Whenever I'm trying to convince someone of the danger of dog parks, I often link to this blog entry, from a local GSD breeder:
DO YOU GO TO THE DOG PARK?
I never understood what a dog park was all about other than some social free-for-all for dogs to play tag and games like children would. In the few times I have gone to dog parks, I’ve gone primarily to look at average dog behavior and human interaction. I have never seen anything that was constructive. In a lot of cases, I witness dogs chasing and playing tag, knocking each other down, running each other over, or less confident dogs submitting to the stronger ones. All the while their masters(?) sit idly by. (Ironically, when children behave the same way, parents always step in to make sure the kids mind their P’s and Q’s.)
For some reason the one with the “bully dog” is happy to see how dominant his dog is without realizing that this learned dominance may transpire against this master in some form, at the very least less adherent to training and direction (especially when other dogs are involved.) The softer or weaker dog goes through life being a target in its mind since - at the dog park - it is forced to submit to various degrees and while this is going on their masters allow it to happen. During the turmoil these dogs are establishing some form of dog pack pecking order and the humans are huddled around talking while their dogs are circling them. In the wild predators circle their prey and their prey stands still all huddled together trying to appease the predators. Based on nature and the category of species a dog is, how would the dogs truly see these people? Definitely not someone who would have any authority.
I am going to clearly describe the chain of events that happened when I took a student to a dog park.
A few years back I was retained by a client whose dog suffered from dog aggression. My first question was “did you go to a dog park?” and of course the answer was yes. The dog suffered from high anxiety in the presence of dogs on the initial introduction and then leading to the aggressive response as being a conclusion for this dog. We attended the dog park she frequented. I asked her to take her dog out and work with him in an obedience format 200 feet away. The dog performed within reason and was responsive to her commands. I took my dog out who did not pay any attention to her dog and her dog showed a relatively manageable form of anxiety. I put my dog away and we proceeded to work within 50 feet of the dog park fence. Once we approached that distance, the dog became incoherent and the first thing he did was get on his hind legs, coupled with barking in a frustrated, high-pitched bark. The minute she tried to work on an obedience routine the dog became aggressive towards the dogs he saw in the dog park area. I told her to put her dog away.
I in turn took my dog out and explained to her that I spent time with my dog in a training format and the parameters of socialization was with me getting the final word. This allowed me to introduce the dog to other dogs and further, when I sent my dog, it recalled in the presence of the other dogs. I demonstrated this. I did my obedience routine and the dog did not mind the dogs in the area. At that point 3 of the dogs in the dog park ran to the fence and began barking. My dog did not react and so I sent my dog forward to them. Shortly thereafter the owner walked up and low and behold the dogs in the fenced area increased their aggression higher. The owner came by and tried to stop the dogs, and at that point the dogs began to re-direct their aggression on themselves and started fighting. I called my dog back and put her in a down stay. After all of that wacky behavior, the owner of the dogs asked why don't I come in to the dog park area and let my dogs play with hers. I couldn't believe it! This is one of those needy owners who doesn't see what just transpired. My response to her was simple, “I don't go to dog parks.” She asked why and I told her. The she asked why I was there and I simply said I was demonstrating with my client who frequents this dog park on what not to do, and that she and her dogs set the fine example of why a person shouldn't attend a dog park. I also asked the woman if her dogs would behave in the same manner if they were to get loose outside of the dog park. Her response was simply “I come to this dog park because I can’t let my dogs loose anywhere else...they run off and chase dogs.” With that I ended my training session and we would re-convene at this dog park a week later. I left my client to analyze what she just saw.
We went back to the dog park a week later. As we pulled into the parking lot we observed dogs approaching the park. The majority of the dogs were on their hind legs pulling to get into the park, and no matter what the owners did to control the dogs, they didn't exist in the dog’s eyes. At that point, I also observed with my client a group of dogs allegedly playing. There was a male who possessed all the sticks and when he had the sticks the other dogs avoided entering his space. This dog was in control. At the same time, I pointed out how the owners of these dogs were huddled around a table and the dogs circled them. I noticed a woman with a young poodle-type puppy enter the dog park. I looked at my client and said this is going to be a very sad, harsh lesson in dog behavior. When the woman showed up all the dog owners gravitated to this puppy and huddled together speaking in high pitched “ooooh what a cutie” tones. At that point, the dog who possessed the stick pushed himself though the crowd and snatched the puppy and began to beat on it. The other dogs joined in (guess who owned the park), and amongst all the screaming, the people managed to get the puppy away from the dogs. Once again they gravitated to the injured puppy. The owner of the poodle began to scream at the owner of the bully dog. Once this happened the bully dog saw his opportunity, snatched the poodle from the table with his recruits and finished the job. The puppy was dead. I will leave everybody with that image.