There is a dog park near my house that has a sign that reminds people of the rules of the park including:
- Do not bring treats to the park
- Do not bring toys to the park
There are different schools of thought to these topics. I fully understand that there are potential issues with bringing treats or toys to the park, but I think that the rules should be more open and people should be allowed to use their judgment.
I often meet clients at dog parks around the city and brief them about my rules that I keep in mind when using treats.
- Dogs can fight over treats
- Dogs can follow someone with treats around the park. This can be frustrating for the owner of the dog for a couple reasons:
- They might think, “Hey, what do you expect, when you bring treats into the park, dogs are going to follow you around. Now I have to tell my dog to stay away from you!”
- They might also want to play with their dog and now their dog is following someone else around the park.
I know enough to gauge if/when to use treats. If I have more than the dog I am working with around me, I don’t give treats. I will move away to another location, if possible, and treat strategically, or I might choose to forgo treats all together if I don’t think it is safe.
If dogs follow me around, I will make a point to talk to the owner and let them know that I am fine with their dog following me around and I expect it when I bring treats, as long as they are. With this said, I can defuse the situation pretty easily and dogs get the message that I am not going to give them any treats. If they follow me, it usually lasts for a brief time and then they stop.
I also use treats very sparingly in dog parks. I work outside of parks using long leashes and use treats more in this situation. See my video on training a dog to Stop, which is useful when a dog is off leash. I also have a video showing appropriate dog play.
One point that is critical, is that you should NEVER give treats to someone else’s dog unless you ask the owner first. They might have an allergy, or the owner might simply not want their dog to have a treat. This is never appropriate.
What about bringing toys to the park?
The main reason that toys should not be allowed in the park is to prevent fights between dogs that resource guard toys. Dogs that exhibit these behaviors can potentially attack quickly and intensely when another dog is in proximity of their toy.
My feeling is that this behavior is not very common and dogs that have that issue should be worked with to fix this problem or they should leave when dogs are playing with toys. The percentage of dogs that are not aggressive around toys far, far outweigh the percentage of dogs that show aggression.
I am meeting a client this evening that has a dog that has toy aggression around dogs. We are meeting outside of the dog park and I will show my client how to desensitize his dog to the approach of dogs when toys are near. We will safely and humanely work on this problem and not actually go into the park. This dog has attacked another dog at the park and it is not safe to do so. My client understands that it is his responsibility to stay out of the park until this problem is taken care of instead of going into the park and demanding that everyone picks up their toys.
I would love to hear your thoughts about bringing toys and treats into dog parks.