I’m a big fan of taking your dog to the dog park. Every day. At least once a day; the more the better! Not all dogs can socialize safely offleash with other dogs. Most, however, with consistent leadership and training, can do wonderfully.
Walking your dog on leash through the park doesn’t count as going to the dog park. Throwing a ball to play fetch in your private backyard doesn’t count either. Neither does having a playdate once a month with your mom’s dog, your dog’s only friend.
By “dog park” (or “dog run”) I mean three things:
- Your dog is offleash
- Lots of other dogs are offleash
- Your dog doesn’t already know lots of the other dogs.
Why am I such a fan of the dog park? Some vets warn their clients away from dog runs because of the possibility of contagious illnesses. Many owners never go because of a fear of dog fights.
In my experience, to raise a dog who’s obedient, balanced, happy, social, trusting, and respectful, you need three things and three things only:
Real physical exercise only happens offleash. Only when a dog can run free, chase a ball, get chased, roll and wrestle and nip and bite and hump. Sorry to say it, and it comes as a surprise to many, but walks just aren’t adequate exercise for most dogs. Maybe the short-snouted ones in the heat of summer. But for the rest, you can walk across the town and back and Fido will still tear around your apartment and chew on the sofa when you get back home.
Socialization can’t really happen the way dogs want and need it to if the dogs are on leash. Proper canine meet and greets involve approaching in arcing circles, being free, sniffing butts, moving apart and back together, and playing. The unnaturalness of leashed meet and greets — especially on narrow sidewalks — is the main reason leash aggression is so common. I’d wager around 75% of the dogs with serious leash aggression that I treat are entirely non-aggressive when offleash.
Obedience training, in the sense I mean it, can happen anywhere — in your home, on a walk, and also off leash in the park. The great thing about working in the dog park is the abundance of various rewards: throwing ball, throwing frisbee, running, chasing your dog, sprawling on the dirt or in the grass for a bellyrub, running to play with other dogs, exploring, sniffing/peeing on trees, and so forth. Practice recall (“come!”) and immediately release your dog to any of those rewards, and you’ll have him coming on command in no time! Same with down/calm/stay. Treats are a wonderful reward, but many if not most dogs will choose running and playing and toys and balls and chase and tug over treats. And those are therapeutically exhausting.
And they happen only at the park!