Option #1 - Longer walks
This may seem very obvious, but I’ll say it anyways. Taking your dog on walks that are at least an hour in length gives them enough time to destress and decompress from home life, as well as practice healthy dog behaviors. From a mental health standpoint, this alone is very important. Imagine your own life if you didn’t have outlets to unwind from stress! Things would break down in a hurry.
This is not any different than what can happen to our dogs. Walks that are just too short aren’t doing anyone any good and go hand in hand with other common mistakes that owners make.
Option #2 - Raising That Heartrate
Activities that are faster paced or more strenuous will help tire a dog out effectively, with the added benefit of being able to more easily get your dog focused on the task at hand. Dog parks can be essentially chaos with no off button, with no real focus on what a dog should be doing or direction on what’s expected. When you compare this to dog park alternatives with structure, like biking, hiking, running/jogging, games, or dog sports there is a huge difference in the benefits provided outside of the dog park.
For starters you dog is practicing much healthier habits and building them WITH YOU, instead of being a wild child in the dog park. This trickles down to the rest of your relationship with your dog, like how they act around the home or in unknown situations. The depth of relationship and bond that can be achieved from simply changing your dog’s main mode of exercise and activities is well worth taking advantage of.
Option # 3 - Small Group Playdates
Playdates with friend’s or neighbor’s dog are much safer than dogs parks and much more manageable in terms of preventing problems from happening or bad habits from forming. Plus there is the added bonus of being able to know the dogs beforehand, and of course ask the owners what things (if any) you need to watch out for.
Moderating who your dog interacts with regularly is a great way to minimize the risk of bad experiences and dog fights occurring. This can make all the difference between having a dog who remains ok with other dogs for their whole life or one who needs behavioral rehab to help with aggression, reactivity, or other issues. The latter is definitely not a goal.
It’s not wrong for your dog to play with others, but safety and guarding against future issues must be a priority.
Option #4 Exploring Your Area
Many hidden gems can be waiting for you to discover them in your area. Hidden parks, new trails, and just places you haven’t been before are all an option when poking around with your dog. Not only will your dog be exposed to the world thoroughly, but along the way you’ll be able to bond together and see where potential weaknesses are in your training and relationship. Trips like this don’t have to be long or far and will allow you to discover even more dog park alternatives to experience with your dog.
Hop from park to park in your car, or take a drive to an entirely new place. There are more dog friendly areas than you might think, and worst case scenario you move on to the next. Every new place is an adventure you can take advantage of when with your dog.
Option #5 - Training
This is a severely under utilized activity that less than 5% of the country’s population use. It is kind of a bleak picture when you realize that only 5 dogs out of a hundred have ever experienced what training is like, and only 5% of owners know the differences between having a dog who is trained and one that isn’t. Training opens up so many doors for your dog and you, along with once again deepening that bond you have with them, you actually get a dog who you can communicate with and who fits into your lifestyle harmoniously.
The difference between a trained dog and one that isn’t boils down to what you can actually do with that dog, how much restriction is on your life because of the dog, and how much pleasure you actually get from your relationship with the dog. Training develops your dog’s abilities and makes it much easier to actually get on with life with them, rather than have to modify your life strongly because of them.
All dogs deserve to be able to live with their owners in peace and harmony. All owners deserve the same. It’s a long road without help. All you have to do is choose what path you’d like to take.