Pack Walks vs. Dog Parks

Pack Walks vs. Dog Parks

Which is Better & Why?

If you’re deciding how to best socialize your dog, here are some important factors to consider. What kind of socializing is healthy? What environment will help your dog to gain better behaviors rather than develop bad habits? If you’re hiring a dog walker, what skills and experience do they have? How much do they know about dog behavior? Will your dog be bullied and traumatized by other dogs (or become a bully, overly defensive or reactive), or will they be taught, guided and advocated for?

Are Dog Parks a Healthy place for Dog Socialization?

The short answer is NO – not usually. In theory, dog parks are a wonderful invention, but the majority of dog park interactions can be very bad for your dog. Here is our experience. When we started offering dog walking, we mainly took dogs to off-leash dog parks – like basically every dog walker out there. Over time, we saw that most dog parks are filled with out-of-control dogs that their owners simply cannot walk on-leash because their dogs are not trained. Those dogs were dangerous to the dogs in our care because they were wildly over-excited and wouldn’t return to their owners/handlers when called – especially when they were behaving badly. Usually the owners didn’t even try to control their dogs, or realize when their behavior was anti-social or showing signs of becoming dangerous. Many owners sit down at the dog park and ignore their dog completely! People forget that dogs are predators and in order to keep them safe, we need to provide structure and guidance. If your dog is attacked or bullied, they can lose trust in you as their advocate which can create reactivity or aggression to defend themselves against perceived threats that they feel they need to handle on their own.

Structured group dog walking is so much better for dogs!

Here’s why:

  • dogs build positive socialization & bond in a calm, healthy way
  • migrating together is instinctively satisfying
  • structured dog walking maintains the hard work you invested in training your dog
  • mentally engaging (to match pace, maintain position & ignore squirrels, other dogs & people, skateboards, etc.)
  • reinforces good behavior & calmness
  • physical fitness promotes long-term health
  • structured dog walking is much safer for your dog
  • Fun! with increased ability to visit new & interesting locations

More UNHEALTHY Dog Socialization is not better

Too many dog owners out there assume that ‘more is better’, without considering what KIND of socialization their dog is experiencing. Carefully choose quality socialization over quantity. For example: You wouldn’t plonk your toddler in the sand box at a playground and expect them to “figure it out” when bullies throw sand in their eyes. You’d mentor, protect and guide them, showing kids what kind of behavior is allowed and expected. Yet many dog owners – even ones who think of their dogs as “fur babies” – allow their dogs to build very bad social habits and develop serious phobias due to the lack of guidance and rules while in dog parks. It’s better to have no socialization than bad socialization.

Structured Dog Walks are the Best way to Bond

On-leash structured group dog walking is by far the best way for dogs to socialize and bond while working together as a team, rather than competing. Off-leash romping at the dog park can be fun, but only IF the dogs are behaving well. However, most dogs have not been taught how to socialize politely. Poorly socialized dogs challenge each other with stiff body postures, high tails, snarling, teeing up (putting their chin on the other dog’s shoulders), or attempting to hump, chase, gang up, bully, or bite each other.

Dogs that are well socialized can enjoy hanging out calmly with one another. Put into human terms, a poorly socialized dog is like an insecure person constantly challenging everyone they meet to arm wrestle, compared to confident adults talking and walking together in a peaceful, cooperative way.

But will my dog get enough exercise to be calm?

Structured on-leash dog walking tires dogs out just as much, if not more than off-leash play. Why? Because your dog is using their mind, their body, and their self-control. Maintaining a fantastic heel position is hard work – which is great in many ways. Dogs are fulfilled by having a purpose. Dogs LOVE having a job to do! They demonstrate their best behavior when there are clear rules to follow. This makes them feel safe and happy in a relaxed way.

Off-leash dog park play generally amps dogs up – getting them into a frenzy of excitement. Many owners believe that their dog needs hours and hours of flat-out running in order to behave at home. The truth is that most dogs only need a couple of structured walks per day (between half an hour to an hour each), plus some outdoor play with you (e.g. training games are great, such as fetch, tug, disc, hide & seek for items). The goal for the average family is not to create a dog who is a marathon athlete who then needs hours of running beside your bicycle in order to behave well.

The best behaved dogs are those whose owners make being calm a way of life for their dogs. This good habit extends to every aspect of their lives. Relaxed dogs don’t do stupid stuff. For dogs, over-excitement is like getting drunk. Think of all of the stupid stuff people do when drunk that they’d normally never do – like get in fights, break stuff, or hurt themselves. Over-excited dogs are FAR more likely to feel stressed/anxious, jump on people, bite, run away, fight, over-react to bikes, skateboards, cars, cats, squirrels, other dogs, etc. Building a calm state of mind is key to developing a well-behaved dog.

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