An enclosed dog park is a fully fenced park where owners can bring their dogs to play with other off-leash dogs.
Enclosed parks can be fun for our dog, and can be a good way to expend some of his boundless energy. However, these parks are not for everyone. The often chaotic environment may be stressful for some dogs, may encourage dog-to-dog aggression, and may also result in dog fights.
Note: Do not leave an aversive collar (e.g. prong collar or choke chain) on a dog at the dog park. Only use a flat collar, or remove all collars. Choke chains can easily get caught in teeth while the dogs are playing, and become a choking hazard.
Enclosed Dog Parks – The Good
1. Provides good exercise for our dog.
An enclosed park gives our dog some nice off-leash time, in a fairly large space. Most dogs will enjoy the freedom to run, jump, smell, and play with other dogs. Friendly, energetic, and well-socialized dogs often enjoy this environment.
When I got my first dog, I did not have a backyard. I took him out on many walks (3 hours total daily), but our on-leash expeditions were insufficient to drain his puppy energy. He really needed an enclosed place where he could play and run.
2. Helps socialize a dog to people and other dogs.
Bringing a dog to an enclosed park will get him accustomed to a wide range of people and dogs. This may help build his confidence, and make him more adaptable to new things.
A well socialized dog is a joy to have. We can take him everywhere with us, and not have to worry that he will get stressed, or show dog aggression when something unexpected happens.
3. Is convenient and free.
Enclosed dog parks are free and open all day long.
Enclosed Dog Parks – The Bad
The most dangerous aspects of an enclosed park is that our dog –
- May get into fights.
- May get injured.
- May accidentally hurt a person or child.
- May develop fear and aggression issues. Once a dog has had some bad experiences with dog fights, he may become aggressive toward other dogs.
Dog fights usually occur because of irresponsible owners.
The most common problems we may see in an enclosed dog park include –
1. People who focus on socializing with others, and pay no attention to their dog.
When at the park, most of our attention should be on our dog. In this way, if any problems arise, we can quickly stop our dog from getting involved.
It also helps to pay close attention to the other dogs there. If I feel even a bit uncomfortable with any of the dogs (e.g. too dominant, too rude, too energetic), I always just leave. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. People who bring dominant, aggressive, or fearful dogs.
Some dogs are just not appropriate for enclosed parks.
Dominant dogs can become aggressive, when they think they are being challenged. Fearful dogs can become aggressive, when they think they are in danger. This may occur if they get surrounded by other dogs, and feel trapped.
If our dog has gotten aggressive with other dogs in the past, i.e. been in a dog fight or bitten other dogs, it is best not to bring him to an off-leash park until he is fully rehabilitated.
Fix dog aggression problems in a lower stress environment, and not in a chaotic park environment. Even in the absence of aggressive dogs, problems can occur. Some dogs may dislike rough play, some dogs may dislike barking, and others may dislike being chased. In fact, a dog may dislike another, for no discernible reason.
It is crucial to always be on alert, and diffuse problems before they escalate into a fight.
3. People who “correct” other people’s dogs with physical force.
DO NOT correct other people’s dogs in an enclosed dog park.
If we do so, we will get bitten sooner or later.
When my dog gets involved in a disagreement (before it escalates into a fight), I just separate him from the others and go to a quieter part of the park. I make a loud noise to briefly distract the dogs, and then remove my own dog from the group.
If the dogs are already in a fight, then do not introduce more aggression into an explosive situation by manhandling unknown dogs. Here is a useful article on how to break up a dog fight.
Someone at the dog park once told me, “You have to hit, slap, or beat the dogs when you separate them, to show them who is boss. Otherwise, they will bite you.”
That is one of the most stupid things I have ever heard in my life! Doing so would definitely get us bitten, and we would deserve it!
4. People who bring really young children who do not know how to interact with dogs.
Young children may inadvertently cause a dog attack by making a lot of noise, and running-around like prey. Because of their size and fast movements, small children are likely to trigger a dog’s prey drive. This may cause otherwise calm dogs, with good temperament, to chase and even nip or bite at the child.
For the safety of both child and dogs, do not bring young children (below 10) to an enclosed dog park. Note that a small child may also be knocked over by dogs who are running or wrestling.
If we want to bring a child, please make sure he/she knows how to interact with dogs. Absolutely no teasing and no running around.
Should I Bring My Dog to an Enclosed Dog Park?
The quality of an enclosed dog park depends on the people who frequent it. If we want to explore this dog activity, first, get all the information we can on the park. If we are happy with what we see, then visit the park before bringing our dog.
I am not a big proponent of enclosed dog parks, because all it takes is one irresponsible dog owner and his under-socialized dog, to start a fight.
If our dog absolutely loves playing with other dogs, we can consider dog daycare, group dog walking, or inviting friendly dogs over to our house.
An enclosed dog park can be very stressful on both owner and dog. Unless our dog is very balanced, and we have good off-leash control over him, a chaotic park environment may not be a good idea. If a dog just wants to play fetch, or if an older dog just wants some peace and quiet, it is best not bring him to an enclosed park. In such circumstances, an off-leash trail, or a large school field will probably make the dog much happier.
My Enclosed Dog Park Experience
When we bring our dog (a Shiba Inu) to the dog park, we closely supervise him. We always stop him from humping, and other anti-social behaviors. However, it is difficult to keep an active dog out of trouble, all the time. Sometimes, he will redirect and bite on us, when we try to separate him from other dogs.
In all our dog park experiences, Shiba Sephy only got into one almost-fight with another male Shiba Inu. There were no injuries, and no breaking of skin, but it was an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.
After experimenting with enclosed dog parks for several months, we decided to stop going. Given our Shiba Inu’s personality and his interaction style, it is simply too dangerous for him to mingle with a large number of unknown, and often untrained dogs. We also did not want our Shiba practicing bad dog habits, such as redirecting his frustration and biting onto us.
The best use of a dog park is when you train your dog how to ignore other dogs and focus on you from OUTSIDE the fence. If you go in, you are only going to teach your dog how to fight with other dogs. Not worth it. There are so many ways to get exercise for your dog, and socialization, well a properly socialized dog doesn’t need to play with other dogs, but ignore them politely and focus on their handlers direction.
Laurie Kiewit says
My Shiba, Suki and I go to the dog park every day at around the same time. There is a group of dogs she plays with that all have different play styles and temperaments. Suki is 10 months old. However, there is one dog that is a hound who started out as friendly and outgoing. Lately, however, he has been starting “scuffles” that come close to being fights. Suki never backs down when he starts the bad behavior but I intervene as quick as I can. I will leave the park after this incident to get her calmed down. Even though she hasn’t started the confrontation, she will get involved and over excited. Otherwise, Suki is well liked by most of the dog owners as she will greet every new person and dog. Should I be concerned about her future temperament at the park?
Justin F says
Great article, thanks!
We have recently had to cut back the amount of park time our lab-boxer mix gets, as he started picking up rude habits. He used to never hump, now he tries to greet other dogs with this. He used to sniff as an intro, now it’s straight for the neck rough housing.
Instead we started taking him to a doggy daycare a few times a week. All the staff are certified trainers who teach the older dogs what is acceptable play, and they in turn teach the younger ones.
The dog park, to me, is where people take their dogs go to play like cave men. We want our little guy to be more sociable than that. You wouldn’t let 4 kids team up on your kid at the park and pin him down. You wouldn’t let your kid participate in teaming up on a new kid. So why do people let their dogs do this???
Not to say we quit going, we just go at times when it’s less crowded. We stay close and we have to parent other people’s dogs who try to hump, bite at neck/lips, growl, bark etc. Your dog picks up on these behaviors and WILL mimic them.
Very well said!
Thank you Justin and big hugs to your lucky, furry boy. 😀
Our Lab, like most Labs, loves to fetch. He is great with other dogs and even gently corrects unruly ones when needed, so dog parks are a great place for him. However, he never fails to find an abandoned tennis ball at the parks we take him to. We refuse to throw for him because he runs all out, skids in the dirt/gravel etc. and rips up his pads. We only play fetch on thick grass with him. So he approaches other dog owners and spits his ball out in front of THEM. As we run screaming NO NO NO!! DON”T THROW IT!! the dog owners throw it. We go home with a bloody dog. We have also noticed that if he approaches strangers in our neighborhood with a ball, it never fails- the person throws the ball/stick/toy directly into the street! So not only is he in traffic, but skidding on pavement. Blood blood everywhere. Please Dog Owners!! I know it is fun to throw a ball for a dog, but please ask the owner if it is OK first and let them pick the direction of the throw! The dog may have health/joint issues or something else more serious than over exuberance like our Lab. Thanks!
We adopted our boxer mix about a year and a half ago (now 2 or 3 years old, not sure). When we first got him, we would take him to the dog park on a weekly basis, however the longer we have had him, behaviors has start to develop more (first we knew it was only unneutered adult males, but now it seems to have turned to most alpha males, those who hump, paw up, pin, and mark) that he will try to fight with. He does great with females, puppies, and some males, and we even taught him “be little” where he will lay down and play with smaller dogs or puppies. So due to a few instances of breaking up fights, we stopped taking him. It makes me sad that he doesn’t get to play with dogs as often, but we do try to set up some play dates with dogs that we know he gets along with, or might mingle with single dogs that we meet on walks that he seems to like (those he will bow to or roll on his back for). This does happen often, but at the dog park, there is such a mix of dogs, that if there is just one he doesn’t like, I know he can’t handle it. So we try to make up for it by taking him for about 2-4 mile walks a day, playing ball for about a half an hour or more daily, weekend trips to the forest preserves and pets stores, and daily training and tricks. I don’t know if I can ever get him over his “alpha” hate. Plus some people just don’t watch their dogs or allow “bad behavior.”
donna woolard says
I have problems with my Belgian Malinois and small dogs. I think if he got ahold of one he would kill it. Other people bring their small dogs in with the attitude of “he thinks he is a big dog”. I am watching the gate constantly looking for someone to bring their small dogs in so I can get my dog and leave. It states on the gate that it is for 30 pounds or over.
Yeah, I have had similar experiences at the dog park. It is just too chaotic and some people do not think the rules apply to them.
In the end, I decided to do smaller supervised play-groups at my house. In this way, I can structure things better and make sure that my dogs do not pick up bad habits or practice anti-social behavior. Instead, I can use play as a way of rewarding them for following rules, playing nice, and other positive actions.
You have a very lucky Shiba because you are doing all the right things from the start. Poor Shiba Sephy had to go through all sorts of things while we were learning the ropes in the beginning.
With other dogs, I have recently noticed that Sephy doesn’t like them smelling his butt which is a dominance move. Now I make sure they don’t mess with his back region and greetings go a lot better. Also I only let him meet friendly, non-dominant dogs. Don’t think Shibas like dominant dogs 🙂
Nice neighborhood to have so many friendly dogs. Wish there were more around here.
Thanks for the dog park information. I have thought about bringing my Shiba to a park but have had reservations that mirror your experiences. Generally, he (Rusty) gets along with other dogs that want to play but will attack any dog that he thinks is physically threatening him. Since he does not give a warning, it is hard to anticipate an attack even when he is on a leash. He shares a house with a mali-poo and counts as neighborhood buddies a shepard mix, 2 yorkies, a shauzer, a Godlen Retriever, and a Kindo (sp?). So it is not that he is anti-social per se. but unpredictable.
He also gets along pretty well with strangers and even behaves well with vets.
So, no dog parks for him. I have a neighbor who brings a Plott hound to a local playground. I am attempting an approach in which they get used to relaxing within about a 15 ft diameter space over a period of time before being brought to within nose-touching distance of each other. Perhaps his aggressiveness will ameliorate a bit.