Elsa as a young monkey at the beach; playing with a young lab. Watching them was glorious.
I'm going to say this right up front; I am not a dog park fan. I do think that the can be useful if chosen carefully and used sparingly. BUT, and this is a very BIG BUT; you must be vigilant and extremely careful with your dog while there.
The problem I have with dog parks is that people don't intervene when they should. What that means is when their dog is doing something that they should not do, they don't stop them. Their dog may be harassing another relentlessly but they don't see it as an issue. They think that the other dog who is being bullied should just deal with it. After all, they are dogs right? They'll work it out. Wrong. Playing can quickly turn to defending when a dog owner will not stop their dog from annoying others. The dog who is being bullied or annoyed is left to defend themselves; and that defense can escalate quickly.
Another huge issue I have with dog parks is lack of supervision. Many humans consider it a daycare. They bring their dogs into the park, let them off their leash and go socialize. No supervision means that they don't know what their dog is doing, nor do they care. They could be having fun, being harassed or bullying others, who knows?
All dogs are different, just like we are all different. Some don't even want to be at the park; they don't care to meet or play with other dogs. Others like to see and sniff but don't want to play. There are dogs who like to play a little but don't want to do the whole teeth brawling thing. What people don't know is that very few dogs want to just play with anybody and everyone. As dogs get older and go from puppy to adult, things change. Puppies put up with a lot of stuff; adolescents do as well, typically. But being a mature adult is different.
Most dog parks are small, too small. When a dog park has too many dogs per square foot, things can go wrong. The bigger the park and fewer the dogs, the better.
Elsa would not enjoy a dog park at this stage of her life. She tends to have a large personal space; made wider after she was attacked by the bulldog. She did enjoy the dog beach when she was young. It was a wide open beach where we could stay a while or just walk through while Luke and her greeted and played a bit. We always kept it short; opting to quit while we were ahead. Staying too long can lead to a tired and cranky dog.
Play dates on the other hand are wonderful. Known friends come over to our home or we meet at a park to play. Trust is already there between the dogs so fun is the only thing on the agenda. It is great when dogs come together who enjoy being together. They may like to wrestle, chase or just hang together. Owners can let their guard down and enjoy the play date as much as the dogs. Of course still supervising. I'm a huge play date fan and think that it should be something that people do for their dog/dogs.
After all, isn't seeing your dog have fun being a dog one of the best things in the world?