Signs of Stress
Even if you are fluent in Canine, you can learn more about how to identify signs of stress in your dog. Being that most people are predominantly visually oriented, most of what read is from is a dog’s body language. A great book for learning Canine is Turid Rugaas’ “Calming Signals.”
Go to the off-leash dog park by yourself, without your dog. Observe other dogs. Do this. It will open your eyes. Look for whether or not all the dogs are truly enjoying all their time there. It is not to say that it is not ok for there to be some stressful moments, it is just to see how much time is it that they are enjoying themselves and how much time is it that they are stressed. You can people watch too. See what they do or don’t do when there is tension between dogs, and whether or not what they did or didn’t do was helpful. Ask yourself whether or not the socializing is an overall positive or negative experience for each dog. You might be surprised to find how much time there is when dogs at play are not having such a great time, and of course, you will enjoy seeing when they do.
How Much Is Too Much
It is not to say some stress is not ok. Watch for when there is stress, and then whether or not he recovers. Shaking it off, literally, and then going back to stress-free activity is one example of a recovery.
You could have several low-level stress moments that accumulate or just one high-level moment which tips the scale. Either way, the more moments of stress and the longer they linger, the more likely this will end up being a negative social experience. Exit before it gets to that point. If it is already at that point, then exit. Also, pay attention to your stress level. Your dog might be ok, but you are not. Go ahead and leave even if it’s just for your sake.
Absence of Play Does Not Equal Absence of Enjoyment
The dog milling around the off-leash dog park just might be the happiest one there. The higher the level of play, the more likely to lead to a higher level of stress. The longer it goes the more likely it will result in a stressful moment. Again, this is not to say that play is not ok. It is just to watch for that the positive play time outweighs the negative and to keep it in the positive column. Err on side of ending things while things are still good. If it ends up being a negative socializing experience, then it is to learn from, so you to know how much was too much.
A Chicago dog walker will tell you, socializing is either an overall positive experience or not. Every dog has a social IQ. Wherever your dog is at is where your dog is at. See which direction he goes. Is he getting better or worse at picking up on and respecting social cues? Is he going in the right direction or not? If so then carry on (and end it before he goes the wrong way). If he is not going in the right direction, then back off. Find other places where he is successful in socializing, and then maybe you can lead him successfully back where before he failed since he has learned better elsewhere.