There’s been a lot of discussion of dog parks lately at a couple of my favorite sites, two at Dog Star Daily (see Dog Parks and Why You Should Avoid Them and Rethinking Dog Parks) and one at Kenzo The Hovawart, titled Kenzo Stopped Visiting the Dog Park.

The talk centered primarily around good dog parks, bad dog parks, and reasonable alternatives to dog parks that allow dogs to play with each other. But in his second post on the topic, trainer Eric Goebelbecker, who blogs regularly at Dog Spelled Foward, noted that the following suggestion in his first article had gone virtually ignored:

….Skip playing with other dogs and just play with [your dog] yourself. (Assuming you only have one dog.)… Does your dog really need to play with other dogs to have a completely fulfilled life?

I don’t think so.

Well, I’d like to respond on Friday. Frankie tolerates other dogs most of the time, though he often growls, barks, and snaps at those who are invading his personal space when I’m around. He has not evinced any desire to play with them, at a dog park or anywhere else. Does that mean his life is unfulfilled?

Or to repeat what Eric said: Does your dog need to play with other dogs to have a completely fulfilled life?

Please send articles and comments, pro and con, on the topic.

Update: I should clarify that Frankie walks peacefully with a variety of other dogs, and on rare occasions even does a bit of butt sniffing. So, outside the house, where almost canine interactions occur, he doesn’t react unless another dog gets in his face and even then it’s just a warning growl.

21 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Dog Meet Dog?”

  1. Great question! And, sorry for the long-winded answer!

    I don’t think dogs need to play with other dogs to lead a fulfilled life as long as they have an owner who plays with them and walks them. However, I like the idea of controlled play dates for socializing puppies and younger dogs so they don’t develop fear aggression issues later on – this does not mean a dog park!

    I will say that for Daisy, having another dog around (as a companion) has made a difference. She’s happier, more confident and more playful with her buddy Jasper at her side. We do go to a dog park on occassion, but they are just as happy hiking the trails with me as they are at the dog park. And yes, in my opinion there are “good” and “bad”dog parks. And the bad ones are bad because of the people not the dogs.

  2. One of my specialties is helping to socialize/acclimate dogs that have a history of dog-dog aggression (or fear). I have 5 dogs of my own and usually have a foster around for good measure. A few days a week I also host dog play groups. As a result, I can offer client dogs a lot of dog social opportunities in a controlled, supervised environment (very, very different than a dog park).

    Although I don’t have the exact number at hand, I would estimate I’ve worked with around 75 – 100 dogs of various sizes, ages, and dispositions in the 10 years I’ve been providing this service. While the outcomes have ranged from dogs that 100% became dog-loving/playing/social butterfiles to dogs that learned to relax and tolerate the presence of other dogs, in every single case in which the dogs continued the sessions long enough to have a change in attitude, they have been noticeably calmer, more focused, and less reactive overall. By far the majority of dogs have learned to play enthusiastically with other dogs, including a few that have done serious damage to other dogs in the past. So, IMO, dogs DO need at least the experience of being calm in proximity to other dogs to have a fulfilled (aka balanced) life.

  3. I don’t really like dog parks, but I do think that the average dog needs to practice their doggy communication skills. My own dog, Lola became much worse with other dogs when our daily play group at the local park was busted by the dog catcher. Lola never did well at dog parks, but give her an enormous people park and a bunch of slow dogs she could easily outrun, and she would play appropriately.

    I still can’t wait for the day where I can offer supervised play groups as an alternative to dog parks.

  4. As a person who loves, breathes, sleeps, and makes a living from the passion of dogs, I have to ask and maybe someone here can assist. What to do about people at the dog park whose dogs have fleas? I see them, tell them and they act like I just said “your dog has a tail.” Please help.

    1. Carol, nice to see you here! I’d bet you could get an answer to your question over at Dog Star Daily (see the first two links in this post), where the dog park debate still seems to be raging. My sense is that good dog parks have hygiene rules as well as aggression rules and dogs with fleas are banned. And the bad dog parks are irresponsible in many areas.

  5. I get where Eric is coming from and agree that dog parks are pretty much fraught with peril, not only for disease, but from unsupervised play that gets too rough and people who do not have their dogs under control. Not to mention those who still allow big dogs to mix with little dogs – accident waiting to happen, and not with my dog, thanks:)

    Mel, Dee, and Crystal all make good suggestions going beyond the dog park regarding socialization for the young, which is essential, and help for fearful dogs under supervised interaction w/o overwhelming them. In keeping with your “guilt free zone” I don’t think dogs need to go to dog parks to lead fulfilled lives, and people often feel guilty if they do not follow the crowd. As Eric said, people should spend time playing with their dogs themselves.

    1. For me it’s a given that dog parks are not for Frankie. I’m going one step further though: does he really need play groups either at his age (nearly 12) or can he be a happy retiree, just enjoying the walks and home play I provide for him?

  6. I don’t think anyone can make blanket statements about what people or dogs need to be happy. In fact if there is any one blanket statement it would be that everyone needs to do what makes things pleasant for them. For Evie, our toy Manchester this means one friend- Radar Dog. She hates most dogs but for some reason she really took to Radar. So they play. And that’s fine, I feel no need to make her tolerate other dogs in the name of “being sociable.” I find that extroverts like to monopolize the language surrounding these things. Some of us, just frankly want to be left alone, yet certain extroverts want to label this as being “unsocial” or somehow “unfulfilled.” That is as bad as when some women chastise other women who don’t want children as “missing something.” It’s rude, it’s wrong, and it disrespects the right of each sentient being to pick what it wants.

    Personally, I’d love to see dog parks come to Jackson. We have none. But I want to see them come here for those who wish to use them. Not to create some sort of situation where people feel like they are ducking a pet parent necessity if they aren’t scheduling play dates for little Fido.

    Oh and Carol, hun, fleas live almost everywhere including on the squirrels running around at the park. Protect *your* dog from them with good meds and then you don’t have to worry what others do or don’t do. You could also go a step further and do what I do and carry some extra flea stuff to share with another dog.

    1. I like the perspective you offer on this, Jenni. I can’t tell you how many times the first question out of the mouths of people I haven’t run into in a long time is “So, are you seeing someone” — as though being single is a condition that needs to be cured before I can be happy. But the good news is that, because I am single, no one — except a gynecologist I went to, once! — generally asks me how I feel about not having kids…

      1. So you know what I mean when I refer to the “tyranny of the extroverts,” lol! I think the canine world probably has as many introverts as the human world. I found a great article on it once but the gist of it is that introverts literally get run down by dealing with others so they need time to recuperate. The lesson I’d take from that is that solitary quiet time is as important as socializing. Hopefully, much as with children, an instinct to read what your dog needs will keep people on the right path.

  7. I had a 4 year old boxer who had never played with another dog. If I had her in the car and she spotted another dog, she would cry like she was being stabbed with glass shards. I finally took her to a doggie day care, and the owner was a little leery of a 4 yr old dog who had never been socialized with other dogs. But she fit right in and it became the joy of her life. I took her one day a week and she would come happy and exhausted. I got another boxer a few years ago and it got too expensive to take the both of them to doggie day care but they both loved running and playing with the other dogs.
    Maybe some dogs need the socialization more than others.

  8. The only dog park we’ve been to is the one near where our training classes sometimes happen. When Lilly was younger (and hadn’t yet developed her full-on intolerance for most other dogs), we did sometimes poke around the park before class with our classmates and whatever other dogs were there.

    Lilly mostly stuck to me and only rarely “played.” Her best effort would be to run at the back of a group of dogs, if they were all running around together.

    Once she hit about 2 1/2 and things went south for us behaviorally, she would flat out refuse to even go near the dog park. I honor that. We just don’t do it, and when the dogs in our classes take play breaks (which are supervised groups like others suggest), we still step outside the training area and give her some distance from the play groups.

    Now that Lilly’s best, best dog friend (Katie, the borzoi) moved out of our valley, we have no more play dates at home. It’s a bummer because they were great together.

    I’m trying to find her some new friends we can invite over, but so far, no luck. Few people, outside the real diehards we know, are willing to work through the long introduction process it takes for Lilly to feel OK being off-leash with other dogs. And, since we live in a remote area, the drive time is a real issue for people who would play along.

    Recently, I TRIED to get a notable dog behavior expert to answer whether or not Lilly running around our acreage with our other dog Ginko counted as this “off-leash run time,” which it seems to me is at the heart of this dog park debate. I must have phrased the question badly because I didn’t get an answer that made any sense to me, but we were short on time, and I needed to interview her about something else, so I gave up.

    Personally, I think dogs simply need interaction — be it human or canine.

    If I had a dog who enjoyed dog parks, I would go, but I don’t think Lilly’s life is lacking as it is.

    1. I agree — Lilly’s life is definitely not lacking. There’s no question that Frankie doesn’t belong in a dog park, but I would take that one step further — does he even need play dates? He expressed interest in one dog, my best friend’s Archie, early on, and then decided he wasn’t interested after all. Do I need to keep trying — or honor that in him too?

      1. Hmmm … you could keep trying, but if he turns down another 1-2 dogs after being intrigued, then I would say that Frankie just isn’t one of those dogs who needs it.

        Our issue with Lilly is that she does sometimes seem happy and interested, but then she SNARKS and ruins everything.

  9. Granted that some dogs do not appreciate the presence of other dogs, putting that aside for a moment, I think this issue is actually a number of issues in one. Here is what I think

    1) dogs need to be exposed to other dogs early in life simply so they learn to be dogs
    2) since it is impossible to avoid dog encounters, socialization is important for our dogs to handle these encounters (wolves do not get along with wolves from other packs). It is not natural to canines to accept ‘strange dogs’. If not socialized, this leads to stress and aggression during encounters.
    3) it is my belief that most dogs enjoy company of other dogs and it does enrich their lives. I watch how our dogs and their buddies look forward to seeing each other and how much they can miss their play.

    I don’t think they need other dogs for survival or good life, but I think that their lives are fuller and more fun when they get to hang out and play with members of their own species.

  10. I also think that dogs need some type of social interaction whether it comes from other dogs or other humans (us).

    At the dog park near our home that we take Penny to she gets both types of interaction depending on what her mood that day happens to be. Some days she’ll feel like romping and playing with the other dogs and some days she is content to just sit next to one of the “parents” and get her fair share of head pats and neck “skoochies”.

    There are several dog parks near where we live, but before we even considered taking Penny to any I did a lot of research by talking to a lot of people and quickly learned which parks were “good” and which ones we should definitely avoid.

    What I like about the park that we go to is that mostly small dogs go there because the neighborhood is mostly condominiums and “most” of the people are attentive to what their dogs or other dogs are doing. It’s like a small community gathering where everyone knows each other by sight or recognizes the doggy.

    When we are there I am very attentive to what Penny is doing and will step in if I think she is being overly friendly with a smaller or shy dog and I will also do the same if someone else’s dog is getting too playful with her.

    There are really no “bad” dogs at the park, but there are occasionally “bad” owners who think that the park is social time where they can take their dog off leash and then ignore their pet while they talk to other people or worse yet talk on a cell phone. These are the types of people who should not come to dog parks imho.

    There is one dog who every time Penny would be trying to run with other dogs, would run up to her and reach out to try and grab her neck. The owner would just watch and smile as if it was so cute. She obviously wasn’t going to do anything so I went over and called Penny to me. The next time Penny ran and the dog tried to grab her I physically stood between the dog and Penny (body blocking) and it got the message pretty quick that “play time” was over. Now whenever we are at the park and that dog is there all I have to do is stare at it and it will move along without bothering Penny.

    Like I said, there aren’t any really bad dogs…just negligent, bad owners at some of the dog parks. :^D

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