Why My Pup Is Done With Dog Parks

When trying to socialize your dog, make sure their comfort comes first.

Dogs’ submissive behavior may include rolling over onto their backs if they’re distressed around other canines. By: mperich

Dogs of all colors, makes and models gleefully frolicking together amid the iconic NYU buildings and elegant townhouses of Washington Square.

That was my idyllic vision for my little rescue, Coco, when we moved one block from the Washington Square dog park in Greenwich Village. There was only 1 problem with Coco’s debutante debut: She hated the social scene, no matter the zip code.

In trying to make Coco part of dog park society, was I doing this for her or for me? I loved the jabbering, coffee-sipping, dog-watching set — but all the while, Coca shook in a corner, avoiding eye contact and acting afraid to show off her party collar. Was this fair?

Not All Dogs Enjoy the Park

While learning how to make my 15-pound fearful furball less frightened, I wasn’t sure it was going to work out.

In a nutshell, my dog is still intimidated and fearful in a busy dog park. She is also protective of me, which adds another obstacle to enjoying the dog park experience. After about 20 attempts to socialize her at Washington Square using solid training tips, I accepted that she is happier far away from the dog park.

Canine Manners

Cocoa’s idea of a fabulous outing is standing on park benches and staring down the nearest squirrel. Meeting other dogs on leash and sniffing daffodils together is even OK. But 10 dogs sniffing her own private daffodils is not her cup of biscuits. To be assaulted by curious nostrils and lapping tongues before properly being introduced is terrifying for Coco.

I realize that maybe my dog just has better manners or different preferences than other dogs. She needs a proper introduction — possibly even an invitation in the mail — before accepting a date with another canine companion. She doesn’t want to be picked up in Washington Square. She wants to be wooed.

Dog parks can feel overwhelmingly chaotic for shy dogs. By: glasgows

Some Advice for Shy Dogs

When Coco and I were trying to meet others at the doggy “bar,” I tried to give her some helpful hints:

  1. Watch your body language at happy hour. Sit upright on the bar stool and hold your own. Don’t sniff back unless you’re interested. Walk with confidence if checking out the tails at the banquettes.
  2. Learn how to say “No, thank you” if the interested party gets too pushy. Walk away or start woofing with someone else. If he puts his big paw on you without asking first, the bouncer should be close by to come to your aid. In this case, trust the human.
  3. If the bar is too crowded or noisy, try meeting for early coffee, when the place is less chaotic. Go with a friend. Watch how other, more seasoned and mannerly pups navigate the landscape.
  4. If it’s clear that a bar has no rules, that mongrels misbehave and, particularly, if everyone is not neutered, leave at once.
  5. If fear overcomes you, don’t lie down on your back with your 4 legs in the air. This only gives a mixed signal to the dogs you want to avoid.
  6.  When sitting next to your BHFF (best human friend forever), don’t snarl and growl at passersby who want to say hello. This is supposed to be a friendly meet-and-greet, not an exclusive party.

Sometimes dogs just can’t get on the same wavelength at the dog park, as seen in this video:

Other Socialization Options

So pups, if your coming-out party was a failure this season, don’t give up hope. Take a few more courses in sniffing skills and relationship building.

And don’t feel like a freak if you just don’t like the dog park scene. Ask your human to set up some one-on-one meetings either outside or at your own house — and not force a setting that just isn’t working for you.

In fact, online dating may suit you better. Check out Barkbook and Dogify and get that paw right-swiping. You just might meet the canine of your doggy dreams.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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