If, When, and How to Use Dog Parks

Dog parks, when combined with reward-based training and proper daily care, can help prevent behavior problems associated with boredom, inadequate exercise, and lack of social, mental, and physical stimulation. Dog parks can provide your dog with opportunities for:

  1.          Practicing and maintaining social skills: Dogs can hone their communication and play skills in a rich social environment.
  2.          Mental stimulation: Dogs are free to explore their environment, make decisions, and solve problems.
  3.          Intensive, full-body exercise: Dogs can run, leap, change speed and direction, and adapt their behavior in response to playmates.

BUT, not all dogs are suitable candidates for dog parks! And many dogs at dog parks should not be there. 



Ideal candidates are:

  1.   Healthy, vaccinated, and neutered
  2.   Relatively young
  3.   Well-socialized with other dogs and people
  4.   Enjoy playing with other dogs
  5.   Come when called immediately

Dogs with the following characteristics are not suitable candidates for dog park play:

  1.     Less than 4 months old 
  2.        Tend to shy away from or snap/growl at other dogs
  3.     Have a bite history with dogs or humans
  4.     Are under-socialized and lack experience interacting with other dogs
  5.     Tend to police and interrupt other dogs’ interactions (often seen in herding breeds and terriers)
  6.         Are high-energy or intense playmates with little regard for other dogs’ social cues (tend to run over or bully other dogs)
  7.         Have difficulty regulating their level of arousal or excitement
  8.         Play tends to tip over into aggressive behavior or fights

Owners’ Responsibilities

At dog parks, it is up to each individual owner to help keep everyone safe by evaluating their dogs’ temperament, educating themselves about how to read dog body language, monitoring play and interrupting as needed, keeping dogs separated by size, and avoiding crowded parks. Dogs need to come when called immediately in highly distracting environments to ensure owners can call them away to head-off potential trouble with other dogs. Teaching a settle cue (dog sits or lies down and self-calms) is helpful when owners need to interrupt play.

Potential problems

Dog parks are frequented by dogs that should not be there. Many owners fail to supervise and interrupt inappropriate play and may resent others who attempt to intervene. When dogs play with considerably smaller dogs, play behavior can turn into predation with serious injury. Finally, all dogs have preferred ways of playing. Confident and socially adept dogs can adjust their play styles to accommodate others’, but many dogs don’t. A body-slamming retriever may frighten or annoy a sighthound that loves to chase but prefers no physical contact.

Appropriate Behavior: Signs of fun, relaxed play

                1.           Loose, fluid, relaxed posture, muscles and movement
                2.          Open mouth, loose tongue
                3.          Exaggerated movements
                4.          Frequent lateral movements (moving sideways)
                5.          Play bows, bouncing, wiggling
                6.          Mutual chasing and wrestling
                7.          Low, wide tail wags
                8.          Frequent short breaks/disengagement, then resuming play


Problem Behavior: Signs of trouble brewing

                1.          Tense, stiff body posture; closed mouth
                2.          Freezing with direct, hard staring
                3.         Frequent or intense stalking behavior
                4.          Constantly chasing other dogs
                5.          Non-mutual play (no role exchange–dog is always chasing or pinning other dogs)
                6.          Pinning another dog without immediately releasing it
                7.          Excessive barking
                8.          Snarling; deep growling; baring teeth
                9.          Excessive mounting

When and How to Intervene

It is important to interrupt any problem behaviors early on to avoid conflict and fights. If your dog is being bullied or is interacting inappropriately with another dog, call it to you, reward and leash, and have it lie down next to you for a few minutes until relaxed. Release your dog to play, preferably in another area of the park, and closely monitor behavior. If your dog appears stressed or afraid (signs include hiding, cowering, tucked tail with flattened ears, attempting to escape, panting and drooling excessively, frequent exaggerated yawning, restless, whining, or has sudden diarrhea), or is engaging in problem behaviors, call your dog to you, leash it, and leave the dog park. If there is another dog consistently engaging in inappropriate behavior, leave the dog park. Immediately engage in a walk or other fun activity. Always leave on a high note to ensure the dog park remains a positive experience for your dog.

Trainer, Behavior Consultant, or Behaviorist: What’s the difference?


You need help with your pet’s behavior. What’s the difference between trainers, behavior consultants and behaviorists? Which one is best for you?



Trainers focus on teaching animals new behaviors. They can specialize in family pet training (manners), basic to advanced obedience, dog sports (agility, lure coursing, nose work) and working dogs (assistance dogs, herding, police K-9s). Most trainers also address common behavior issues, like house-soiling, chewing, and jumping up. Experienced trainers may take on more complex issues. Some specialize in working with multiple species.


There are no state certification or education requirements for trainers. There are many competent trainers with no formal education or certification. But in the interest of professionalizing the industry, most reputable trainers are formally educated and certified.


Trainers can be formally educated through professional programs or college coursework in ethology, psychology or animal sciences. Below are several reputable professional programs:

·         The Karen Pryor Academy

·         Companion Animal Sciences Institute

·         The Academy for Dog Trainers

·         Ethology Institute of Cambridge

Trainers can be certified by a number of different organizations.  All require a written exam; some also require a practical exam.

·         Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

·         International Association of Canine Professionals

·         Association of Animal Behavior Professionals

·         International Animal Trainers Certification Board

·         Assistance Dogs International


Behavior Consultants

Behavior consultants specialize in helping owners deal with complex problem behaviors, such as aggression- and fear-based issues. Although there is no state requirement, they are usually formally educated and certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Many consultants work with more than one species.


Animal Behaviorists

Behaviorists are scientists with post-graduate degrees, certified by the Animal Behavior Society. They focus on helping owners resolve complex behavior issues. Because of their extensive education and experience, their fees are generally higher than behavior consultants. Veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians who specialize in behavior issues, certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. They focus on resolving underlying medical issues and can prescribe medications to help resolve problem behaviors.


Professional Organizations

Trainers, behavior consultants and behaviorists can be members of various professional organizations. All require a registration fee and adherence to prescribed professional standards. Some require a certain level of education or experience to join, but don’t require certification.

·         Association of Pet Dog Trainers

·         International Association of Canine Professionals

·         International Positive Dog Training Association

·         Pet Professionals Guild

·         Animal Behavior Management Alliance


Cute Aggression: Why we want to pinch babies and squeeze puppies

Ever feel an overwhelming urge to squeeze, pinch, shake, bite or scream at somethings you found to be unreasonably cute? Sounds horrible when you say it out loud, but most people have. Some languages even have a word for it. In 2015, these Yale PhDs went ahead and labeled it “cute aggression.”


When we’re confronted with something that conforms to Konrad Lorenz’s kindchenschema, the literal scientific definition of adorableness, we lose it. Features such as a large head; oversized, round eyes and cheeks; a small nose and mouth; a flat face; and a round, soft body elicit an automatic caretaking response and strong, sometimes overwhelming, positive emotion.

“It’s so FLUFFY!”

When we experience intense emotions, whether positive or negative, we can reach a point where we feel our emotions have become unmanageable and overwhelming. We attempt to regulate our runaway emotions by expressing an opposite one. This is very common. People cry at weddings, smile through tears, laugh when they’re afraid, scream when they’re happy. They may or may not feel the opposing emotion, but just physically expressing it seems to downregulate the overwhelming one.


Cute aggression is apparently a way for us to get a grip on ourselves when we’re so carried away by positive emotion in response to cuteness that it gets in the way of our caretaking abilities. You’re no good to your baby if his butterball cheeks and lilting coos captivate you to the point of paralysis. Experiencing a rush of aggression, and acting on it by playfully growling, squeezing, roughhousing, or just tensing up and yelling (my own guilty pleasure), is apparently a way to tone down the extreme joy of being in the presence of profound cuteness so you can function.


Next time you see a young puppy, tiny kitten, or precious baby and you are actively restraining yourself from crushing or consuming it, know that you’re perfectly normal. And if you’re not, that’s pretty normal, too

Adopting? How to Find the World’s Best Dog

Not all dogs are created equal, and not every dog will fit well into your family. People tend to base their choice on looks, but behavior is perhaps the most important criterion. Matching your family’s needs with your new dog’s is the best recipe for a successful adoption.


If you can’t provide one hour of exercise per day, compete in herding trials, and manage anxious behavior for the next 10 years, that gorgeous, high-strung Australian Shepherd will probably get into a lot of trouble at your house, making you both miserable. Unmet needs are a common cause of many behavior problems.


Here’s some questions to ask yourself to clarify what kind of dog will be the best one for you.


What do you expect your dog to do for you?

Are you looking primarily for home companionship? Emotional support and snuggling? An adventure partner? A sports or exercise companion? A watchdog? A friend for your children or another dog? Describe the behavioral characteristics of a dog that will fit that role.


Where do you live?

What kind of dog will fit into your environment? Do you live in an apartment or  townhouse that requires a quiet pet? Do you have a large yard with a radio fence that could traumatize a sensitive dog? Do you have an open floor plan that will make house training a puppy difficult? Will a 100 lb dog be able to stretch out fully on your living room floor? Describe the physical and behavioral characteristics of a dog that will fit into your home environment.


What qualities do you NOT want in a dog?

Does drool disgust you? Hounds are out. Does walking several miles every day sound exhausting? Pointers would be disappointing. Do you only vacuum twice a month and have trouble locating the dog brush? Avoid Huskies. Like to leave big hunks of meat out on your counter? Any dog over 45 lbs will love that. Will snoring drive you nuts? Pugs and Boston Terriers might not be for you. Does a wet, muddy dog sound revolting? Labs, Goldens and Spaniels may want to jump into every puddle and pond they see. Make a list of physical and behavioral characteristics you need to avoid.


How can you find a dog with the qualities you’re looking for?

Read up on breed characteristics. All dogs are individuals, but every breed has behavioral tendencies. For example, Jack Russel Terriers tend to dig, bark and can be aggressive towards other dogs. Not all Jack Russels will do these things, but many will. And you won’t know for certain until you bring the dog home.


Once you have your list of characteristics, talk to shelter staff, fosterers, breed rescues, and breeders about what you’re looking for and ask for help with finding it. Kennel staff, dog walkers and trainers tend to know the dogs the best in a shelter situation.


Hey, I’m not suggesting you adopt an ugly dog. But taking behavior into account is the best way to find a dog that matches your family’s expectations and needs.

Should You Use Food to Train Your Dog?

Is it a good idea to use food to train animals?  Some owners are wary of using food to train their dogs. Here are some of the most common objections, and some food for thought about each one.



My dog should do what I ask because he loves me/should just want to.


This is a lot to ask from anyone, particularly a dog. If this is your goal, you can actually use food to accomplish it.


Using food as positive reinforcement (R+) in training has all kinds of wonderful side effects. Doling out small, delectable treats your dog will eagerly work for makes you a predictor of good things arriving! Your dog associates your presence with the potential for earning R+. You become someone he wants to please because, when he does, wonderful things can happen. He gets delicious tidbits and positive attention.


And because dogs respond so well to reward-based training, his behavior will quickly improve  and you will enjoy being around him. The bond between you is strengthened through a positive feedback loop of mutual good experiences and feelings. Actually, this is how all trusting, loving relationships form.



My dog should do what I want because I am in charge.


Yes, and using food makes you a leader worth following!


Because wonderful things happen to your dog when he complies with your requests, your are someone worth paying attention to and responding to. Your dog wants to follow you. This automatically puts you “in charge.” No fear, coercion or intimidation required.



I don’t want to have to carry food around all the time to get my dog to listen to me.


That’s good, because you won’t need to.


You need to use a lot of R+ (food) in the early learning stages. Being too stingy with R+ is a common cause of ineffective training. But, being too generous with R+ as learning progresses is also ineffective. By beginning to selectively withhold R+, you encourage faster, more precise, more complex responses, which speeds the training process. And once the dog has thoroughly learned a new behavior, using R+ every once in a while is all that’s required to maintain the behavior over time.


You can also teach your dog to be motivated by other rewards, such as praise, petting, and play. Using a variety of R+ to maintain a behavior is even more effective than food alone. When you call your dog, he never knows if he’ll get an enthusiastic greeting, a treat, a quick game of tug, a chance to go outside, or sometimes nothing at all. But the strong potential for R+ will keep him responding time and time again.



Using food in training is bribing my dog to do what I want.


Bribe (/brīb/): to persuade someone to act in one’s favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement.


It’s just not possible to bribe a dog.


But sometimes when people use food as R+, the presence of food becomes part of the cue for a behavior. If every time you ask your dog to “sit” you have a treat in your hand, your dog may not sit unless you’re holding a treat when you say “sit.” The treat is part of the “sit” cue. (Just like if you always stand in front of him when you ask him to sit, he may not if you ask while you’re standing behind him or lying on the sofa).


This isn’t bribery. It’s just incomplete training. The “sit” behavior isn’t under the control of the verbal “sit” cue. That’s an easy fix!


You can also use food as a lure to move a dog into a position or place. This isn’t bribery, either. It’s just a temporary, effective communication tool to help “explain” to your dog what you want him to do. Once he understands, remove the lure to prevent it from becoming a part of the cue.



Too many treats aren’t good for dogs.


True! And you have complete control over how many you give him.


You’ll be using a lot of treats during training, but each treat is very small. The tastier the treat, the smaller it can be. And because training works best in short sessions, the number of treats you’ll use may be smaller than you think.


If you’re not comfortable using treats, you can use part or even all of your dog’s daily ration for training. If you feed kibble and you are convinced your dog would never work for kibble, you can actually teach your dog to work for it.



Why use food to train? It works!

  • It’s a primary reinforcer, meaning your dog needs it to survive and is strongly motivated to work for it.
  • It has a host of wonderful side effects, like enhancing your leadership status, your bond, and how your dog feels about you.
  • You can use tiny bits of tasty treats or your dog’s regular food as reinforcement in training.
  • It’s convenient, readily available, and easily delivered during training.