Dog parks are a fun way for your pooch to run freely off-leash, enjoy the outdoors, and socialize with other dogs. For pet parents, there’s a great joy in seeing how excited their pups get when they know they are headed to their happy place. After all, dog parks are the equivalent of a playground for kids. Like any place, however, dog parks have issues you need to mitigate for and things you should avoid. Follow these seven tips to ensure your next visit to the dog park is a pleasant and positive experience.
Tip #1: Check out dog parks before you bring your dog
Visit unleashed dog parks in your area before you bring your dog. Pay close attention to the interactions of dogs and how the owners handle their dogs. If dogs aren’t well-behaved and owners don’t closely supervise their pets, you may want to avoid that park altogether.
Watch the dogs’ body language, especially proper dog etiquette such as the “play bow.” When dogs meet each other for the first time, the play bow signals that their intentions are friendly and they want to play. Watch for aggressive behavior such as:
• Pulling ears back/flattened ears
• Snapping and snarling
• Cornering, crowding or charging other dogs
• Multiple dogs picking on/attacking one dog (pack behavior)
Lastly, if you’ve recently adopted a new dog, it’s a good idea to take him to the dog park at a non-peak time and let him explore it quietly on his own. This way it can become familiar territory so he isn’t dealing with too many new situations and smells when it’s full of doggy friends.
Tip #2: Exercise your dog before visiting a park
Don’t rely on dog parks to be the main source of physical activity for your dog. If your pet was indoors all day and is let loose in a dog park, his energetic, playful behavior may not be welcomed by other dogs. Even if your dog has playful intentions and just wants to be chased, he could be easily turned into prey by an aggressive dog. Before visiting a dog park, take your dog on daily walks and make sure he gets plenty of exercise.
Tip #3: Visit small, less crowded dog parks
With large dog parks, you risk big groups of dogs forming a pack and attacking dogs. It’s easier to monitor your dog at a small, less-crowded park. Avoid dog parks on the weekend or visit during off-hours to avoid large crowds. Early mornings can be a good time to find a regular crowd with well-mannered dogs that know each other.
Keep dogs safe by keeping them off their leash inside the dog park. Dogs can become tangled in a leash and injure themselves or other dogs. When a dog is leashed around other unleashed dogs, it interferes with the natural interaction and body language between the dogs.
Tip #4: Use good judgment with small dogs
Look for dog parks with designated areas for small and large dogs. Some dog parks offer playtime hours for small dogs only. If you bring a small dog to the park, do not hold him in your arms. When a dog is elevated off the ground, other dogs see him as prey and may jump up and attack you and your dog. If you can’t find a dog park that caters to small dogs, keep your pup safe by not visiting dog parks.
Tip #5: Make sure your dog is well-trained and obeys commands
It’s not a good idea to bring a high-energy dog that isn’t obedience trained to a dog park. Make sure that your dog listens to you and obeys your commands. Speak calmly but firmly when giving a command such as “come.” Don’t get angry or shout because this may excite other dogs and cause them to engage in aggressive behavior towards each other.
Tip #6: Supervise your dog at all times
Make sure to closely watch your dog while he’s inside the park. Observe the body language and temperament of the other dogs (see prior tips for body language cues). If one acts aggressively towards your dog, don’t risk your dog’s safety—immediately leave the park.
If your dog is attacked by another dog and your commands don’t stop the fight, do not break up the fight alone. Instead, ask another dog owner for assistance in order to decrease your risk of getting injured. The safest way to break up a dog fight is to use the “wheelbarrow” method. Each person grabs the dogs’ back feet and lifts them off the ground, like a wheelbarrow. This helps immediately disengage the dogs and pulls them away from each other.
Tip #7: Pick up after your dog
As a dog owner, it’s common courtesy to always pick up after your dog. The last thing you want is for your pet to roll around in dog waste, or to step in it yourself. Use the waste bags provided at the park or bring our own plastic bags from home.
Dog parks are designed to be places for well-mannered dogs to romp and socialize. Unfortunately, they can also be places for aggressive dogs trying to “work out” their bully tendencies and can have their fair share of distracted, irresponsible owners. For this reason, if you take your dog to the dog park, pet insurance is a good thing to have. It will put your mind at ease knowing that your dog can receive the necessary care in the event of an unexpected injury.