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I've read about all the pros/cons of going to dog parks, and I feel confident in my ability to judge situations correctly, police my dogs and the dogs of others if necessary, and remove my dog to prevent problems from happening.

But I'd also like to use the park as a backyard-substitute, as well as a socialization opportunity, and I train largely by using positive reinforcement (treats/toys) and I've heard that those items are discouraged in dog parks. Clearly I'm not going to whip out the chicken necks in a group of 10 dogs-- that would be dumb and dangerous. I wouldn't throw the tennis ball around then, either.

What I do want to do is be able to continually reinforce the recall of my dog -- call him to me every five minutes or so, reward him for the succesful recall, and let him go back and play. It's probable that the premack principle might be enough to help reinforce this (and I'd likely use this most of the time, not treat him for every successful recall)... or it could just teach him learned irrelevance? I'm not sure and ideally would like to use treats to help with the reinforcement value, as I really don't want him deciding that coming when called is pointless. I'd hate to have to correct that mindset as opposed to maintaining a positive one, especially on such an important behavior.

One of the parks is several acres and has agility equipment available for use, so I'd also like to be able to do some fun training with obstacles and start lines, or just rewarding for normal behaviors in a more distracting environment. Again, if there were several dogs in an area, I probably would choose to play it safe and do most of my food training in off peak hours.

Also, fetch. I wouldn't play fetch in a small yard, and I wouldn't do it when there were other fetch-oriented dogs, but again, one of the parks is several acres and sometimes there are sections far away from other dogs that I'd love to take my dog to and toss the tennis ball around. Is there a general expectation in dog parks that if you're there with an off-leash dog, the dog is there to play with the other dogs?

There are no posted rules about food and toys in the park, but I'm wondering what you guys think about this. Do you have experience with people who use food and toys in dog parks? Are you sometimes one yourself? What would you recommend?
 

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I'm one of those people who used food to train my dog in dog parks. I think that's part of why his recall is so good around other dogs. I'd say it's definitely doable.
You just need to keep an extra eye out for other untrained dogs who might be rushing up to you for treats or for the ball. Especially given the area you have, I don't think you'll have a problem.

If there is a high value treat without as much of a smell, I'd recommend that. Once I brought tuna and got a LOT of attention. Alternatively, you could keep smelly treats in something airtight, like a ziploc bag. If a stranger dog came up to me, I'd show it my hands and it would smell the treats on it but realize I 'don't have any' (while the treats were safely tucked away in my pocket) and the dog usually goes away.

In a good trainer's hands (and not just your average joe-shmoe waving a hotdog around trying to get Fido to come... ), dog parks have the potential to be great for working on distractions!
 

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Using food in a dog park is tricky. It really depends on the other dogs in the park and how they react to it. What I find works the best is to put any food you do bring in into a tupperware container. The seal of the lid keeps most of the smell out and other dogs are less attracted to it. When I call Eppy. I only open the container when no other dogs are around. It really is no surprise though that labs seem to pick up on what I am doing and come running to me when I tell Eppy "yes" before rewarding him. For the most part dogs in the park that I frequent aren't too rude and really do not mouth at the food I bring in. Sometimes I need to use a body block to cut them off and that does the trick. Most dogs will leave you alone when they figure out that they are not getting any food from you.

There is definitely way less competition for toys than food. I would not worry about bringing them in and using them for rewards. I use toys to reward Eppy way more than food. Again, it depends on the other dogs. If there is one out there that has resource guarding issues involving toys then it would make sense to either stop using it or to move to another part of the park.
 

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I have done it, mostly without problems, but you have to be careful.

There are two different types of dog parks around here. One is the basic, "large fenced open area". I don't use these parks as a general rule, except that I do use them for practicing recalls and off-leash heeling. I will only train with treats in this park when there is absolutely no one else there. There just aren't enough other things for dogs to do in there besides form a mob, and treats end up with a mob scene in my face more often than not IME.

The other park, which is the one I walk in regularly, is a large, wooded park on substantial acreage. I almost always carry a few treats in my pocket there because it's a nice place to reinforce recall and we're generally just passing by other dogs/people, if we even see anyone else. It's less common for dogs to even notice that you have treats there.
 

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I'd say it entirely depends on the park you go to. If the you use the large park and there is a low density of dogs then it would likely be fine. Then again, I would never bother going to a dog park with a high density of dogs in the first place.
 

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I think it would be up to the park that your going to. but i wouldint bring any food or toys if theres alot of dogs. My dog park has all the rules up and also the president of the park came once and explained all the rules. no toys or food because it could lead to agressivness if more then one dog wants it. what i do is go early in the morning or late at night when there are no dogs or very little and if theres a few dogs i ask the owner how there dogs react to the treats or toys i have :) most of them are ok with it but ive seen some people come with treats or food for there self and the other owners were very pist off. Hopes that helps :)
 

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Me? I stay away from treats in a dog park. I was watching someone once using treats for training her dog, there were only 3 dogs there including Sadie. Sadie was next to me, not wanting to interact much, but the other dog that wasnt being trained seen the treats that was being given to the other dog (different owners of course) and started a fight for the food. Luckly nobody got hurt, no appoligies were exchanged as far as i know. But it could have been much worse. For me and Sadie, a great big Good Dog and a pat on the back seems to work for her just fine. But thats me :)
 

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I take treats to the park every time I go. Huskies are known for their love of running and exploring and so I use every opportunity I can to build her recall with distractions around. I make sure she knows I have them before we go through the gate. For her, it helps her keep an eye on me, know where I am, and come when called. I reward her for randomly coming over to say hi to me, I call her over occasionally when she's not too occupied (I am a huge fan of recall, treat, then immediately releasing her to go play), and then at the end when I call her over to leave. Sometimes another dog will hear the baggie or will smell them and follow me, but I ignore them entirely and never give them treats. They go away within a couple minutes. I don't give Denali a treat if another dog is right next to her.
 

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For toys it really depends on the park and the dogs, how big the park is, how many are toy oriented, and if any have guarding issues. People play fetch or have toys often at my dog park and there are rarely any issues, only with the occasionally dog with guarding issues.

As for treats more often than not you are going to draw a crowd unless it's a huge park and you can go off in your own little area. Jubel is a food whore and will sniff out ANYONE who brings in food, he even smells it if somone HAD food/treats in their pocket earlier but it's gone now. As long as they don't give him any he'll just sniff at the treats, sit nicely in front of them or follow them around if they are walking for a few minutes then go away. IF they give him something he is stuck to them like glue until we leave or they leave. If the person bothers to ask or if I see his "I smell food" behavoir before they give him something I will ask them not to so he doesn't become their shadow.

I'd only suggest treats in a dog park if it is a LARGE park and you can find an somewhat isolated area. I've actually had pretty good results on reinforcing Jubel's recall with distractions in the dog park with the only reward being enthusiastic praise. Lots of happy rubbing/petting and "good boy"s and he's happy he did come to me. We do work on recall with treat rewards just not at the dog park. Recently he's been doing really well when I call him off from approaching a dog I know isn't interested in playing with him, I'll call him and he may not come running over to me but he does turn away from the dog and walk over to me.
 
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