There are few things as “exhilarating” to dog owners as taking their canine pal to a dog park when they have reservations about how he/she will behave. Rescues, shelter pups, and even surrendered animals who might have previously had a ‘quirky’ human, can all come with some baggage or anxiety that goes undetected until that stroll in the park strips away the peaceful exterior and their latent fears and survival anxieties come bubbling to the surface. If your pooch is big, strong, and densely built then the stakes are even higher because even good-natured playfulness can be overwhelming to other doggos who might think they’re suddenly in a fight for their life.
Still, there’s no getting around it: Humans and dogs alike live in social worlds and being unable to deal with others of one’s own species is for all intents and purposes, an impairment. Sadly, even one bad day at the park can create a lasting impression in an owner’s mind that their dog “is just not good with other dogs,” and then further opportunities to socialize may be avoided, compounding the problem. Thankfully, social anxiety in dogs can be effectively addressed, but it’s always better to confront it sooner than later. Here are some tips for heading to the park to meet new friends (we’ll discuss actually meeting said friends next time):
Nature is rough. If you’re reading this article however, you probably afford your doggo a much safer existence than they would otherwise have on the streets or in the wilderness. —Remember that! You and your pooch aren’t going to get it right all the time, but chances are you’re still doing a good to great job. So take heart and don’t get discouraged by occasional lapses.
Training collars or harnesses can drastically reduce how much your dog is willing to pull against you. A word of caution however: Watch credible training videos before using these types of collars or harnesses for the first time and practice with your pooch before taking them to the park.
Assuming you will be walking to the dog park, adopt a big ‘ol confident, swagger-y stride (might have to fake it ’til you make it) which should make your pooch relax—albeit confusedly. From a mechanical perspective, the lateral swinging of your arms during a big, open stride creates a gentle back and forth pull on wherever the lead is fastened. Within this oscillating range of motion, your dog can find an equilibrium to walk within, while your swinging arms will serve as gentle, rhythmic, and ongoing corrections.
“Sit” is the first command most dogs learn and getting them to sit is perhaps the most broadly useful way to transmute excess energy into focus. Whenever there is a chance your pup might fly off the handle, sit is always a good first response. Get comfortable issuing this command and reinforce it with treats if you need to. If you live on a quiet street with only mild traffic, practice getting your pup to sit every time a car approaches. Beyond giving them a new point of focus, sitting will put an extra action (standing up) between them and potential catastrophe (dog-astrophe?).
So, what are you waiting for? Go out and practice your Mick Jagger-strut with your dog now, and next time we’ll talk about actions to take at the park.