With a lot of new owners the concept of socialization is harped on endlessly. Socialize your dog! Take them everywhere! Make them meet everyone! They have to meet all the dogs! Take them to puppy play sessions twice per day! The dog park is great for puppies! They need daily specialized socialization classes! They should love this!
Unfortunately, that extremist approach to a fairly simple concept has perpetuated something that’s hard to get around; There is an overwhelming belief that all dogs should love everyone and everything and anything outside of that assertion is somehow deviant, worrying, and likely a temperamental flaw to be crushed out, trained endlessly, or gotten rid of posthaste.
It’s beaten into our heads that dogs need friends and social lives and time off-leash, and freedom to be themselves and space and holy crap it’s starting to sound like you’ve got a child not a dog. Unfortunately what a lot of these voices berating us fail to take into account is that dogs are individuals and there is such a thing as too much too fast in terms of socialization. Enter, the dog park.
Dog parks, to many people are a welcome beacon of off-leash space in an on-leash world. In theory they could be wonderful, but a lot of things could be wonderful in theory. Like deep-fried peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.
Regardless of how you feel about adult dogs at dog parks, I think there is one thing we can all agree on. Puppies do NOT belong at dog parks. Period. End of story. Why, you ask? Let us count the ways. Illness. Injury. Stress and fear responses. The list goes on and on. Dog parks are like frat parties. They are full of loud, rude, clueless, and overstimulated individuals who only get worse when part of a large group. Plus, farting and humping is not only allowed, but encouraged. For real, though. Think about sending your 13 year old daughter to a frat party. Yeah. Besides being a major parenting fail, it would also be a disaster. So if you wouldn’t risk your teen daughter in a group of hooligans, why would you trust your impressionable puppy?
There are plenty of ways to get controlled socialization for your puppy. Find a stable adult dog for it to play with. Set up playdates with other similarly aged puppies. Attend a puppy class at your local trainer who doesn’t just release them into the wild like some kind of weird documentary film. The key here is to set your puppy up for success. Be smart about it and use some common sense (sadly not all that common) and be your pup’s advocate.
And if your dog or puppy is a bit of a hermit? Well that’s really okay too. We certainly don’t like everyone; why should our dogs? They’re entitled to their opinions on the matter. The idea that all dogs must be friendly and get along all the time is at best naive. If more people spent time imprinting manners in their dogs rather than engaging in free-for-all socialization (which is usually more detrimental for sensitive pups) we’d have a lot fewer issues in the long-run.
Eventually we want training to supersede their opinions but until then, socialize your puppies elsewhere.
And the next person who suggests you take your puppy to the dog park? We give you permission to punch them in the throat.