The New York Times recently published a guest essay entitled “Dog Parks Are Great for People. Too Bad They’re Terrible for Dogs.” The crux of the essay was that, while we humans think of dog parks as an “oasis” from urban life, it would be wiser to think of them as “undersupervised and vaguely dirty watering holes during thunderstorms when there’s a good chance of lightning: high risk and best avoided,”. The author goes as far as to say that dogs are happiest when they are with their human because, if they weren’t, “they’d still be wolves.” I think the essay misses the mark in both directions.
Firstly, the essay is unnecessarily harsh in describing dog parks. The author clearly has had some negative experiences at dog parks and, to be fair, is correct in that dog parks are not for every dog. I would suggest that since few dogs arrive at a dog park unescorted by a human, it is due to human oversight, rather than any fault of the dogs themselves, that certain dogs may not fully enjoy their time or be best suited for the dog park. Yes, there are failures at dog parks. Dog parks can be unkept and there is a lack of health and safety requirements (you can read this as vaccines etc.), but they definitely serve a purpose for those dogs and humans for which they are the correct social environment. I include humans here because while my dogs are social enough for a dog park, I am not. I am better served when I can walk my dogs in an area where they get to explore and I don’t have to chit-chat.
Secondly, the essay is way too kind to humans. Yes, your dog does enjoy being with you. Hopefully you witness this when you come home after a day at work or, depending on the dog, when you leave the room for 5 minutes and return. That exuberance is heartfelt and clearly indicates the value your dog places on time with you, but spending time with you is not enough. Your dog needs to be a dog and do, dare I say it, dog things!
Thirdly, the essay harps on the old message of “tired exhaustion.” You know the adage: “a tired dog is a happy dog,” which seems to assume that the only way to tire a dog is to run it ragged. The essay fails to account for the multitude of ways to “tire” a dog. Try working a dog, agility, training, desensitization, or almost anything that challenges both the dog’s body and mind, and you’ll find that in a very, very short period of time the dog is tired. They’re not exhausted from being run ragged or stressed; but tired from being positively challenged.
We challenge the author to re-think their dog park experience as well as their views on how to best develop a human-dog bond in a manner that allows for there to be an amazingly strong bond that still allows your dog to be a dog.
Thanks for reading and thanks for taking your dog, if appropriate, to a dog park near you or challenging your dog’s mind and body in a way that is rewarding to both of you.