of a canine socialite.
If you have an older dog, positive reinforcement training and anxiety treatment can help your dog become more comfortable in social situations. Introducing them gradually to social situations and rewarding positive actions can help teach your dog what is appropriate behaviour in different environments, and will gradually help them adjust better to social interactions.
Finally, you can learn to read your dog’s body language. Dogs will have different expressions or display different behaviours depending on whether they are happy, worried, anxious, over-excited or tired. By knowing your dog’s body language you can see when your dog is stressed, which means you can advocate for your pooch, removing them from situations that are inappropriate or may spark aggression.
The simple message is that dog parks can be a great place for dogs to exercise, interact socially, explore, discover and live enriched lives, but, dog parks are not suitable for every dog. Taking nervous dogs to a dog park may simply make their social anxiety worse, while taking incompletely socialised dogs to the dog park may cause stress and frustration to other dogs trying to enjoy their run in the sun.
So before you go to Gawler’s new dog park, have a think about whether your dog has the social skills to be successful in that situation, and if you are worried that they don’t, well, with puppy preschool classes, a dedicated behaviour veterinarian, and links to a range of trainers specialising in positive reinforcement training, we can help your dog become the best they can.