I Don’t Like Dog Parks

I don’t like dog parks. There. I said it. The reason is because they are not at all what the average dog owner thinks they are. Many of my customers proudly tell me that they make a special effort to take their dogs to dog parks. Honestly, the very thought makes me cringe. Dog parks are dangerous and encourage just the kind of behavior that good trainers will tell you to avoid!

Why people go to dog parks


People go to dog parks for a few reasons. They don’t have a large or fenced in area where their dogs can play off leash. Therefore, they think a dog park is a good place for their dogs to socialize. They like the human company while their dogs play in a large space.

The reality is that dogs don’t need to socialize with other dogs. Certainly not strange dogs. This is an emotional myth that humans tell themselves. Humans need social interaction with other humans. Dogs do not.

In spite of what they are, the intention behind dog parks was good. The reality is that dog parks are not good. Off-leash play among strange dogs can lead, very quickly, to serious fights. Owners who do not understand the necessity of establishing themselves correctly as the leaders for their dogs. When trouble occurs, the dogs do not look to them for guidance nor do they respond when the owners try to recall them.

What they really do


Dog parks encourage poor manners (both dog and human). Dogs learn that they can and even should approach strange dogs in a way they normally wouldn’t. Humans, because they don’t understand dog language, push this rude behavior.

The close play between strange dogs also spread disease. Very few public dog parks require owners to provide proof of full vaccinations for their dogs. Not only are rabies vaccinations crucial but those for other highly communicable dog diseases needed. Bordetella is one that many owners aren’t even aware of needing for their dogs.

Humans at dog parks force interactions between dogs, and teach bad habits. To clarify what I stated above, dogs learn very bad social habits at dog parks. Too often the least socially skilled of the dogs is the one who sets the tone for all the interactions at the park.

The reality of dog parks is that people ignore the rules, ignore their dogs (and those of others), do not have control of their dogs (no rock solid recall), they cannot read the body language of dogs properly, and can only panic when fights break out.

They are where the wild rumpus begins


Play is completely unstructured in these parks. It’s chaotic and usually fairly unsupervised. Observe the action at a dog park. Firstly, notice that most of the people who bring their dogs to a dog park to burn off excess energy and to socialize also don’t have dogs that are well leash trained and obedient. The utter chaos of dog parks teaches dog that wild, unrestricted activity is not only allowed, but encouraged. Any good trainer will tell you that unstructured, unrestricted activity is not a good thing for your dog! This wild time creates a wild mind in the dogs. Subsequently many people have to chase their dogs down when it’s time to leave!

The problem with puppies

Older dogs can treat puppies badly. In other words, puppies can be at a high risk in dog parks. People think they’re helping teach their pups to socialize well with other dogs when they bring them to dog parks. But the cold, hard truth is that they’re setting their puppies up to be harassed and even attacked by older dogs. Dogs who are resource guarders are regularly brought by their owners to dog parks. When a pup (or even another adult dog) tries to innocently and playfully take a toy belonging to one of these dogs it can be severely injured.

Other hazards

Caution – The above image shows a 7 lb. Chihuahua killed by another dog at an off leash dog park.

People bring young kids and even babies in strollers to dog parks. Then, when a curious dog approaches the parents tend to overreact. Even worse, some dogs at dog parks don’t like kids and most kids are never taught the correct way to interact with dogs. Serious injuries can be the result of child/dog interactions.

Well intentioned people often bring food and dog treats into dog parks. This can create tense situations between those humans and the dogs and between dogs vying to get the food. Even dog treats can create volatile situations.

Many people bring their dogs to dog parks without recognizing that their dogs are aggressive toward strange dogs. Not all dogs have good social skills with other dogs. And too many people think they should just let dogs work out their differences when trouble starts.

Very real dangers exist!

The dangers to both dogs and humans is very real. A Yorkshire Terrier was killed in an off leash dog park in Colorado in December of 2017. Two children were severely mauled and a third was killed in a spate of maulings at off leash areas in Australia.

Dogs and humans being injured and even killed cannot be ignored even though these serious attacks may be rare. I have never seen a dog park with the proper equipment to break up a dog fight and not a single one with a full time employee experienced with dogs and skilled enough to handle incidents.

How should you replace time there?

We’ve already established that your dog does not need to play with lots of other dogs. Your dog will be perfectly happy with you as his best pal and playmate. Structured walks, structured play, and training are far better for your dog than time at a dog park.

If you have friends with stable, well-trained dogs you can always meet with them to allow some free play. Just be sure that you all supervise the dogs. Even dogs who know each other well can get into disagreements.

And if you’re going to introduce new dogs to the group be sure to do it carefully. New dogs are unlikely, at first, to be seen as a new friend. It’s more likely that the pack of dogs who knows each other will view this new dog as an interloper.

If you insist on going

Determined to take your dog to dog parks? You should consider these tips before going:

  • If you are at a dog park and a clearly out-of-control or aggressive dog shows up, simply leave. It’s not worth the risk to your dog.
  • Go to the park in off peak hours. Your dog may not have a large pack of dogs to play with (good) but the chances of something bad happening are greatly reduced.
  • Train your dog, before going to dog parks, to come to you no matter what the distraction! If a fight breaks out you want to be able to remove your dog from the area immediately! Hiring a trainer to condition your dog to an e collar and teach you the proper use is an excellent idea. Then, even if the situation at the dog park is chaotic and loud, you can communicate with your dog.
  • Play your dog’s favorite games with him at dog parks. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be your dog’s number 1 even at the park.

I don’t like dog parks

In conclusion I hope that the reasons I've stated resonates with you. Dog parks, are uncontrolled environments and, as a result, endanger both dogs and humans alike. In other words, I don’t like dog parks because I love my dogs!

Comments 7

  1. I totally disagree. Many people and dogs frequent dog parks. I’ve chosen one that it smaller and shady. Once you come you quickly find what dogs and people come as regulars. Knowing the dogs and their people we follow each other’s caution and respect. And our dogs love it. They run and play wrestling with each other never inflicting harm. I’m not saying bad things never happen. Just when you learn who comes and what the dog is like makes a huge difference. Our little park has two sides. One for big and one for small. The small dog side is often used when a newcomer brings dog for a first time. Most people just let their dogs play no matter what size except maybe not a chiwawa. The good parks offer far outweighs the chance that something real bad will happen. If we see aggression we step in and say something. If that doesn’t work we leave. I go every morning. I’ve never had to leave. Some parks are huge and their can be too much distance between you and Fido. It’s important that you pick a park that gives ample space to run but not too much so if a rumble gets out of hand you can intervene. I agree that very small children should not come to park as they do not always know how to interact. Also knowing that if separation is required that pulling each dog by the hind legs is safe and effective.

    1. Post

      I totally disagree. With over 40 years of professional training experience I’ve both seen and been told about horrible things occurring at dog parks. People, for the most part, have NO idea how to read dogs and they believe the dogs are just fine until the blood begins to flow. But, if you want to go, go. It’s your dog. I just won’t endanger mine by taking them among untrained dogs and people who have no real experience with dogs except for a few pets.

    2. Post

      And what do you do if someone brings a breed that’s known for gender aggression? Do you even know what breeds I mean? Can you tell if the dogs are up to date on vaccination? What about intact males in a park and someone brings a female in heat into the mix? There are too many variables and too many people with no real education or understanding of dogs to risk a dog park. Find like minded people and arrange play dates. It’s all wonderful until a dog is seriously injured.

  2. Sorry but this is crazy. What facts are you basing this article on, saying dogs don’t need to socialize with other dogs? They are PACK animals, moreso than humans, and they thrive when socializing with other dogs. The dog park allows them to be dogs. Most parks have a separate enclosure for small dogs, so any issues between a large dog and a tiny dog could easily be avoided if the small dog was where they’re supposed to be, with the other dogs their size. Please don’t write articles on subjects that you have no experience in, and haven’t even bothered to fact check. I agree that if a dog is unsocialized (because a bad owner failed to allow them to socialize with other dogs!), They shouldn’t be at the dog park. However, in my experience, the majority of dogs at the park are there because their owners have socialized them properly, and they’re able to play safely.

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      I’ve been a trainer for more than 40 years and I can tell you from both a trainer’s perspective and someone who has seen the carnage at dog parks that they are not what you want to expose your unprotected pet to for your idea of “socialization.” It’s not simply big dog/little dog issues. There are breeds that tend to be gender aggressive or simply dog aggressive. Most pet owners have no idea what those dogs are and neither do the owners of those breeds. Most parks do not require proof of vaccination so dogs with illnesses, including Bordetella, can be thrown into a group of otherwise healthy dogs. Most people become so “social” themselves that they aren’t really paying attention to their dogs and wouldn’t recognize troubling body language even if they were.
      If a park required updated proof of vaccinations, had a spay or neuter policy, temperament tested new dogs, and insisted on the immediate removal of aggressive dogs, I would be more in favor of dog parks. Unfortunately, most don’t and Sally Average wanders in with her dog who hasn’t been vaccinated, is in heat, and is gender aggressive. Not a fun day for the other dogs.

  3. Your wrong saying they don’t need socialization
    The more social the better.
    The more people and dog’s they are around the better as well as putting your dog in different settings the better.
    Along with training
    Just meet my dogs!

    1. Post

      Dogs that are “socialized” with dogs are the ones I see pulling their hapless owners down the street to go meet some strange dog. Or who run up to strange people who may not like dogs or even be afraid of dogs. By exposing them to (potentially) friendly dogs and people in a dog park you’re teaching them that EVERY dog is friendly and EVERY person will want to meet them. This is not true and could put your dog in jeopardy if it rushes to greet a dog aggressive dog or a stranger who carries pepper spray. Socialization should be limited to a select group of dogs and people. You can verify that the dogs have the proper vaccinations and are not aggressive and that the people actually don’t mind having a dog rush up to them. Standing quietly on the street when another dog walks by is social. It’s not the drunk guy at the party grabbing everyone and trying to be a slobbery best pal. It’s the person who quietly converses with a select group without causing a ruckus.

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