For my regular readers, this post may seem a little contradictory: I regularly remind my readers of the dangers of the dog park, of which there are a few. I have even written a whole post dedicated to just that, yet here I am writing a post where dog training and dog parks are in the same title.
Well, I actually go to the dog park all the time to train my own dogs and work with my clients and their dogs. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Here’s the thing: I never actually enter the off-leash areas!
The dog park is a collection of vastly different dogs: large, small, male, female, exuberant, calm, young, old, pushy, mellow… You get barking, growling, running, playing, exploring, and, unfortunately, fighting. This allows me to reap the full benefits of training with dog distractions, without the inherent dangers of working around unknown or incompatible dogs. If I’m working with an aggressive or fearful dog, I can still keep the both of us, along with other park-goers, safe.
For high levels of reactivity (whatever the cause) training your dog on the street, like during daily walks, can be counterproductive, as it is difficult to foresee stimuli that are possibly above-threshold for your dog. Around the dog park, you can choose the best place to work, and seeing as most dog parks are on flat land, you have a pretty good visual all around you, unlike walking on the street, where there are many visual barriers even in suburban environments.
Even for distraction-proofing your dog’s training, distance is an important factor in determining what distractions are going to help your training, and which are just going to be too easy (or overwhelming) to be useful.
I live in St. Catharines, ON., a (quasi-) bustling city, where training on the street can be very frustrating: there is a lot of noise, no space to work and little-no control over your personal space, and more importantly, that of your dog.
Enter the dog park: an open space, where there are still trigger stimuli and distractions for you to work with, with the space and predictability of a training field. What could be better?
**Dog Park Disclaimer: the dog parks I visit in my neck of the woods are typically frequented by respectful people, who make sure their dogs are on-leash before exiting the dog park. If the dog park where you live is poorly managed, and there are off-leash dogs even outside the dog park’s perimeter, choose another one! For those of your with reactive dogs, I don’t even need to explain the frustration of having a dog run up to you, inevitably accompanied by a, “HE’S FRIENDLY!” from a well-intentioned dog owner.
Live around St. Catharines, ON.? Here are a few great dog parks to visit:
Burgoyne Woods Dog Park – St. Catharines
Centre St. Dog Park – Pelham:
Firemen’s Park Dog Park – Niagara Falls
The above are my three favourites because of the layout, as well as the location. Even Centre St. in Pelham is pretty accessible, despite being rural.