A Day at the Park: Navigating Your Local Dog Park

The mention of a dog park fills the dog loverís mind with images of their beloved pet romping with his own kind through grassy fields as his fur blows in the wind. While this may only be the stuff that dog park dreams are made of, more and more of these canine friendly plots of land are popping up in towns and cities near you. They can be small fenced-in areas of a larger public park, or independent and privately owned facilities, but whatever they are, they are increasing in numbers!

Dog parks provide a great place to socialize your dog and allow him to have some playtime. We want you and your furry friend to have the best experience possible, and there are some manners that go along with public dog park settings.

DOís:

As soon as you enter the dog park, unleash your dog! Leashed dogs are on the defensive and the ďfreeĒ dogs will approach her, wondering why she is still tethered. This may lead to altercations. Under no circumstances should a dog remain leashed inside an off-leash park.

As much fun as it is to talk with other dog owners, make sure to keep a close eye on what your dog is doing. You need to be aware of your dogís body language with other dogs, where she is going, poop habits, escape attempts, jumping on people, etc. Itís also helpful to know about possible dangers to your dog, so check out the other dogs in the park, and any new ones that enter later- keep an eye out for dominant/aggressive behavior and fearful dogs. The dog park is not the time to be conducting in-depth cell phone calls or catching up on work.

Pick up after your dog. Itís common sense and common courtesy. If you see poo around, pick an extra up too. It makes for a more pleasant park for everyone!

DON'Ts

Until your puppy is current on *all* his vaccines, do not expose him to the dog park! With the countless number of dogs coming and going every day, the sheer amount of foot traffic at this location makes it a very hazardous place, health-wise, for an unvaccinated pup. Please hold off on the fun until your puppy is old enough to participate safely.

If your dog is in heat, do not bring her into the dog park. Fights *will* start! Likewise, intact adult males often cause issues in the dog park and may not be welcome due to this fact. Spaying and neutering your pets makes social time much smoother!

The dog park is an amazing resource! However it is not a replacement for structured walks with command reinforcement. Donít replace regular walks and time you spend with your dog doing other activities with a trip to the park.

While the dog park can be a wonderful place to socialize a dog, please do not bring an aggressive or fearful dog into the park as a way to work on these behaviors. The environment is too overwhelming for your dog and it also is unfair to the other dogs in the park. Contact a behaviorist and seek help for these issues before attempting to integrate your dog into a group situation.

Leave at home:

  1. Small children, especially infants or toddlers! Infants that have to be carried can be jumped on when an overzealous dog comes to greet you. Toddlers can be knocked over by a herd of joyfully running and romping dogs. Canines that arenít raised around small children have not been de-sensitized to their noises and movements, may be frightened by them and may even act in an unpredictable manner. While we understand that your child may love and have a wonderful relationship with your own dog, that connection doesnít necessarily carry over to a strange dog who does not know your child.

  2. Food! Do not use the dog park as a place to eat your lunch! No dog will be able to resist this and it is certain to cause a crowd, which will lead to pushing, shoving and of course, fights over who gets to be closest to the yummy smelling treats. Speaking of treats- theyíre a no-no too, in most cases. You donít have enough to go around for everyone, and even if you did, you donít know the dietary restrictions of each and every dog in the park.

  3. Toys. Much like food, if there arenít enough to go around, squabbles are going to ensue. Even if there were enough, every dog would only want the toy the dog next to her had (itís the BETTER toy, donít you know!), so please leave Fidoís toys at home. She has plenty of entertainment with her buddies. And on that note, sticks your dog may pick up arenít always safe either. Dogs running with sticks can choke or otherwise damage their mouths/throats.

More on Park Behavior

Normally, a trip to the dog park will be exciting and fun, and youíll return home with a happy, tired and probably dirty dog. However, things happen sometimes, so we want to alert you to something called the ďFour Pís.Ē These are warning signs that a dog fight could be brewing in the dog park and it may be time to go round up your dog for a time out or even to leave the park.

  1. Posture: Raised hackles, a highly raised wagging tail, and a stare-down can all be signs of dominant posture in dogs- know your dogís body language and be aware of what he/she is doing at all times in the park.

  2. Packing: When you see a group of more than 3 dogs running after a single dog, it is advisable to step in and break it up. This can be done by simply removing your dog from the situation and leading him away. When dogs get into pack mode, they will pick up on the actions of any one of their group- so even if your dog isnít aggressive, he could get himself involved in a fight when around a more aggressive dog.

  3. Possession: Dogs protect what they see as theirs. It could be a toy, food, even the bench you are sitting on. For this reason, most dog parks wonít allow personal toys- use a stick or a ball that is left in the park if you want to play fetch with your dog.

  4. Provoking: If you notice your dog is the ďclass jokerĒ who is constantly starting trouble by annoying everyone else at the park, this is not the day for him to be in a group environment. Try again another time.

The Possibility of Dog Fights:

No matter what we do, no matter how carefully we watch, sometimes the worst does happen and we must be able to handle the situation. A dog fight happens in a split second, but while itís are going on it seems like an eternity. The following steps can help you handle these harrowing and frightening situations.

Remain calm and keep everyone around you calm. We understand completely that these dogs are just like children to you, but we are of no help to them if we are yelling, angry or hysterical. In fact, we only fuel their anxiety.

Attempt to distract the dogs by throwing water on them, spraying them with a hose or with a loud noise such as a whistle. Do NOT stick your hands between the dogs. It is EXTREMELY likely that you will be bitten, even by your own dog (if he/she is involved). If these methods fail the owners can attempt to CAREFULLY grab their dogs by the back legs (wheel barrel style) and drag them backwards, away from each other.

If your dog is NOT involved, the best thing you can do is restrain him a distance away and make sure that he/she does not get involved. Remember to exchange contact information with the owners of the other dog(s), regardless of Ďwho started it.í It is your responsibility to be accountable for your dogís actions.

Every dog park is a unique environment. Remember that each dog park has it's own rules posted; please note these rules as you enter and follow them! The dog park is a special privilege for you and your pooch.

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