Bark at The Park – Is Your Dog Ready?

Apr 16 2021

Is your dog ready to attend their first public, dog friendly party? Call them “Bark at the Park,” events, or “dog friendly festivals,” but these invents not only welcome you and your dog, they encourage their presence at the event!

The annual Colorado Rockies Bark at the Park is August 13, 2019. They encourage all owners and their dogs to come out and enjoy the ball game and being outdoors and around other dogs. If the most socializing your dog gets is with family, or at your local dog park, this is a great opportunity for them to have an even greater time – but ONLY if they’re ready for it. Are they?

​A dog who hasn’t been properly socialized will be miserable, angry, and dangerous to themselves and others if taken to a large public event where they will be around other dogs and strangers. If your dog hasn’t been socialized, a major public event may not be the best place to start. Even puppies and younger dogs can become overwhelmed, tired, and grouchy – just like kids and adults – when they hit their socializing limits. Know the signs your dog makes when they’re telling you they’ve had enough, and then go home so the experience stays positive for them.

Colorado Rockies Bark at the Park
While the Colorado Rockies organizers don’t have many rules, other than you must own the dog, and its rabies shots must be up to date, they do encourage dogs to be socialized – comfortable around other people and dogs.

What is Socialization?
Socializing your dog simply means training it to be comfortable, confident and secure around other dogs, people, and animals. Ideally this training begins when they’re a puppy and continues throughout their lives. But it’s not impossible to socialize a rescue, or older dog. Like all effective training it requires attention, consistency, and patience.

The good news is, dogs are naturally social animals. With opposable thumbs and typing skills they’d be a natural for Facebook or Twitter. In the wild dogs grow up and run in packs. Socialization is not only natural to them, but necessary for their survival. They learn the body language, sounds, and boundaries of the pack early and obey them, or they get chased out of the pack and die. So, your dog wants to learn the rules, wants to know how to get along with you and others. It’s hard-wired in them.

How Can I Tell if My Dog is Socialized?
It’s fairly easy to tell if a dog is well socialized or not. Signs a dog is not well socialized:

  • When you first adopted or acquired the dog, was he fearful or aggressive towards you, even for a few moments?  Did he cower in the corner of his crate or cage?
  • Is he nervous and anxious when other pets, friends, or family members are around?
  • Is he nervous or anxious in general?
  • Does he tuck his tail, lower his head and lay his ears back around other dogs or people?
  • Does he bark or lunge at other dogs or people when on a leash?
  • Is he still fearful or aggressive around family members, friends, or strangers for no reason other than they have come into his home?
  • Is he nervous around different sounds and sights?
  • Does he shy away from people or other dogs when you pass or encounter them on the street?
  • Is he reluctant to leave your side if you take him to a dog park?
  • Does he hide behind furniture or under the bed, or leave the room when friends come over?
  • When you or others walk or reach towards him, does he send warning signals such as growling, laying his ears back, or raising his hackles?

The bad news is, the more of these signs you see, the more likely your dog is not well socialized. The good news is, with time, patience, and training, you can socialize almost any dog. For difficult dogs a professional trainer may be necessary.  That’s why it’s important to access an animal for socialization before it’s adopted, and to socialize your pet from the first day you get it – no matter the age.

How to Socialize Your Dog
Puppies and young dogs are easier to socialize simply because they are primed and ready to learn the ways of their “pack.”  The first step is to understand that socializing must be a positive experience for them. Don’t push them too far beyond their comfort zone. You don’t like being shoved into fearful situations, and neither do they. Take your time and be patient. Let them explore and discover other family members at their own pace. Reward them with a treat or praise for behavior you want to see repeated.

  • Go to a dog park but don’t go inside the park. Stay outside the fence and just watch the dogs inside. Your dog should be on a leash. Watch his body language. Is he fearful? Dogs are smart. By watching other socialized dogs interact he will begin to get a sense of what is expected when being part of a pack.

After a while other dogs will venture towards you. When they do, and when they come to the fence, give your dog a treat. This helps him associate other dogs with a positive event – either praise, petting, or food. If your dog reacts aggressively, and barks, lunges, or strains at the leash, don’t punish him unless you’ve been trained to give a proper consequense. Simply back up. Move away from the fence until he calms down. Begin to slowly move back up until he is quiet. He’ll eventually learn what behavior you expect. This will take time, but it’s important to have him calm before you take him inside.

  • Take him to daycare for dogs. You can take your dog to a daycare facility for an hour or two, and let them help socialize him, but you’ll miss out on his training, and anything negative that happens. You might even make his fear and anxiety worse by being around other barking, noisy dogs and a strange environment. If you don’t have the time to socialize your dog it’s best to hire a professional trainer to do it for you, then show you how to keep up the training.

It’s impossible to go into all the pros, cons, and tips and tricks on dog socialization in one article. So, I’ve created a FREE ebook you can download and review that is just on “Socializing Your Dog.”

It also contains tips for owners on how to make your dog’s trip to a public, dog-friendly event a positive one. Even for well-socialized dogs it may be overwhelming to meet numerous new dogs and strangers in an unfamiliar environment – like a ball park, city park, 5K or 10K run, or a parade. Owners tend to be excited and happy to be there with their dogs. So they often don’t recognize when their dogs have had enough. This can exhaust their dogs, and may lead some dogs to become even more fearful or aggressive.

There are things many owners don’t realize can affect their dog during these events – including:

  • The car trip itself
  • Hydration
  • Going to the bathroom around other dogs
  • Walking on hot asphalt or pavement – foot care
  • First aid
  • Heat Stroke
  • Shade and shelter
  • Treats and strange food
  • Territorialism
  • Bites and attacks – Your dog may be friendly, but what about dogs that aren’t? What should you do if your dog, or you, are attacked?

Just like with humans, there’s nothing more fun for a well-socialized dog than a day with new friends and dogs. Not only does a positive event reenforce their socialization, it’s a great time to practice other training they may have, or recognize the need for more training!