It might seem innocuous enough. A happy family and their adorable dog want to go on a family outing to the dog park. Naturally, their two kids are great with the dog, so they bring them along. But when they arrive, they can't understand why all the other dog owners leash their dogs and leave. But there's a pretty clear answer. Because kids at the dog park might not be the best idea.
Before you gasp and clutch your pearls at such a stance, hear me out. While it sounds fun and simple, bringing your child to the dog park is actually very complicated. To illustrate my point, I'd like to share a story.
When I was about 7-years-old, my extended family came to visit our house in the suburbs of Seattle. We had a 40-pound Belgian malinois mix named Beauty, who was lean, fast, and energetic. I remember my cousin Jace, a mere 1-year-old, in his puffy coat toddling through the large, grassy yard. Suddenly, for no reason other than fun, Beauty charged toward him and bowled him over like a bowling pin.
And in my situation, the dog was a little bigger and the child a little smaller than in the GIF above. Luckily, Jace was a trooper and barely even cried, and we're family, so it didn't cause an incident. Beauty didn't even understand what she had done wrong. She was acting like a dog. Jace was acting like a kid. But sometimes, those two things just don't mix.
This becomes even truer for dog owners when the child in question is not their kid. Nothing in the animal kingdom strikes quite as much fear as a mama protecting her cub. And that's why many dog owners choose to pack up and go rather than risk being at the dog park with someone else's kids. But as a dog owner, I have to say, that doesn't seem quite fair. If kids are presenting problems at the dog parks, it's more the parents that need to be aware than the dog owners.
A dog park is a place for dogs, not people.
There, I said it. While of course, nobody should be banned from the space, the park is pretty clear on its ideal customer. You wouldn't want a dog owner to walk into your child's favorite playground and release their dog off its leash. So why would you release your child into the dog's playground?
At the dog park, all the focus should be on the dogs. It's a time for our canines to be off leash, run around, and burn off their excess energy. Sometimes things get rough and rowdy, possibly too rowdy for children. But the character of the dog park shouldn't have to change to accommodate a child, so that's something to be aware of if you're thinking of bringing a kid inside.
Dog owners already have a lot to worry about at the dog park.
As many dog owners know, the dog park can be stressful. A conscientious owner wants their dog to have fun, but also to behave. There's always the chance for small fights or play that gets too rough, without worrying about our dogs also getting along with strange kids. So consider the stress dog owners are already under before introducing kids into the mix.
Children and dogs aren't always natural friends.
Whenever you browse an adoption website, one of the key facts about a given dog is how well they do with children. Why? Because not all dogs are good with children. Kids are small, often smaller than a large dog, which puts them at a size disadvantage. Plus, a child's boisterous enthusiasm for dogs can be mistaken for more threatening behavior, which can cause a dog to react defensively. Again, sometimes dogs acting like dogs and kids acting like kids don't perfectly mix.
If you're a parent currently fuming over the idea of leaving your kids at home, consider how you would react if a dog injured your child. Would you be able to accept if a strange dog bowled over your child like my childhood dog did to my cousin? Dogs and children don't have the same natural instincts, so signals can easily get crossed. Would you take the responsibility for bringing your child in there? Because other dog owners don't want to have to take responsibility for your child in what's supposed to be a doggie safe space. And if you couldn't handle that kind of situation, it's probably best to avoid the possibility altogether.
A dog park is not the place to get your kids comfortable with dogs.
Dog parks are a place for dogs to interact with other dogs, not other humans. If you have a child who feels timid around strange dogs, helping them get over that is a noble pursuit. But the dog park is not the place for that. First of all, most dogs will be at their highest energy level, which can be scary. And again, that would be putting a lot of pressure on other dog owners that they didn't ask for.
If you insist on bringing your kids to the dog park, please try to keep a few things in mind.
- DO keep your kids outside the fenced in dog area, if possible.
- DON'T let your kids try to play with other peoples' dogs.
- DO keep your kids right next to you, not wandering around the park.
- DO understand that deciding to go into the park means you invite some risk.
- DO accept that dogs have a right to be dogs in their park.
- DO encourage your kids to be calm and quiet, because it helps the dogs do the same.
While it can be good for your kids to spend time with your dog in the dog park, make sure you consider the dynamics you're introducing. Other dog owners might not be forward enough to admit their feelings, which is why it's important to be aware going in. And in the end, you might have to accept that it's best not to bring your kids with you.