Darlings, the wonderful Kimberly Artley is back on the blog today. In the past, she has helped us understand the importance of quality, nutritious food for our pooches and the significance that dog walks play in establishing a strong human and canine relationship. Today she explains how we must rethink the ways we envision the dog park. I hope you enjoy her piece as much as I did!
Everyone will have their own opinion, but most trainers will advise against dog park visits and usage. Here’s why:
What the dog park should represent: a safe, controlled space for dogs to practice, hone, and fine-tune their existing social skills under the careful guidance, direction, and watch of those who know and understand their dogs (and “dogs” in general).
What most dog parks are in reality: a replacement for exercise, a space people take their dogs to burn off energy, and a place folks take their dogs to “play” (regardless of whether or not their dog is comfortable with this).
There’s a huge difference here, which will determine the quality of the visit.
A Few Typical Dog Park Scenarios Broken Down
Many dogs entering the dog park have pent-up energy to burn and are usually practicing a souped-up, escalated, overly-aroused, excited state of mind (after all, IT’S THE DOG PARK. AAAAAH!). This energy fuels their state of mind, and state of mind fuels any given behavior (as well as its external representation or manifestation). An excited, escalated state of mind is unbridled, unbalanced energy; an energy dogs (as animals) typically do not trust, favor or tolerate.
Most people bringing their dogs to the park don’t have a solid understanding of them. Many attempt to socialize their shy, timid, more introverted dogs by bringing them to the park and encouraging them “to play”. Bringing a dog like this into the dog park sets the dog up for failure, weakens the dog’s trust in the human, and also makes them more of a magnet for altercations, bullying, and unsavory interactions, giving rise to fear, anxiety, nervousness, insecurity, etc. This also starts to shape and alter their world concept and perception.
Many folks entering the dog park simply don’t have control over their dogs; and because most folks don’t fully understand their dogs (as the individuals they are, breed or mix of breeds, or as a dog), they can’t advocate for them in times of discomfort, uncertainty, and overwhelm.
A Dog Park Is Analogous To A Bar
Many people take their dog to the dog park because they’re too tired, didn’t make the time, or simply didn’t feel like going for a walk, so they replace structured exercise with “a trip to the dog park”.
Think of it this way–many folks head to the bar to socialize, not to burn off steam. The dog park is the equivalent of the bar. We don’t see people going to the bar to get their workout, running circles around it and doing pushups. We’ve got to stop using the dog park as space for our dogs to get their exercise.
Dog owners look at their phones, read, or engage in conversations amongst each other instead of watching the dogs.
Practicing Social Skills
Again, the dog park should be a safe, controlled space for dogs to hone, fine-tune, and practice their existing social skills–not learn them. This should be done with a professional who can teach people how to read, understand, assess, correct, effectively communicate, and properly advocate.
Defining Social Behavior
Because of folks’ current definitions of “social behavior”, dog owners often force their dogs into situations in which the dogs feel incredibly uncomfortable and may not be equipped to handle.
The common definition of social behavior: a dog’s ability to play with other dogs.
Our definition of social behavior: a dog’s ability to share space with others… without being a jerk.
Social behavior is one’s ability to respectfully share space with others. That’s it. It doesn’t have to involve physical contact or engagement. It’s simply sharing space. Even if they’re minding their own business or hanging back and observing, they’re still practicing social behavior when they’re sharing space with others.
The Individuality of Dogs
Every dog, like every human, is very much an individual. There are different shades and dimensions of humans, and there are different shades and dimensions of dogs. We must honor our dog for who he or she is. Some are more “dog dogs,” some are more “people dogs.” Some are more timid, sensitive, anxious, insecure, and hesitant; others are more confident, extroverted, happy-go-lucky and self-certain.
Exercising strengths and comforts, and respectfully building upon the discomforts will only help our dogs feel better being with and looking to us. Additionally, they will feel better in their own skin (self-concept), and also feel better in the world around them (world concept). Through these healthy associations, they develop better relationships regarding who and what is around them.
Certainly, every dog deserves a human who works to understand them, steps up for them, invests in helping them connect necessary dots, teaches, leads, guides, honors, respects, and advocates for them. This is what love is, and it’s our responsibility and commitment to them.
Together, and with awareness, we can create a better world with and for our dogs.
Do you have any dog-related questions for Kimberly? Leave them in the comments below!
Kimberly Artley is the Founder of PACKFIT: Dog Training and Behavior, author of the celebrated book, ‘My Dog, My Buddha. She has been described as the “Mary Poppins” of dog training. Her experience stems from her game-changer dog Lobo. In addition, her background in nutrition, psychology, learning, and human/canine behavior blend seamlessly together. This allows Kimberly to take a comprehensive approach to successfully address a wide variety of canine behavioral challenges.