With Breed-Specific Legislation looming over the head of every Pit Bull owner, it is OUR duty and responsibility to make sure that our dogs stay out of trouble - and there's a whole lot of trouble to be had at the dog park.
We are not a fan of dog parks for any breed - however, with Pit Bulls, there is much more at stake if something goes wrong. Oftentimes, a Pit Bull won't start a fight, but if pushed past his limits, he is unlikely to back down. And the general public has little-to-zero knowledge of dog or human aggression - how many times have we heard "This time it was a dog - but what if it were a child?" The Pit Bull who fights back is seen as vicious, even if the other dog was the instigator. The Pit Bull is nearly ALWAYS blamed. Is it fair? No. But it is reality. And we as Pit Bull owners need to make sure that our dogs NEVER make the evening news. Because the story of the Pit Bull attacking the "innocent" dog at the dog park will be one of the first stories brought up at the townhall meeting to discuss potential BSL. And you can bet that the owner of that "innocent" dog will be telling all her family, friends and neighbors about the vicious Pit Bull at the dog park.
And even if your dog is one of those "special" Pit Bulls who would NEVER defend itself from another dog - why would you put your dog in a situation where he can be bullied, picked on, or attacked? It is our job as responsible DOG owners to keep our dogs out of harms way. Going to dog parks is like playing Russian Roulette. You never know what other dogs will be there on any given day, you don't know what their temperaments will be like, or if any of them are harboring a disease or parasite.
Pit Bull owners need to have the big-picture approach. Any negative incidents don't only look badly upon the individual dog, but Bully breeds as a whole. The risk simply isn't worth it.
Excuse: "He always submits if attacked by other dogs!"
Response: Why are you willingly putting your dog in a situation where he can be attacked? Part of being a responsible owner is keeping your dog safe and out of trouble. Attacks are no laughing matter! Every time a dog has a negative interaction with another dog, the chances increase that he will develop some level of dog intolerance.
Excuse: "Pit Bulls need to be socialized!"
Response: Of course Pit Bulls need to be socialized - in controlled, monitored settings, with a small handfull of well-mannered dogs, always under the watchful eye of owners who are well-versed in canine body language. At dog parks, anyone can enter/join. Everyone thinks their dog is perfect and would never hurt a fly - until they actually do. The average pet owner generally has no knowledge of dog body language. A wagging tail means the dog is happy, right? Wrong - dogs wag their tail for many reasons. Depending how the dog is wagging the tail, it could mean he is extremely excited (and might cause a redirected fight over a toy), or could even mean the dog is nervous! Some people even bring their dogs to the dog park, KNOWING their dog is dog aggressive - they think that the dog will "get over" the DA by playing with other dogs! Some people also use the dog park as a place for their dog to get all their energy out at once - the dog is never exercised or walked during the week, and the owner thinks that a weekend visit to the dog park would be a great place for him to "blow off steam". That dog, at the dog park, is so overexcited and full of pent-up, unreleased energy that he often has rude or pushy behavior towards other dogs, and could inadvertently cause a fight.
These are just some of the examples of the types of dogs/owners you can come across at the dog park. And as we said before, every time your dog has a negative interaction with another dog ("Oh, he just wants to play!" as the dog jumps on top of your dog and pins him down by the neck!), the likelihood of your dog becoming dog-reactive increases.
BADRAP has some great socialization tips, here.
Excuse: "It's a private dog park - all dogs have to be checked by a vet before they can join!"
Response: We often hear this excuse in response to the fact that dog parks are a breeding ground for parasites and disease. Just because dogs need to be updated on shots and negative for parasites before owners get a key to the park, it doesn't mean that the dog is still healthy every time he enters it. Also, many private parks still allow intact dogs to enter. Unneutered males (who have a higher testosterone level), and females who are in heat can easily trigger a dog fight.
Excuse: "My Pit Bull isn't like one of -those- Pit Bulls - my dog would never fight!"
Response: Everyone loves to think that their Pit Bull is unique, that their Pit Bull is the rare unicorn of Pit Bulls who doesn't have any ounce of dog aggression, at all. Unfortunately, the reality is that because of their history, Pit Bulls are predispositioned to having genetic dog aggression. There are varying levels - some Pit Bulls get along with most polite dogs, some Pit Bulls get along with the opposite sex only, and some Pit Bulls just don't care for other dogs. Dog tolerance levels are generally not "concrete" until a Pit Bull hits maturity - usually around 8-12 months of age, sometimes as late as 4 years old. Just because a Pit Bull gets along with dogs at a young age, doesn't mean he always will. And while socializing can help, no amount of treats, training or 'tssts' can override a genetic trait. To turn a blind eye to the temperament traits of this breed is to set your dog up for failure.
Excuse: "Dogs are pack animals!"
Response: The "pack theory" in wolves has been greatly debated, but recent findings has shown that wolves stay in packs with their families, and do not interact with other packs. A dog park in the "wolf world" would be like plucking one wolf out of several different packs, placing them in a fenced-in area together, and forcing them to get along. The comparison between "pack" and dog park just doesn't work. Furthermore, Pit Bulls were historically bred to fight against other dogs - forcing a Pit Bull to get along with other dogs goes against its' nature. Some breeds were developed to get along with other dogs - such as Foxhounds, who need to work together to hunt foxes - but Pit Bulls are not one of these breeds, by any stretch of the imagination. And when dogs are forced into this unnatural pack setting, they often develop an artificial "pack mentality" - and dogs acting as a pack act very differently than when acting individually.
Excuse: "He's MY Pit Bull, and you have no business telling him where he can and can't go!"
Response: If only that were the case. As mentioned before, Breed Specific Legislation affects EVERY responsible owner of bully breeds (and dogs who look like bully breeds!). One negative incident at the dog park is all it takes for BSL to be proposed in a city. Suddenly, everyone starts fearing the "vicious" Pit Bull. They think that because the Pit Bull went after another dog, that children and humans are next (which is false - human aggression and dog aggression are two completely different genetic traits (link here)). People start comparing owning a Pit Bull to owning a wild animal, as if Pit Bulls are crocodiles at the end of a leash. And there is a Domino Effect - once one municipality bans Pit Bulls, other nearby towns will follow suit. This is not being paranoid - this is reality. Because ONE person thinks their Pit Bull is special, that their Pit Bull deserves to go to a dog park, that THEIR Pit Bull would -never- scuffle with another dog - all of OUR dogs suffer as a result. Don't be selfish - your actions as a Pit Bull owner don't affect just yourself and your dog, they reflect on Pit Bulls and Pit Bull owners as a whole.
Excuse: "If I don't take him to a dog park, people won't see how wonderful Pit Bulls are!"
Response: It's not about proving the non-Pit Bull supporter's wrong, it's about NOT giving them a chance to be right. Meaning - your dog can be wonderful around other dogs...but all it takes is ONE incident for a stranger's mind to be made up. IF your dog happens to be involved in a scuffle, what will people think? Will they think "Oh, he's just reacting to the other dog" or, "That Pit Bull used to be friendly, but he "snapped" out of nowhere!"? There are MANY ways to show how wonderful your dog is...taking him to farmer's/flea markets, walks (onleash) through the park, certifying him as a therapy dog, and more. These are all SAFE, positive things that don't involve your dog running loose with strange dogs.