The Considerate Canine: Dog Parks
The Problem: I need help with training a reactive dog to be better in the dog park. She seems aggressive sometimes but really is just scared when other dogs gang up on her and thus snaps at them. She shows the warning signs but other dogs don't listen- she's never actually hurt a dog, but she looks like she could. I get mean stares at the park and don't go as much as I used to- but that only hurts our case because she needs more socialization not less. - Samantha Brown
Samantha, not all dogs are cut out to be dog park players. If your dog is fearful or shy, it is possible that putting her in that position will just create more problems. Imagine how you might feel if constantly taken to a place that frightens or stresses you out. Truly, for some dogs, a great game of fetch or a long run or walk is much more pleasurable and appropriate.
Socialization does not mean that a dog needs to meet and play with every dog that she sees. As dogs get older, they tend to be less interested in playing with dogs that they do not know, and that is okay. It is great to have that friendly, never met a stranger dog, but that isn’t every dog. It is much more important to teach your dog that she can depend on you to help her be comfortable and safe.
Training always needs to begin where your dog is comfortable and you have some control over the environment. For your dog that might be on a walk in your neighborhood with a friendly dog that you have some control over. Begin with small steps, maybe approaching and retreating from a dog, gradually getting closer. What you are really looking for is a dog that doesn’t have to engage unless she is comfortable.
There are so many other activities that we can do with our dogs other than the dog park. Be creative, observe the things that your dog really enjoys and have fun with your dog.
Cindy Carter, CPDT-KA
Mindful Manners Dog Training