What’s the Problem With Free Play Dog Parks and Day Care?

June 26, 2015

By Jonathan P. Klein, CDBC, CPDT-KA

After nearly 30 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to fill dog’s and owner’s needs. As a pet owner myself my biggest concern is for my own dog’s health and safety. When I think of those terms, I mean both physical and behavioral issues. I’m guardedly cautious about dog parks and cage free day care when it comes to my dog’s safety and emotional wellbeing.

All dogs need play and exercise, we all think about providing that all the time. The fact that they also need to have water, be fed, relieve themselves, have shelter are so obvious they sometimes don’t even get put on the list. However something that often gets overlooked is their mental state. When you get right down to it, all dogs are different and no matter what you hope, all dogs just don’t always get along with other dogs.

All dogs have different needs. When you think about going away, either for a long day at school or the office, or for vacation, what do you want your pet to be doing? My first answer it to make sure your dog is both physically and emotionally safe, and beyond that, make sure that your dog isn’t learning behavior that you don’t want it to reproduce later.

Dogs need to feel safe and to have trust and confidence that everything is going to be all right. My third dog I raised from a young puppy and it was quite adaptable. I could leave her home with someone to take care of her or I could travel and drop her off at friends or new places. It didn’t really matter, if she was without me for a little while, she was not stressed and no worse for the wear a day or a week later.

I always said that dog was bombproof; however since then I have had dogs that were not so as adaptable to change and their needs were much more difficult to accommodate. I would never even think to try to give complex care instructions to a staff of 5 or 10 or 20 different people and expect them to perfectly understand much less carry out my dogs special needs.

Even in the best dog parks and in well-run facilities, when you get groups of dogs together it becomes increasingly difficult to control or just watch them. It is hard enough for one person to supervise two dogs, much less more than that. Dogs are living creatures and they make their own decisions, and stuff just happens. Fights and injuries do happen, even when there is no cause and no fault. Groups of dogs in parks and play groups also often get chances to rehearse really bad behaviors, like rushing gates and barking until they get a response.

• Do you really want your dog running around all day with a bunch of other dogs that you don’t know?

• Does your dog really like to have other dogs humping him and sniffing his butt?

• Is it really safe to be continuously exposed to dogs that have questionable manners and social skills?

I’m not saying that you should never take your dog to a dog park or kennel or that all of them are bad. There are lots of really good ones out there and in fact I run a very good one. Our concept is to give each dog individual or small group play and activity time as well as rest time and access to a separate bathroom area. When I advise clients in my role as a dog trainer and behavior consultant that is exactly the same advice that I give them. If you aren’t sure where your dog would be most safe and most comfortable, it might very well be at home with a pet sitter.

If your dog is young or just learning then it might actually be more comfortable with being in a smaller familiar space, than having full run of a house and the yard. There are also things you can do to provide cognitive and environmental enrichment to your dog’s area. You can hide surprises of either chew toys or filled food toys in different places. That will give your dog a project to entertain itself while your are gone and give them an outlet to use their sense of smell and desire to explore.

What I am saying is to look at your dog’s needs and find the best fit for them. It could very well be that your dog might be more comfortable at home, or have more fun playing a hide and seek session with you around the house or yard than it might somewhere else. I know that’s true for my own dog Marble, and it might just be true for your pets and your family. Finally, if your dog does have behavior issues or special needs, look for a positive reward based dog trainer to guide you. Make sure your plan is always to teach the right behavior, rather than to correct the mistakes. Praise and rewards will never damage your dog the way punitive training can.

Bio – Jonathan P. Klein

Jonathan P. Klein, CDBC, CPDT-KA
“I Said Sit!” School For Dogs www.isaidsit.com
The Dog Behavior Expert www.thedogbehaviorexpert.com

Jonathan P. Klein, CDBC, CPDT-KA is a nationally recognized dog trainer and behavior expert. He holds certifications as a trainer from the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers and as a dog behavior consultant by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Jonathan heads “I Said Sit!” School for Dogs in West Los Angeles, which has been honored with the “Best Trainer” award by CityVoter consistently from 2009-2014. He is called upon as a dog behavior expert by numerous media outlets including The Associated Press, Parents Magazine, National Geographic Kids and USA Today. He serves as a legal advisor, a dog bite expert witness and writes a blog, thedogbehaviorexpert.com.
Jonathan’s philosophy is train dogs how to behave by teaching them what to do and to solve dog behavior problems by eliminating the cause rather than punishing the symptoms. This approach using reward based methods rather than confrontation or domination eliminates stress and provides long-term solutions to problems rather than temporary fixes. Jonathan lives with his fiancé Amy, his Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Marble and a cat named Daisy. When he’s not helping people train dogs, Jonathan can be found reading mysteries and learning to play golf.

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