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Hi, my tpoo puppy is close to 4 months now and we've been going to the dog park quite often last month. I know that going to the dog park is quite controversial, but I want her to socialize with other kind of dogs and it's a bit hard due to the pandemic. We are lucky since our dog park is separated into small/big dog sections. That way, she can also see bigger dogs without them being a threat to her (she's only 3,4 pounds). So far, she never got a bad experience from the dog park (or with any other dog). I always observe the behavior of other dogs before bringing her in and I won't bring her in when there is too much dogs according to what I'm comfortable with.

The problem is that she seems very shy (?) with other dogs. She is overall quite submissive, even with us, but when she meets other dogs, her tail is usually tucked between her back legs but still wagging a lot. She will slowly approach the other dog by being very low/close to the ground. Then, she will smell him and try to rub her head on him. It seems like she is afraid, but I'm not sure, because her tail is always wagging, she doesn't show her teeths and she's always very excited when she sees the dog park. If the other dog is a bit brutal/moves too fast, she will move back for a while but then approach him again slowly. If the other dog wants to play, she usually freeze, sit down low to the ground and look at him. She doesn't play with the other dogs. She very rarely chase them a bit, but only for a few seconds and only if they are more submissive/shy than her.

Is her behavior normal? Do you think it will get better with more exposure to other dogs or is it just her personality?
 

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You may do better with fewer dogs around. Lots of dogs do best with only 1-2 other dogs around, and I imagine having the big dog park there doesn't help her nerves. 4 months is very young for a dog park. I might consider taking her out until she is 6-8 months or so.

Do you have any dog owning friends you could visit the yard of? That might be a better scene for her for now. Many trainers also offer puppy socialization and play class time, which, again, might be better for her.
 

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Have you tried matching her with just one or two suitable playmates?

Even though it's the small dog park, I suspect she's a lot smaller than the other dogs there. And (in my experience, at least) dogs at dog parks are often some of the least socialized, with unengaged owners who just want them to burn off energy. It can get a little rough and out of control.

Your girl might get more out of watching a couple of well-matched puppies play in a more low-key environment, where she can choose to join in or not. Have you attended puppy class?

If that's not an option right now, keeping a distance with her and watching for signs of stress (e.g. snatching treats from your hand or refusing them altogether) while you watch the action at the dog park might be more appropriate. You want her to know 100% you've got her back.

Keep in mind that socialization means positive experiences. Creating negative associations now will stick with her for life.

I made that mistake with Gracie (half miniature poodle and also very submissive) at a Toronto dog park. Eventually she found a suitable playmate, and they were friends for life. But I wish I hadn't pushed her into an uncomfortable situation. For the rest of her life, she was quick to go on the offensive when a boisterous dog was nearby.
 

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Do you have the option of taking her to puppy kindergarten classes? Since she's so nervous and so small, it might be better to introduce her to other dogs in a more controlled environment.
 

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She sounds like a submissive and sensitive little puppy. The dog park might be too much for her, but if she had a one-on-one opportunity with a calm dog her size, she might enjoy it If enough time is spent just letting the dogs be.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Hi everyone,

I usually enter the dog park when there is only 1-2 small dogs so she doesn't feel overwhelmed. If this is a good match (the other dog is not too excited and insistant), she will usually feel more comfortable after 20 min or so. But still, she doesn't initiate play that much.

I really wanted to attend to puppy socialisation classes, but due to the COVID, the one closest to me were all online or cancelled. As for puppy kindergarten, I tried to reach a compagny close to me, but their kindergarden was way too intense for me (from 9h to 16h 3 times a week for at least one month). Also, I don't have a lot of friends owning a dog, so it's quite difficult to plan a dog date. My field of study is very competitive and not many have the time/interest for a dog while studying at the university.

Maybe I could bring her close to the dog park so she can observe the dogs without being overwhelmed? Would this count as socialization? Also, if I find a suitable friend for her, would it be appropriate to ask the owner if I can get his/her cellphone number so we could plan more puppy dates? It's my first dog, so I don't really know what is socially acceptable.
 

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4 months is very young for a dog park. I might consider taking her out until she is 6-8 months or so.
I was afraid that introducing her to the dog park later would be too late and that she would be fearful or uncomfortable around other off-leash dogs. Also, there is a lot of puppies in our dog park and they are usually aroung the same age as her, isn't that positive?
 

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Keep in mind that socialization means positive experiences. Creating negative associations now will stick with her for life.
It happened two times where another dog has run over her, not in a mean way, but tried to jump over her and did not succeed, so she was "hit" a bit and she whinned a little bit. Is that a negative experience? Both times, I did not leave the park instantly because I did not want her to get scared, so I stayed 10 min more so she could become comfortable again and then left. Is that a good behavior? What could I have done better?
 

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She clearly she not getting positive experiences out of the dog park since lots of her body language is telling you she is very timid/shy/unhappy there. I would use planned playdates at the homes of one other person with a well matched dog to desensitize your pup to other puppies and dogs. This doesn't just mean throwing her out in a yard with the other dog. You really should get a good trainer to help you with these problems (sooner than later too). Until you get someone who can help you I would not be back to the dog park. Look for either a cpdt-ka or cbcc-ka certified person in your area at Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant Directory - CCPDT
 

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It's really tricky to get the balance right :). I will note that most of the small dogs I see in the little dog area at our park have terrible social skills and wouldn't be my ideal for socializing a puppy. A lot of dogs are bullies with nervous dogs, too.

Socializing CAN be done at a dog park, but it's not what I would recommend at all, especially if you don't have good grasp on dog body language and appropriate play.

I was at the dog park today with my standard and there was a 8 mo old covid puppy who had only met one other dog before for the last 4 months. The dog was having a TERRIBLE time, had been there for about half an hour with her clueless owners before I arrived, and was way overwhelmed. She growled/snarled at me, bared teeth at Annie a few times, and had met two aggressive dogs there before we arrived. I normally don't go on weekends because I dislike the weekend crowd.

The aggressive dogs left, and I made Annie play nicely, and by the end it was probably a positive experience for the puppy - but it wouldn't have been if I hadnt called back and distracted my bouncy spoo when she became too much, watched the dogs body language, brought in Trixie, our Yorkie as another nice dog to meet once she was comfortable with Annie, brought in my mom, had my mom and I feed the dog treats (very food motivated golden), got the humans walking rather than standing... And to be honest, I anticipate the puppy will react with more fear and trepidation to future dogs, because the first two dogs she met there were aggressive.

I have done a fair amount of socializing random fearful/shy puppies we meet at the dog park, and also our very fearful adult dog (who is now the (relatively) well socialized Yorkie in this story). Basically, you need one very well socialized dog and a human with good voice control of the dog, and a good grasp of dog body language, and no other dogs being scary, even if they are in another area of the park.

It's really hard to get that at a dog park, and if you do, it's by chance not consistent. Also, not all dog parks are the same. The dog park in the last city I lived in was full of aggressive dogs and bullies, and Annie hated it.

Are you in Ontario? I was chatting with our trainer this week and apparently dog training is on the list of essential services that won't be shut down even for another lockdown. I would be looking for a trainer willing to arrange a few play dates and help you figure it out and get her more confidence. Way better to get on the right track NOW than try and fix fear, aggression, and reactivity later.
 
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