Zenzi and JoJo have been going here and there ever since Zenzi was old enough. They always have a good time. Zenzi follows JoJo's example, and is fine with other dogs off-leash. Zenzi actually doesn't really care about the other dogs or people, she is only thinking about...
Anyways, I used to take Dolce once a week to try to work on socialization. I gave up on the idea. He wasn't ready. He was just over threshold and not learning or enjoying himself. It was flooding, and not useful. Lately, he's been SO MUCH BETTER on his walks, I decided to give it another go today.
Since food is banned in the dog park, I couldn't use treats to help him over the initial reaction to the environment. So I brought my handy dandy "butt blaster" (Spray Shield citronella dog fight spray) and hoped that would suffice when paired with praise and petting...
... It did.
Dolce was initially off his rocker when we arrived. A combination of reactivity, excitement, and anxiety. Luckily, the place wasn't very crowded at all, and the small dog area was completely vacant. So we went in there to absorb the place in peace. Dolce did calm down after some initial fuss, and was getting sniffy and curious and polite, so we entered the big dog area with everyone else. He was never off-leash for this excursion. His greeting skills leave much to be desired. Until he can master them, I don't trust him off-leash. Now a lot of people will criticize that him being on-leash in an off-leash environment is a huge no-no. 99% of the time, I'd agree with them. Dolce is just... Special. So long as I was careful with my leash handling skills, it was not an issue. The only time he felt tension on the leash was when he made a bad decision and required restraint (initiating a chase after another dog inappropriately, getting snarky if greeted, etc.).
Dolce's initial greetings were iffy. He'd sniff, but he couldn't be sniffed. He would snark, I would spritz the air behind him, and we'd be on our merry way until the next opportunity presented itself. Mostly, we hung out on the perimeter and watched. I'd praise him heavily for looking at the doggies playing, and give him his favorite scratches whenever he checked in with me. He wasn't over threshold enough to not enjoy these things. It was plenty of space for him to feel safe. I was feeling better and better about my decision to bring him.
Eventually, much to my amazement, Dolce was greeting other dogs appropriately. He sniffed, even from face to face, and allowed himself to be sniffed. If he felt overwhelmed, he would make himself smaller instead of explode, and I'd get him out of there, praising all the while. When he discovered that retreating didn't make the other dogs hunt him down, he gained confidence. He became at ease, and even started to lower his tail. He really liked this little chihuahua girl, and he tolerated a Boston terrier puppy brilliantly. The chihuahua rolled over onto her back, and he sniffed her, then they play bowed, and chased each other around a bit. The Boston kept saying hi over and over, and Dolce learned to greet gently of his own accord. He even invited the puppy to chase, but they were interrupted by a big, white, fluffy dog. Dolce snarked at this dog, I spritzed the air, we retreated, and Dolce immediately approached at a polite curve to greet the big, white fluffy dog. They greeted nicely, and split peacefully.
I stood there with my jaw dropped. I praised Dolce heavily, of course, but with my mouth wide open. Dolce successfully greeted 3 off-leash dogs today. Dolce was HAPPY to be in the dog park with other dogs. Dolce played with the chihuahua. Dolce invited another dog to play chase. There must have been something magical about this chihuahua, because Zenzi liked her, too, and chased her around a bit for fun.
JoJo, of course, stuck to the perimeter, sniffing and marking. She hammed up all the people and got lots of love and attention.
We left on a total high note. Zenzi was just finishing playing with the chihuahua, Dolce had just greeted the big, white, fluffy dog, and JoJo was leaving a couple who had been petting her thoroughly. Dolce was getting eager to go play with everyone else, but we left to make sure he wanted to come back for more. Today was a glorious day. :)