So I have been talking a lot about puppy socialization and exercise, and how to accomplish those intertwined goals. Both are critical for the health and well being of your pup and the exercise part can be essential for your sanity!

The dog park seems to be the go-to answer for a lot of people, and in general I am a fan of some dog parks, however if you have a young pup, you may want to finish reading before you leash up and head out.

To start with, let me say that tiny dogs should NEVER go to the dog park. Yes, that’s right. No tiny dogs at the dog park. That means no Maltese, no Mini-Dachshund, no Yorkie, Shorkie or Dorkie (or any other -orkie mix). No teacup anything. Basically if your dog is less that 15lbs. the dog park is not the place for you. If you have a tiny breed and are disappointed, I apologize, but the decision to get a tiny dog comes with some limitations and the dog park is one of them. The reason: your dog can get killed. The two major threats at the dog park are 1) accidental injury and 2) predatory drift.

Accidental injury is obvious and occurs when a tiny dog is playing with a larger dog the the tiny dog accidentally gets twisted, stepped on or crushed. Sometimes they are even killed.

The much bigger threat however, is predatory drift. Predatory drift happens when a dog, or more often, a group of dogs, suddenly no longer see the tiny dog as a dog playmate, but instead see them as a prey item. This is often triggered by a high pitched scream or squeal from the tiny dog if it is injured, or even just scared. For unknown reasons, this triggers a predator response from the larger dog(s). If this happens and the tiny dog is not rescued and removed immediately, disaster can occur. If the large dog is able to grab the small dog, they might kill it. This is not an indictment of large dogs at the dog park. I personally have two dogs, both over 45lbs. But predatory drift is a reality and a possibility in all dogs, even the nicest ones.

Once you are aware of these risks and still decide to take your tiny dog to the dog park please please please be excruciatingly careful. Know the dogs that are interested in your dog and “get outta Dodge” at the first sign of danger.

So what about your average sized puppy? My personal recommendation is NO DOG PARK until the dog is 6 months old. Like children, puppies are super sensitive to “early childhood experiences”. It is crucial for your pup to have many many many many (get it?) POSITIVE social interactions with other dogs. The key here is the positive. Your young dog should not get scared, bullied, rolled over and over, or allowed to “deal with it”. Like with the small dogs, a puppy screaming in fear can trigger a predatory response from other dogs. A negative experience at a young age can PERMANENTLY damage your pup. I know several puppies who were wonderful social butterflies, until an attack at the dog park turned them into fearful wall flowers. Generally this damage can only be partially undone, and certainly your puppy is changed forever.

So when your pup is young you have a few options. Obviously WOOFS! holds weekly FREE puppy parties for pups under the age of 16 weeks. We do this specifically to provide a SAFE place for young pups to interact. All pups are monitored closely and any signs of stress, fear or aggression are dealt with immediately. Another option is to get together for “puppy play dates”. Play dates can be with other young puppies or even older dogs who you KNOW FOR SURE are safe to play with puppies. If the dogs are friendly and gentle with pups, neither size nor age matter. Organized events like puppy parties allow dogs to be screened and monitored during play, allow appropriate play interactions to be set up and if necessary, ask a dog not to come back.

One of the major pitfalls of any dog park is that ANYONE can bring ANY DOG. Which dogs go to the dog park is generally up to the individual dog owner. Unfortunately, many people really have no idea that their dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior, or they know and think, “He doesn’t really mean it”, or despicably, they just don’t care. One option that you do have, with CAUTION, is to go to the dog park at off peak times. The middle of the day, very early or very late or rainy days. There are generally fewer dogs and it is easier to judge whether the conditions are safe. Again, be prepared to pick up your pup and go home at the first sign of a bully.

For both the tiny dogs and the young dogs, the goal is the same: to set up play and socialization events with dogs that you KNOW ARE SAFE to play with your dog. Remember, you are responsible for keeping your dog safe and giving them a chance to develop into a happy confident social dog.

Comments? Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!