It just takes 2 minutes of scrolling on Instagram to see that nearly every dog trainer in the entire world seems to hate dog parks. I am here to tell you that I don’t, and here’s why.
As many of you know, my Area of specialty is city dog training. And most people in cities don’t have gardens. Most city dogs in the world don’t even have easy access to outdoor space – other than the sidewalk. When you combine all of that with “not having dogs off lead” and “leash laws” (which you see in many cities around the world), you are left with dogs who for their entire life never have the opportunity to be off lead and run around. And that my dear friend is something I am very against.
I think it is very important for our dogs to be able to be dogs. To stretch their legs (without the confinement of a long lead), to walk around and sniff (safely and at their own pace), and to not be micromanaged to within an inch of their life by their humans (I see you Karen!!).
Many trainers who are anti dog parks suggest hiring fields, driving out to the countryside, visiting relatives with gardens etc as a way of exercising a dog. That my dear friend is coming from a place of privilege. You are working on the assumption that someone has a car, that they have family or friends they communicate with, that they can afford to hire a field, or to even spend 2 hours getting outside the city centre. To assume that people can afford all of these things is coming from a place of privilege. Not everyone can afford that. And that’s ok.
Of course every owner wants the best for their dogs. Nobody wants to love and care for their k9 friend and not try their best. But that “best” should not be dependent on their income, or ability to travel out of the city.
Dog parks are free. They are provided for and managed by the council or borough. And they are there for us.
Now, what I am not suggesting is that you use the dog parks in a destructive way for your dog. But I want you to go when it’s quiet if you have a nervous or reactive dog (I have been to dog parks at 5am or 10pm with reactive dogs), that you make sure you take your own water bottles (shared water is never a good idea).
I expect all dog park frequenters to have done at least a few visits (sans dogs) to scope out the quiet times and that it’s safe. That you gradually introduce your dog to the new environment. And that you are prepared to leave as soon as your dog is uncomfortable or shows signs of discomfort. I also leave when it starts to get busy, or when I notice the other humans are starting to pay more attention to each other than their dogs. As soon as someone starts talking on their phone- I am out of there, as that human isn’t paying attention to their pup.
So while I understand why some dog trainers hate and despise dog parks, for many city dogs – it is their only option, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of that.
We just need to use dog parks safely.