While there is nothing wrong with the premise of exercising your dog at a dog park, it is important to realize that the overwhelming majority of bite or attack cases are described by the owner as the dog “never doing that before.” You are taking your dog into an unfamiliar situation and relying upon their ability to socialize effectively with other dogs, even those that might not feel the same way. Your dog might be perfectly social and have no aggressiveness towards other dogs at all, but if you throw them into a dog park situation with other dogs that you are not familiar with, there is always a possibility that someone else’s dog is not properly socialized. There is also a possibility that your dog could be on the receiving end of an attack from a dog that “has never done that before.” People are very bad at reading dog behavior signs, and dog fights happen almost instantly, allowing owners very little chance to intervene before there could potentially be severe damage. Even if your dog is the attacker, there is a good possibility that they will be taken from you as aggressive, due to your inability to control them. It is always best to play it safe and keep your dog under control with a leash, as well as relying upon other owners to do the same, when introducing dogs to one another. Dog parks are notorious for owners who simply walk through the gate and unleash their dog, expecting that everything will be fine.
If you feel that your dog has the ability to hurt another dog or person, it is critical for you to keep them under control. If you feel that your dog could be hurt by another dog, it is critical for you to protect them from these situations. Placing them into a field with other dogs who are unrestrained in any way can result in terrible situations happening that are out of your control, and unfortunately if you care about your dog you are going to need to make choices that protect them. When you go to a dog park and there are dogs there that your dog is unfamiliar with, it is best to simply walk them around the park without going inside. This way they can interact with other dogs through the fence without having the potential for a fight that cannot be controlled.
Socialization with regards to dogs does not mean playing with them. Dogs are pack animals who choose their own group with which to socialize. This means that the majority of dogs are not chosen by your dog as being part of their pack, and ultimately that creates a situation where other dogs are viewed as competition or enemies. If your dog is trained to be allowed to play with any dog they encounter, they will then view other situations where they encounter dogs as play situations. This will include while they are walking with you on a leash, which is supposed to be a calm and controlled situation. If a dog has internalized that encountering other dogs always means that they can play with them, not only is leash training going to be nearly impossible they will also potentially fail to understand the warning signs of a dog that does not want to play. Unfortunately in dog world, this lesson is usually taught by being attacked or bitten by the other dog.
Safe exercise and enrichment for dogs needs to be within a controlled environment where they can be taught through saturation and examples the differences between situations. Within the exercise programs that treadmill dog exercise vans like RUN DAWG offer, we are able to use the natural instincts of dogs to provide them with regular exercise and enrichment in a completely controlled environment. We are able to be on the dog’s level, communicating with them the entire time, which is not even possible during play games like fetch or running in a field. It should not be a substitute for bonding, proper socialization or play, but it provides the structured exercise and learning that many dogs need.