By Lindsey Danisch, MSW, RSW, Provider of Psychotherapy & Consulting Dating Expert
It might sound crazy, but spending time at a dog park, might truly be the best “club” for the singles scene. Whether you have your own, borrow a friend’s, or are just thinking about getting a dog one day and doing research, the dog park could be your next singles hot spot. Hey, it worked for John Cusack and Diane Lane in Must Love Dogs, so why can’t it work for you?! One of the hardest parts about meeting a mate is both finding other singletons, but also starting a conversation. The dog park acts like a buffer and helper for two main reasons: props and purpose.
A prop can be anything to make you more approachable and to help initiate conversation. If you use a prop right, it can ease you into the most natural conversation starters. Like if you’re at the grocery store, is there a cutie looking at rhubarb? Are they picking up a head of broccoli? Are they looking at fresh peaches? If so – it can be as easy as saying “Wow. The peaches look amazing right now – have you had any yet this season?” Or, “I’ve always wondered what people make with rhubarb – are you making a pie or something else?” Or, “Do you know how to tell if a papaya is ripe? I’ve never bought one before.”
The same is true at the dog park. There are all the common questions and comments like “Awe, what a cute dog. What breed is he?” or “What a beautiful dog, how old is she?” Having a dog at your side allows for people to approach you without feeling awkward. You can even help yourself by moving towards the group of dog owners or the prospective cuties-helping your dog move that direction too. Having a prop to help create a safe conversation topic is key when meeting new people no matter where you are. In addition to having this prop, being at the dog park gives you and your fellow dog lovers a common purpose.
Believe it or not, the majority of other dog owners come to dog parks to be social themselves. Everyone could be walking his or her dog in solitary, but it’s nice to mingle while your dog is socializing. It gives everyone a common purpose of being there together. This is different from a bar, where the purpose may be to forget about a bad day at work or to pick up a one-night stand. The dog park doesn’t serve alcohol and doesn’t dim its lights. It’s a pleasant, open, and welcoming place for you to socialize without preconceived notions.
In terms of starting a conversation with someone, when I speak with clients, I talk about the scenic and straight road approaches to initiating conversation (ps. conversation is what leads to dates!). In this case, if you take the scenic approach, maybe you’d notice that the two single roommates come around 6:30pm after work, and you happen to make this your dog park time as well. Maybe you have a number of smaller conversations before suggesting getting a coffee at a café with a dog-friendly patio! Or say “I’ve had my eye on your dog for a few weeks now, he is so people-friendly, is that just how that breed is?” By initiating these smaller conversations, you can get to know someone slowly. But make sure if you’re asking questions, that you’re really listening, so you can ask follow-up questions. Remember, you want to really engage someone, not just ask a single question.
For those of you with more direct personalities, we call this the straight road approach. This may look like “Hey, I’m Maggie, looks like our dogs really get along, would you be interested in grabbing a coffee?” While this definitely feels like the scarier approach, it is known for getting results and people often appreciate directness. Go ahead and give it a shot!
Having props and a common purpose can always help when initiating conversations with a cutie. Whichever road is your style, you can practice your approach at the dog park. Heck, Google all the dog parks within a few miles of your place a move around. Get to know a few communities. Remember to practice your conversation skills with anyone! You might make a new friend-and that new friend might introduce you to the person of your dreams.