A crutch, the dog park?
At the beach and around the corner in Connecticut. It was a very chilly day for the beach. Elsa was about 5 1/2 months old here.
The dog park can become a crutch. It is a place where you can socialize and exercise your dog without exercising yourself. Most times you can get a great deal of exercise for your dog in a short time span. So you go and you go and you go; day after, day after, day. Your dog loves to go, they get lots of canine interaction and all is good right? Maybe not. The question is, do you also take your dog for leash walks in public areas. Maybe downtown, a children's soccer game, the park or outdoor Mall? If not, you should.
When I was in Connecticut in 2011/2012 I had a young puppy. Being that we were plunked in a place where I knew no one and didn't know where the great parks were I had opted for the beach. A great beach that is only open for a very short time of the year for dogs to be off leash. Being that I could hit the park at off hours; it made visiting the park a great place. There were never too many dogs at a time and lots of room between each group of people and their dogs. If you wanted to interact you could but you didn't have to. It was a great place and one that gave Elsa a huge boost in her canine socializing. We visited a lot for the short time that we were in Connecticut an I loved it.
Of course there were extenuating circumstances that made the park the place for us to be. I had to bring Luke with us for every outing; as he was dealing with separation anxiety due to the loss of his two life long companions. So I needed a place where Elsa could run her little butt off and Luke could meander; the beach was the place where it could all happen. But when we weren't at the beach and leashes were required, it could be difficult containing Elsa. Her enthusiasm to romp with every dog she met was becoming apparent. "What do you mean I can't just run with every dog?" Was her clear dilemma.
Once we were back in California we had work to do with on-leash canine greetings and walk bys. She had to learn that life is not a dog beach. I see this quite often; dogs get so use to being free that being leashed and controlled becomes a problem. Elsa was very young so the dog beach gave us the most important thing that she needed, socializing. But you also need life lessons, learning to walk nicely on a leash (which she does amazing I might add); seeing other dogs and not interacting with them and walking by all manner of people.
When a dog is at a dog park and very involved with other dogs and the whole activity of interacting, not much concern is put into anything else. A great dog park or beach with nice friendly dogs can be a great place to socialize; but our dogs need more, much more. They need structure, control lessons and introduction to the life around them. If you miss out on all the other stuff and opt just to hit the park all the time then your dog and you will pay the price.
The more varied things that you offer your dog to experience in their early years the better. Hit the street, go to the park, sit outside of restaurants; go to all the places that you might end up going at some point in time. Teach your dog about revolving doors, automatic doors that open as you approach and shopping carts. Elsa learned about automatic doors before she was 4 months old and it was very useful when she had to go in and out of many on our travel across country. Go to a soccer game; this is one place where much can be learned. The first couple of times that we walked by a soccer game; Elsa almost came unglued by the balls. Of course, being the ball dog that she is she wanted them all. With just a couple of visits and some age behind her she was able to walk by a ball field without losing it.
People carry a lot of stuff at soccer games; they can look menacing to a dog who has never seen someone carrying a giant bag of balls. Dogs need to learn what to concern themselves with and what can be ignored. How about a tennis court? Been by one of those with your ball crazed dog? I have and it was......lets just say crazy. So, we did it again and again and again until she learned that all of those tennis balls belonged to someone else.
Yes the dog park or beach can be great; but they can also become a crutch. Get out, experience life with your dog. Take a turn down a street where you've never been. Go to a new park or beach where leashes are required. Yes leashes suck but they are a fact of life so you may as well do leashes well if you have to. So get out and have a great new day with your dog today.