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We moved to our current city from an area with no dog parks. Shelby grew up in fenced yards and always with other dogs, either my parent's three dogs or my roommate's two, plus at one point two foster dogs. She was never an 'only dog', plus we walked her, took her to dog friendly businesses, etc from the time she was just a little puppy, mostly because she's a velcro dog, and very cautious/protective.

When we moved here, she became an only dog, and we started going to the dog park. The first few times, she just stayed glued to us and made herself a little 'bubble' of about a 10 foot radius that was hers. When other dogs came in that bubble, she would approach them, sometimes growl or clap her jaws, sniff butts, and then either ignore them or 'escort' them out of her bubble, walking next to them until she got to the edge and then not following them any farther. A few times this did lead to scuffles, but she doesn't bite other dogs, she 'heads' them with the jaw clapping, teeth bared thing.

When we got Duckie a couple of months after we moved, we were happy for her to have another dog to interact with, and they have gotten along great since day one. Duckie is really mellow and goes with the flow basically, she will let anyone do anything to her and just take it in stride. We took her to the dog park a couple of weeks after we got her, and she did great, right away she was out playing and socializing with the other dogs. A few times later, Shelby kind of followed her lead cautiously and even played for a few seconds with the other dogs, though she would come right back to us after.

Well, that was until today. We joked that Shelby must have told Duckie that she was doing the dog park the wrong way, because today we were back to the bubble action, only now with two dogs. Duckie achieved her 'get away' with bristling her hair at any other dog that came by, something I have never seen her do, and staring them down. They hovered near us the entire time, chased off other dogs, would sniff each other, then sit or lay back down again like "all clear". When we walk around the park with them (it's like 3 acres) they follow us and maintain the bubble. The only dog Duckie even kind of played with today was a little puppy, and that was only for a moment.

I guess I am just looking for advice on how to get them to break out of their shells and have some fun, or at least to run when we're there. It's pretty frustrating to drive out there and just have them lay next to us and sometimes freak out other owners when they chase someone else off. They aren't interested in frisbee or tennis balls, either. I do have some very portable agility equipment that Shelby uses, a tunnel and some jumps and weaves, but I don't know if the other people would be okay with me setting it up there.
 

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What do you want them to get out of the dog park? Are you going for exercise, or socialization or -?

Some dogs just don't like dog parks. I know you have one teaching the other to maintain space, and it may very well be a matter of resource guarding/protecting YOU/whomever they're with. I don't know how to tell you to resolve that, but I would absolutely say that bringing anything else in would be a really bad idea. Mostly, my advice would be go, sit, and wait - or accept that they're not going to have a good time with it, and focus on activities they do enjoy.

Oh, also: I just really realized that they're aussie/border mixes (I think?). In that case - I know lots of herding dogs, personally, who hate the dog park. Dogs, people and kids running chaotically is just NOT something those particular dogs enjoy.
 

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Honestly, if they're not having a good time at the dog park why take them? Toys and equipment at a dog park can be a recipe for disaster (the only fight my super social hound mix has had was over a toy at the park). What if you took Duckie alone to the dog park? I know you want to bring Shelby too but she doesnt sound like shes enjoying it and more than that it seems like she's actively telling you "I'm not comfortable with these dogs all in our space".

I know you want the best for them (including an active social life) but some dogs are just not comfortable or happy in that environment, and why push it? In my view as long as they are both capable of interacting appropriately with other dogs in everyday settings there's no need to put an uncomfortable dog into such a charged environment. How about play-dates instead with dogs your two get along with, or walks in the regular park where there are fewer dogs and they won't be charging around?
 

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If you have 3 acres to walk around on, then walk around. A lot of dogs don't like to interact with strange dogs but are happy to go for an off leash walk.
 

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Yep, not all dogs like that sort of thing. Crystal absolutely hates groups of dogs and does not want to play with them. She's fine walking with other dogs or working with me around other dogs in classes, and she plays chase with Casper in the yard, but if I let her loose in a dog park, she would do the same bubble thing that yours are doing. She's just not interested in playing with a bunch of dogs.
 

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What do you want them to get out of the dog park? Are you going for exercise, or socialization or -?

Some dogs just don't like dog parks. I know you have one teaching the other to maintain space, and it may very well be a matter of resource guarding/protecting YOU/whomever they're with. I don't know how to tell you to resolve that, but I would absolutely say that bringing anything else in would be a really bad idea. Mostly, my advice would be go, sit, and wait - or accept that they're not going to have a good time with it, and focus on activities they do enjoy.

Oh, also: I just really realized that they're aussie/border mixes (I think?). In that case - I know lots of herding dogs, personally, who hate the dog park. Dogs, people and kids running chaotically is just NOT something those particular dogs enjoy.
Mostly I don't want them to 'forget' their manners with other dogs and get too absorbed in each other, so socialization. We moved here and know nobody else with dogs, aside from a cousin who doesn't let her dog around other dogs, so no play date there. I have lots of clients with dogs, obviously, but I hesitate to blur the lines with any of them and become too friendly, since that's not professional.

For their breeds, they are pretty quiet. I do some trick training with them that they enjoy, and I like being outside with them. We go on a lot of walks, but letting them off leash is really nice and the dog park is the only fenced in place I have access to on a regular basis. There's a field nearby that's fenced on three sides, and I do let Shelby off leash there because it's remote and her recall is perfect, but Duckie still has a terrible recall so she has to stay leashed.

I guess I just had this idea in my head that they would be like the other Aussies and Borders I see, but I apparently have two that don't want to play like that! Weirdly enough, the other dogs that Shelby warmed up to and played with were a couple of obviously purebred Aussies, but aside from just a chat I didn't really learn about their owner or make a friend.

The nice thing about this dog park, aside from the size, is that kids under 14 aren't allowed, and I have seen people asked to leave or go outside the fence when children have come. So there aren't overly excited/scared kids adding to the chaos.
 

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It actually sounds like they have VERY good dog manners, and are exercising them really well at the dog park!

I think I'd take them, walk them there, and just keep an eye on things. They may loosen up and relax with the other dogs, but even if they don't - they're unlikely to get rude because they're not rough and tumbling with the other dogs. Of my dogs, only the new one strikes me as the LEAST bit inclined to play with other dogs the way dog parks seem to encourage and I've had her for... like four days, I think, so it's a guess. The other two? Nuh uh. Kylie will run and play totally touch free games of chase for a little bit, but otherwise they are both- I don't know, kind of snobby about it? They're both POLITE, but they are just not giving a crap about joining in. They'll play with EACH OTHER, but they know the rules with each other, I guess, or think that makes familiarity okay.

I kinda suspect Bug, when we get her out in public, will happily engage in WWF style matches with any dog that happens to come her way. If she hasn't been taught what Jack and Kylie's idea of polite play is, before then. (Which may be going on with your dogs, actually).
 

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I have a BC/Aussie mix who is not a dog park girl. Not that she's ill-mannered at all. She greets other dogs eagerly enough but has no interest in their rough-and-tumble games, and she'll correct any dog that gets pushy. She'd rather sniff about or solicit play & affection from me and the other people.

In your position, I would ditch the dog park. Walk them at an on-leash park, and say hi to dog owners you pass. Often, when I'm walking Gyps at the soccer park, I'll have people with puppies or even adult dogs stop to talk to me. We'll have our dogs socialize while we do.

For additional socialization, you might join a obedience class or local meet-up group. Maybe your dogs would benefit from a more structured social environment. With a meet-up group, it's a smaller (and typically better trained) group of dogs. Plus, you're seeing them repeatedly. Your dogs can make familiar friends rather than, with the dog park, be exposed to a new group of strangers each visit. My dog will chase and wrestle familiar dogs, but she won't do that with strangers.

For "off-leash" fun, put Duckie on a 50ft leash until her recall is solid, while letting Shelby off leash.
 

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When we adopted our boys, we took them to a dog park so they could learn to act like "normal" dogs(one of those things some people recommend for rescues). What an uncivilized lot we encountered! Don't get me wrong- I expect dogs at play to be silly and hyper. What I don't expect is for aggressive dogs to be unleashed and allowed to zip around, looking for others to battle or use as toys. Then, there were dogs who weren't necessarily aggressive, but just played very rough. I realize not all dog parks are like this, but ours was. Either way, I think that the chaos of liberated doggy energy was overwhelming for our boys. After marking a couple of trees, they mostly huddled in a corner, where the grass was especially tall. We went a few times, trying different times of day to see if things were better. They really weren't.

So we took them to another park and walked them where all of the dogs were on leashes. They were content to walk here. They approached other dogs we encountered on the path around the lake. They made friends and played a little bit- on leashes. I think that having humans immediately on hand to intervene, if needed, helped them to feel more secure. Whether you're a dog or a human, being thrust into a new environment with strangers can be a little unsettling.
 

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Dog parks aren't all that. My dog doesn't much like them. She's much happier on pack walks, which we do leashed in town and off-leash with neighbordogs in the country. Pay attention to what your dogs are telling you.

BTW, I found one of my in-town pack walk groups on meetup.com. I bet there's at least one group like this in Charlotte.
 
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