Thursday, November 13, 2014

Phoenix and the Dog Park - Rescue Dog Mistakes

Phoenix meets Marley

This is the second post in my new series on my "Rescue Dog Mistakes". If you haven't seen the first post please click here!

One of my biggest mistakes and regrets from when I first got Phoenix was taking her to the dog park too soon. A lot of pet professionals caution people against dog parks. There are a lot of reasons for that and one of the major ones is anyone can bring any dog into the dog park at any time. You have absolutely no control over it and from my experience it can be extremely chaotic at times. I've seen serious dog fights, people knocked over, dogs knocked over and rolled, a small dog picked up and shook like a rag doll by a bigger dog, children running around with no one watching them and the list goes on and on. When I went to the dog park, I spent most of the time extremely stressed out and worried that something bad was going to happen to my dogs. Or that they would get frustrated by being bullied and they would get mad and bite another dog. At the time I didn't know there were other things I could do with my dogs, until I got Phoenix and had to figure something else out.

Another thing pet professionals caution against is getting dogs who look like their past dogs because people will sometimes assume that just because the dog looks like their other dog that they will act similar and have a similar personality. This usually leads to failure. The dog doesn't live up to their expectations, they can't get past the new dog not being the same as the old one and everyone suffers. I did this, too.. Accidentally. I assumed that just because Phoenix looked like Zoe that she would enjoy the same activities that Zoe did and that eventually she would learn to like other dogs and have fun playing with them.

If you look closely at the picture above, Phoenix does not look very happy. This is also one of the worst ways to introduce dogs, full on face to face in a highly stressful (the dog park) situation. It's better if you introduce dogs with parallel walking, or walking one ahead of the other, especially if one dog is nervous. The nervous dog should never have to deal with a strange dog that they don't know in their face. 

The other dog in the picture is Marley and he belongs to one of my best friends, Jeff. Marley's ears are back and his body is leaning back. Phoenix's body language is making him nervous.

In this picture, Marley is not smiling. He has a fear grimace and what is known as "whale eye", his ears are back, too. I didn't get it on camera, but Phoenix promptly snarked at him and bit him on the nose, prior to this picture. Phoenix looks very stressed. She is very tense, her eyes are very worried. 

Marley turns completely away from her but still keeps an eye on her. Turning away is a really good neutral response, showing her that he isn't a threat. He's such an awesome dog for putting up with her snarking him!

This was taken a few days later. After a bunch of walking together she is a bit more at ease with him. She doesn't want to sit next to him but she will stand there for a photo. You may find yourself asking, why did I continue to take her to the dog park after she snarked my friend's dog??? Well, I (wrongly) assumed that once she got used to it she'd like it and I wanted to socialize her. I know now that dog parks are the worst places you can take your dog for socialization. I wish I had known that then.

Six months later, having almost daily interactions and walks together they are friends. 

I honestly feel like I totally screwed up taking Phoenix to the dog park so soon. She should have been more settled in and had more training on her. I also made the mistake of going during some of the more busy times at the dog park and she had some bad experiences. She got bullied and she got run over. She was never comfortable there to begin with add in some overly pushy dogs and I had the perfect recipe for disaster.

Phoenix never wanted to a be a dog park dog. Eventually we stopped being regulars. I only took Phoenix in when the dog park was slow and only when I knew the dogs that were there. I would meet up with friends that I knew and we'd walk. I would play fetch with Phoenix in the soccer field or take them to run in the Marsh. We'd plan play dates to the beach or go hiking with my friends who had friendly dogs. On the days I did want to go to the dog park and it was busy Phoenix would wait in the car while I took Zoe to visit her friends. Then I'd put Zoe in the car and work with Phoenix on counter-conditioning and desensitization outside the fence. 

 Playing in the Marsh.

When we moved to California we pretty much stopped going to the dog park. The nearest one was over an hour away. Occasionally I would still take them to that park if we were in town but only to the small dog side. Phoenix is actually really good with the little dogs and likes to visit with them. It's the big pushy/rude dogs that upset her.

Phoenix plays appropriately with a small dog.

I really wish I had a do-over on this one! I would not have taken her into the dog park and instead I would of had play dates with my friend's dogs and do other dog related activities. After all of my experiences over the last three years with both dogs, I don't feel like dog parks are the safest places to go. I've learned there are way more fun activities to do with my dogs other than go to dog parks. I've discovered that I really enjoy hiking with them and the quiet of the forest with just me and my dogs. I do my best thinking out there! 

I've also been taking them to a large thousand + acre park that is dog friendly but it's so huge that you can get away from everyone pretty easily and you only run across a dog here or there. Phoenix does so much better only having to deal with one or two dogs at a time and she's doing so much better these days with handling strange dogs!

 Phoenix at the Thousand Acre Forest.

What do you think about dog parks? Have you ever had a bad experience there? What are your favorite alternate activities? Comment below. :)


  1. I NEVER go! The majority of the humans go there for their own socialization and don't pay enough attention to what the dogs are doing. And if they aren't gabbing, they have their noses buried in their smart phone and are even more oblivious. It just isn't worth the risk.

  2. I took my previous dog, Copper. He was a real social butterfly and loved it. But I stopped taking him when moron people let him out BOTH entrance gates. They actually held the doors open for him, even though he clearly was unleashed and clearly no one was claiming him. I always had my running shoes on when taking him cause he was so darn fast and I was constantly trying to keep up with him - but I was too slow to stop the gate incident. He ran right into the parking lot, but thankfully, he saw a couple and their dogs and escorted them right back into the park. Otherwise, that could have ended really badly.

    I also made the mistake of taking Blueberry to the dog park when I first got her. I took her twice and then decided, it just wasn't worth it. She didn't enjoy it and we were both stressed by the experience. She and I also prefer quiet hikes by ourselves or we sometimes go to the regular park where she has some doggy friends that she likes to interact with. You are right - there are way better places to take a dog than the dog park!

    1. Oh my gosh, I can't believe that people let your dog out of the park! That's so scary!! We prefer going on hikes, too.

  3. I hate dog parks we only go in with our friends or if its a dog we know, and only 1 or 2. Love Dolly

  4. You're very honest for posting this! You probably have heard my hate for dog parks on DF. They're so dangerous, especially for dogs as small as mine. Nola isn't really into other dogs that she doesn't know well, and Pike is either stuck to me or Nola like glue, with the odd exception of his love of chihuahuas. The parks here are filthy, too, and there's always people brining big dogs into the small dog side.
    I do take them to the off leash beach, but you almost never see anyone and it's common courtesy to leash your dog when you pass another.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I completely agree with you! People are very irresponsible these days. It sucks.

  5. You are completely right about dog parks. When Sage was a puppy, I took to a local indoor dog park. She loved it until she was around 15-months old. Then she changed and began to become fearful of all the dogs rushing to meet her. I stopped going, but not soon enough. However, we totally LOVE 1000 Acres and a couple of other places around here that have enough room where Sage doesn't feel threatened. I'm looking forward to meeting you, Zoe and Phoenix really soon!

    1. Awe poor Sage! We like Thousand Acres, too!

      I hope we get to meet up soon! :D

  6. We have had good and bad experiences with dog parks. I love going there, but sometimes the people are just.....well they just don't care!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    1. Yeah, people are so irresponsible these days. It is so frustrating.

  7. We do not do dog parks. I honestly think there are more cons than pros to them. You make a great point about the better way to introduce and socialize dogs. We usually try to make play dates with dogs we know.

    Thanks so much for joining the hop.

  8. I like to watch the dogs at the dog park, but I never take my own. They are small and I'm simply too nervous.

  9. I had a big post but I think the computer ate it! Basically my experiences at the dog park have been terrible. Two instances where people brought their aggressive dogs, knowing that they were aggressive. I just think they are really unsafe because there are no rules and unlike a daycare you are just throwing random dogs together.

    As far as Phoenix goes I doubt that the way she is now is a result of her experiences with you at the dog park, so don't beat yourself up. It's okay for dogs to not like every dog they meet, we as people don't like every person we meet. Like you said you can take Zoe because you know she enjoys it and is reliable and do something else with Phoenix instead. Great post!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I've seen some pretty awful stuff at dog parks. Honestly, after the last year and a half of not being able to go and then moving back, I've noticed that Zoe doesn't really enjoy it as much as she used to. We've only been going to Thousand Acres and both of my dogs avoid strange dogs whenever possible. Zoe did play with a berner puppy briefly, the other day, though. I like Thousand Acres because it's so huge that on weekdays as soon as you get a bit further out from the parking lot you only run across a dog here or there and it's not a huge deal. They don't get mobbed by tons of dogs at once and can get away. I also really like going to the beach, for the same reason. :D

      I completely agree that it's okay for dogs to not like every dog they meet and I'm thinking about doing another blog post specifically on that.

      I do feel like her past experiences have shaped what she is now, though. I don't completely blame myself because when I got her she was a complete nut and her previous owners didn't do a thing with her so I also blame them as well. :) Blaming doesn't solve anything though, so mostly I just train. She's gotten way better, too. :)


Hi! Thank you for commenting!
All comments are being moderated for spam.
Thank you for understanding!