Guest Post for Happy Puppers
Can you think of anything that gets your dog more excited than going to the dog park? Out of all the weekly activities your pup and you do, heading over to the dog park is probably one of the most mentally stimulating of all activities.
It’s easy to see why the dog park is so engaging for your dog’s brain. For one, the extreme contrast of being home alone, patrolling the windows for the 4th time, sniffing the food bowl for the 6th time, as your pup waits for you to get home from work, is like night and day compared to meeting four new humans and twelve new dogs at the dog park. From your pup’s perspective, you can imagine that going to the dog park is like being at home, bored from studying for an exam for five hours, to suddenly heading to a wine-tasting night with friends and family.
Why are dog parks particularly important when it comes to keeping your pup mentally stimulated? The answer which will be expanded upon in this article involves three key factors; namely, the boosted socialization your dog receives, the feeling of being “free” at the park, and the exercise from racing around with other dogs.
What Is Mental Stimulation & Why Is It Important?
Of course, before leaping into an article that talks about why dog parks and mental stimulation go so well together, it’s important to define what mental stimulation exactly is.
For the purposes of this piece, mental stimulation for dogs will pretty much mean anything that keeps your pup’s mind engaged in a longer-term, positive way. In other words, something that keeps your dog occupied for longer than a belly rub, and leaves your dog feeling happier than before.
Examples of mental stimulation for your pup might include: teaching them a new trick, cuddling with your pup after returning home from work, or heading to the dog park for a nice play session.
Benefits of positive mental stimulation are nearly endless, from reducing your pup’s stress levels (and probably yours as well!), increasing their rate of learning, and mitigating unwanted behaviors that stem from boredom and lack of attention.
Without further ado, here are 3 ways in which dog parks plays a key role in mentally stimulating your dog!
As the social creatures that they are, dogs crave the happy feelings of meeting new furry friends and humans. In fact, their hunger for social interaction isn’t so different from us humans. Remember the joys of finally seeing friends and family after being cooped up during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic? Dogs feel very similar rushes of dopamine when they can sniff other pups and greet other humans at dog parks.
For a moment, it’s perhaps worth exploring why dogs are such social animals. This is an old story; one that traces back nearly 65 million years! Around the time when dinosaurs became extinct, the carnivorous, wolf-life ancestors of today’s dogs roamed the earth. Importantly, in order to survive, they organized themselves into “packs”, for emotional support and hunting support. For example, by joining a pack, a weaker wolf could receive support from stronger wolves, and stronger wolves could kill prey which they couldn’t have killed on their own. Depending on each other for their very survival, the social gene strengthened such that, today, dogs crave companionship and socialization to keep stimulated in a positive way.
Thus, the next time your pup is snoozing in the backseat as you return home from the park, you can remember that part of why he or she’s so happy is because you’ve tickled that “wolf pack” funny bone, which still lingers in their modern day brain.
By being free to sniff any and all things in sight, you can surely believe that your pup will feel mentally stimulated by being off-leash at the park.
Funnily enough, in so many ways it’s visible that dogs are highly aware of being leashed. As one piece of evidence, any dog owner knows that the moment you un-leash your dog at the park, they’ll immediately recognize that they’re free and start racing around in circles. Also, you could easily search Youtube videos of dogs “walking” other dogs, by carrying a leashed dog’s leash in their mouth.
The dog park is a unique environment where your pup can feel free, like a teenager who’s finally shaken off his or her parents at the mall; it’s a lot of trust to offer your dog, but the rewards (so long as your dog behaves well for the most part) will involve a highly engaged and mentally stimulated dog by the end of the park session.
Disclaimer: With that being said, allowing your dog to roam off-leash, even if the dog park is off-leash, comes with some risks. For example, you should ensure to still pick up after your dog’s poop, and accept the safety hazards of other dogs, animals, and surroundings.
Ever felt the “runner’s high” after going for a 5km jog outdoors? It’s a name for the lucid, naturally happy feeling that follows any kind of physical activity, be it a run, workout session, or outdoor hike.
Similarly, dogs feel that same mental stimulation from racing around at the dog park. Most likely, this stems from the release of endorphins, which are the “feel good” hormones that your brain releases, for example, after physical activity. Hardly any different from humans, dogs experience the same endorphin release which will keep them content long after you’ve returned home from the park.
As a bonus, exercise at the dog park keeps your dog physically stimulated, in addition to mentally stimulated. For example, plenty of exercise helps to keep your pup’s gastro-intestinal tract working properly, promotes healthy blood circulation, and keeps obesity at bay. At a time when the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has found that 54% of household dogs in America are overweight or obese, exercise at the park is vitally important.
To keep your dog positively engaged and mentally stimulated, regular visits to the dog park are extremely helpful and important. By giving your dog a healthy dose of socialization, allowing your pup to roam free & off-leash, and facilitating your pup’s exercise, dog parks are a great aspect of your dog’s routine and ought to continue.
By bringing your dog to the dog park, it’s undoubtedly a risk-reward situation. For example, on the one hand, there’s the risk of your dog feeling uncomfortable around larger pups, contracting an illness from animal scat, or chasing wild animals. On the other hand, there are clearly benefits of visiting dog parks, as mentioned in this article. By training and trusting your dog at the park, you can reduce the risks while reaping the rewards of these outdoor excursions.
In case you’re worried about your dog’s safety, assuming your nearby parks are off-leash dog parks, you can try to find fenced dog parks which should lessen the risk of your dog running into hazardous areas with cars, cyclists, or other disturbances.
It’s not a perfect world out there, and you’ll inevitably come across dogs at some point who aren’t as well trained or well behaved as your pup. In these cases, don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to simply intervene in the possibly rough play; there should be plenty of quieter areas of the park where your dog can feel less pressured and more at ease. Ensure to keep a watchful eye on your pup at all times at the park.
If you’re thinking about heading to the dog park, make sure that your pup is of course fully vaccinated, based on your vet’s recommendations. Beyond that, if the community of pup owners who frequent your dog park are diligent about picking up their dogs’ poop, and there’s a limited amount of garbage and debris, then you typically shouldn’t have much to worry about in terms of cleanliness.
Beyond driving around and finding nearby dog parks, you can easily Google search for dog parks near you to discover some convenient options. In case you live in Canada, Spot Dog Walkers provides easy-to-use directories of dog parks in major Canadian cities.