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Should I Go To A Dog Park In Chicago?

Where are the dog parks in Chicago?

There are many dog parks in the Chicago area. Every dog park offers resident and non-resident admission.  Residents pay a  reduced fee while non-residents pay a higher fee. Dog parks in the Chicago area typically have a lock to their gate. The fee is a critical income for maintaining the park and is what gives you access to the key or a fob card. To get access you need to show proof of vaccination and pay the fee. That is it! The cook county locations include Beck Lakes (Des Planes),  Bremen Grove (Tinley Park) and Miller Meadow-South (Forest Park). 

Are There Aggressive Dogs At The Chicago Dog Parks?

Yes. Chicago’s dog parks have a three strike policy. This means if another dog has three infractions they may result get banned from the park.  Why is this concerning? Because most aggressive behavior goes unreported and three times means three incidents.

Are all the dogs really vaccinated?

No,  you dogs vaccination record is requested prior to acceptance into the park which creates  two loopholes.

  1. Most two dog families only pay for one dog. This means only one dog’s record is needed.
  2. Vaccinations are only checked during registration. If your dog was vaccinated in February of the previous year and you apply in January their vaccinations can be outdated within one month. Once vaccinations expire the county does not request updates like a day care would.

Are Dog Parks Good For Socializing Your Puppy

Yes

  • Puppies need to be exposed to other dogs. 
Picture of a puppy happily chewing his rope

No

  • Owners are clueless about what positive socialization looks like and could result in poor socialization. 

Dog parks can be used to provide socialization but this form of socialization is only effective if it is positive and at the right age. Bad socialization can be worse than no socialization. If your dog has a negative experience it could result in him developing fear-based aggression. Not everyone at dog parks knows this. this is why dog parks are not ideal for puppy parents. It would be best to take a puppy class or socialize with a neighborhood puppy (one at a time).

Should I Socialize My Adult Dog At Chicago Dog Parks

No. Socialization Occurs in Puppyhood Not Adulthood

Puppy being socialized with lots of people

Socialization Period 1:
2-16 weeks

Socialization Period 2:
4-12 Months

From four to six weeks, puppies learn the ins and out of being a functioning member of dog society. This is the time frame they learn calming , distancing and play signaling. They become more vocal during this period and start to bark and growl. At this point, they are open to new experiences and can develop fear-based aggression.  To socialize puppies we need to give them a variety of experiences with people, dogs, humans, and sounds. Introduce them to many walks of life. This includes young children (with supervision), the elderly (with canes, scooters & oxygen tanks), males, females, black, white, brown, tattooed, pierced, bald, shaven, anything you can dream of. Other normal experiences should also be included such as car rides, crate-training, vacuum-cleaning, ringing doorbells, and a variety of objects and sounds. 

This is the secondary socialization period. This is where dogs solidify their signaling behavior to other dogs. During this period, puppies grow rapidly and you may notice daily changes. Even though puppies are very energetic, a puppy should not be exercised too much, since he can overdo it. Among themselves, puppies begin to use ranking in their group structure — that is, they start testing where they fit in. Puppies may experience another fear phase that lasts about a month and seems to come from nowhere. Again, this is a perfectly normal part of puppy development and is nothing to be alarmed about

Dog parks may be ideal for hyperactive dogs, and yardless households if you meet THREE conditions.

Dog parks may be ideal for hyperactive dogs, and in yardless households but there is a code of etiquette that is expected between dogs.  

You need to learn signaling and recognize them in your own dog.   Dogs signaling include: Fear Behavior, Distance Seeking and Play Etiquette. 

Once you become comfortable with signaling, test your dog in a controlled social situation and watch if he/she responds accordingly.

Many pet parents do not recognize that their dog is poorly socialized. As an adult, socialization becomes synonymous with etiquette.  Therefore, a dog with poor etiquette results in other dogs being aggressive to it and vice versa. Pet parents tend to blame the other dog and fail to look at what happened. That is equivalent to being told ‘if you break into my house I am going to punch you’ and then being surprised you got punched.  Recognize when your dog is being bulled, disrespected or his signaling is being ignored. Pull him from the situation calmly so he does not have a bad experience. Just because a fight doesn’t break out doesn’t mean it was not stressful.  

Calming Signals In Dogs- A Dogs Way of Saying:
"I'm Stressed"

“Calming signals,” a term coined by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas, describes the signals used by dogs to communicate with each other and with their owners. These signals are specific behaviors, , body positions, and facial expressions. According to Rugaas, there are at least 30 calming signals. Each dog uses different calming signals specific to what they learned as a puppy. Older dogs teach younger puppies this signals and it is important puppies learn them. The signals, however, are universal and all dogs understand them even if they do not use them. Dogs are known to use these signals with humans, too.
Dogs use calming signals with each other (and with us) to communicate a number of messages, depending on the situation. The messages include “I mean no harm” or “I’m uncomfortable, please leave me alone.” Calming signals are used to resolve conflict, appease aggressive dogs and seek reassurance. 

Common Calming Signals

Dog with his paw raised with a green leash and coming towards another dog in the grass

Why Would A Dog Stop Giving Calming Signals?

If a dog is prevented from using calming signals or is unable to do so, conflicts can easily escalate. As a result, negative reinforcement behavior (punishing a dog) does not work.  A very stressed dog may stop giving calming signals which will result in more aggressive behavior. 

When
  1. If they have been punished for using the signals in the past
  2. If they have been attacked when using them in the past
  3. If the stress levels are too high 
  4. Pulling on the leash when they are giving the signal to another dog
  5. If we have trained behavior to override a calming signal
Examples
  1.  Hitting a dog when they but their ears back at another dog
  2. A poorly socialized dog ignores your dogs signal and comes towards them anyway
  3. If a dog is already having the zoomies or is stressed about a bone or squirrel he is unable to give calming signals
  4. When you pull hard to prevent them from going towards another dog
  5. Having a dog sit and stay while a child pats its head or pulls its tail. 

Pet Parents Responsibility at Dog Parks

Therefore as a pet parent you must observe your dog closely to determine if they are properly socialized before going to a dog park. Besides, you need to recognize if other dogs are poorly socialized and not responding to your dog’s signals. We can use this knowledge to prevent conflict at dog parks by removing your dog from poor situations.  However, not all dogs communicate the same way and calming signals can be used in non-stressful situations. For example, a dog may scratch his ear because it itches or he may yawn because he just woke up. It is your duty to understand the context and act accordingly. If you need help assessing if your dog is ready for a dog park contact our head trainer at Dogletics to set up an appointment. 

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2 thoughts on “Should I Go To A Dog Park In Chicago?”

  1. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch! Doralia Yul Wilmar

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