More and more these days we're seeing dog parks pop up in nearly every town. They initially seem fun and exciting, because who wouldn't want to watch while their dog romps and plays with other friendly dogs. And who knows, maybe you'll meet some like-minded people.
That's the scenario in a perfect world, but unfortunately, it doesn't often turn out that way. As dog trainers, we can tell you that dog parks do benefit some, but not who you think. Dog parks generally cause bad behaviour in dogs, which means your local dog trainer is the one that benefits!
What actually happens in the dog park?
The issue with a dog park is the behaviour it causes, which is likely the exact reason you're going, kind of counterproductive. Dog parks create dogs that are wild and crazy when they see other dogs, making it more difficult to walk them. It can also create aggressive behaviors not previously found in your dog, or complete fear, possibly the reason you were going in the first place, thinking your dog needs more socialization. So what do people do when these behaviours get worse? Go to the dog park even more to "socialize" them.
My fun analogy - "So I'm going to get you to head across the road to see my neighbour. Nice guy, but he's going to touch you, a lot. Please don't say anything, ok?" Weird enough for you? In what world would that ever be okay? But that's exactly what we're expecting our dogs to put up with at the dog park. A bunch of strange dogs posturing, humping, butt sniffing, and getting in each other's faces. This is not natuural.
The same issues can happen from meeting strange dogs on leash. Just about every time I watch it happen a fight breaks out. That's because dogs have a fight or flight instinct. When a dog is on a leash they cannot get away, so they must fight.
Dog parks certainly don't tire your dog out, because the more running they do, the more they can do. It's kind of like building an athlete. In fact, learning to settle is a training skill that can not be achieved through exercise. Learning (training your dog or giving it a job to do) is a much better way to tire out your dog. Just like people! We all get tired from learning.
Disease is another big issue when it comes to dog parks. Things that can be picked up at dog parks include Parvo, Distemper, Fleas, Bordatella (Kennel cough) Leptospirosis just to name a few. Some of these can be quite dangerous and threaten your dog's life.
People put far too much weight on socializing dogs in the form of running and playing with other dogs. A better way to socialize your dog is to get them out walking, seeing things in the real world, training, and teaching them that they do not need to meet every dog and every person. Seeing dogs and people, learning to ignore, and not having a bad experience will give you a much better chance of having a well behaved dog, especially if you start this from a young age. Or, allow your dog to have a "pack" - dogs that will be seen from time to time in their circle - stable, friendly dogs owned by friends or family. Those are the only dogs your dog ever needs to meet, either off-leash or on.
So the next time you think about socializing your dog in a dog park, think again. Keep your dog safe from other dogs by teaching them to ignore, unless in a controlled situation with dogs within their pack - friends and family. Do this and you'll have a much easier dog to deal with.