Image via iStock.com/olegosp
By Victoria Schade
There’s nothing quite like watching your dog play with his canine buddies, and one of the most common places for these types of friendships to form is at the local dog park or dog beach. Many dogs adore the rough-and-tumble play that goes on, from wrestling to games of tag.
But some dogs just aren’t that into going to the dog park, the dog beach or any spot where dogs congregate to play.
Does that mean there’s something wrong with your dog? And who’s to blame for this seemingly antisocial behavior? Even though the behavior might seem un-doglike, you might be surprised to learn that your dog isn’t the only one who prefers to skip the park.
Why Do Some Dogs Dislike the Dog Park?
Pet parents may assume that dogs love playing with their own kind. While that’s true for some dogs, it’s certainly not the rule, particularly in a group play situation. A dog’s reluctance to join in the fun at the dog park might stem from a number of reasons, including:
Socialization issues: If during puppyhood, a dog didn’t have the opportunity to have positive experiences with a variety of sights, sounds, people, animals and situations, it’s possible that he’ll feel overwhelmed by group dog play at the dog park or dog beach. This lack of socialization might make a dog more likely to misunderstand the signaling that goes on between dogs during play and could lead to reactivity.
The dog park setup: Parks that are too small for the number of dogs present or don’t have separate areas for big and little dogs may make a dog less likely to enjoy his time there. Overcrowded parks and mixing dogs of all sizes can lead to frightening interactions, particularly if you have a little dog that’s forced to hold his own against the big guys.
The attendees: Dog parks filled with pushy, inappropriate or aggressive dogs aren’t fun for the average dog who just wants to run a few laps or do some light roughhousing. Similarly, problems can develop quickly if the other pet parents aren’t mindful of their dogs’ behavior.
Aging out: While dog-dog play is an important developmental step for puppies, many dogs grow out of the need for physical games with friends. Even if your young dog was the star of the dog park, there’s a chance he’ll be less likely to join the fun as he hits middle age.
Undiagnosed pain: Your dog might be wary of high-intensity playtime because of aches and pains. Dog park play can be strenuous, and if your dog is coping with an injury or age-related pain, he’ll be less likely to want to mix it up with buddies.
What to Do if Your Dog Hates the Dog Park
It’s possible that, with a few tweaks, your reluctant dog might change his mind about visiting the dog park or dog beach. If you feel that your dog would benefit from off-leash exercise, and the dog park is one of your only options, try changing the following:
Visit a different park: If your local dog park isn’t a great fit for your dog, try a different location. Sometimes a change in scenery is all it takes to help your dog enjoy a romp with friends.
Go at off-peak times: Most dog parks have “rush hours” when they’re packed with people and dogs. Instead of coping with the crowds, try visiting before it fills up. Very early mornings, middays (avoiding lunch hour) and later in the evening before the park closes are likely to be less crowded.
Find a friend: If your dog truly doesn’t enjoy the pack at the dog park or dog beach, try organizing a playdate with a solo dog buddy and meet in a fenced-in yard. Some dogs prefer playing with one friend instead of a group of them.
Finally, recognize that your dog’s unwillingness to be a part of group play or any kind of dog-dog play may just be the way he is. There’s nothing wrong with a dog who prefers to skip playing with other dogs!
The best thing you can do is honor what your best friend is telling you and find other ways to have fun together.