Everyone knows that a tired dog is a good dog, and nothing tires a dog out more than another dog! All the romping, wrestling, playing tag, playing keep away and the good ol’ just run with the pack in an open field is sure to give you a peaceful evening, if you take about an hour out of your day to stop by the dog park. Now the dog park isn’t a place for every dog. Your dog must tolerate other dog’s presence at the very least, but you both would get much more out of the experience if they enjoyed being in the company of other dogs. Your dog must also be sociable with people and tolerate children… for you will often find kids running up to pet your dog or trying to initiate play with them.
Most dog parks are divided into a “Large Dog” park and a “Small Dog” park. If you are nervous that your Maltese may get stepped on by a Mastiff, you have your own dedicated fenced in area separate from the big dogs. However, if your lap pup plays like a big dog, feel free to join in the fun on the big dog side! Before entering, it’s always a good idea to ask the larger dogs’ owners if it’s okay for you to bring your small dog into the large dog side, because some big dogs may not play well with small dogs.
Not only is the dog park a great place for your dog to socialize, but for you, as well! You are in a place where you have at least one thing in common with everyone around you… you all love your dogs and most people love to talk about them. Before you know it, you and your dog will make new friends. It often begins with knowing the dog’s name and referring to their owner as “Rocky’s Dad” or “Diesel’s Mom”. You can learn about all kinds of walks of life or there’s plenty of space to keep to yourself if that’s what you prefer.
While a dog park is a great place for your dog to socialize and play with other dogs, it’s also a great place for you to bond with your dog and practice training. The large open space is a great place to legally have your dog off leash to play fetch or take a walk together without the tether. It can also be a test for your dog to obey your commands with the distractions of other people, dogs and oh, all the smells! For those that are ready to practice more advanced training (it’s highly recommended that your dog has mastered his commands in a controlled environment first), just be sure you are in a position to enforce your dog listening to you. Also keep the training sessions short, for you don’t want to set up your dog to fail and this should be a place for your dog to look forward to for fun!
Before heading to the dog park, please know your specific dog park rules and ALSO be aware of these lesser known guidelines for an enjoyable time:
* Unleash your dog before entering the park – Dog parks have a double gated entrance, not only as a safety measure, but also to allow you to remove the leash in the enclosed area before opening the second gate to the dog park. This will allow your dog to escape from the crowd that usually is at the gate to greet the new dog. Your dog behaves differently on a leash versus off the leash. Dogs may feel trapped being on the leash while other dogs are free around it, which could cause defensive aggression.
*Do not coddle your dog if it’s scared – If you do, you are just reinforcing it’s scared behavior. Be confident, but do not force him into uncomfortable situations. Dogs with their tail between their legs, have the hair along their spine raised or are crouching may need some space and time to get acclimated.
* Let your dog be a dog – Dogs jump up on each other, knock each other down, wrestle, growl, snap at each other, and yes, they hump and will sniff each other’s genitals. It is all part of the dog communication world that most humans don’t comprehend, but the dogs are just doing what is natural to them.
Some dogs try to initiate play by wrapping their arm around another dog’s back, which may trigger humping. This is a natural behavior to establish dominance. Most of the time, the dogs will work it out themselves with the humpee warning the humper to stop with a growl or a snap. Let dogs be dogs and they’ll learn from each other what’s acceptable or not much quicker from each other. However, do be ready step in and remove the offending dog if tempers start to flare or it’s going on for more than a few seconds. Excessive humping can cause aggression not only with the participating parties, but trigger aggressive responses from other nearby dogs. Other behaviors, such as growling or snapping should not be interfered with. By yelling and stopping this natural behavior because you don’t like it, it may create waves in their communications with each other. By stopping your dog from growling, you may be teaching him to skip that warning sign he’s giving and he’ll go straight to biting the next time. Dogs have a way of working everything out themselves. However, if things are getting too intense, try distracting your dog with another activity, or create a loud noise, but avoid yelling.
If a dog fight does break out (a rare occurrence which rarely lasts for more than a few seconds), encourage everyone to not scream or yell (which hypes up the dogs more). DO NOT try to separate the dogs by putting your hands/body in the middle of them or try to grab their collars, for you will likely get nipped or bitten. The quickest way to separate the fighting dogs, is for each owner to grab their dog’s hind legs (preferably where the hips connect to the body to avoid injury to the dog), lift and drag him straight back (like a wheelbarrow) then turn him 180 degrees to face away from the other dog. If you are by yourself, do the above method to the attacking dog, and tie him to something, then repeat with the other dog if necessary. There are also citronella sprays on the market to aide in stopping dog fights as well. For more information on how to prevent and stop dog fights, please visit http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-articles/breaking-up-a-dogfight.
* Do not let your dog jump on people – Though dog park patrons should be prepared for muddy paw prints on their outfit, this is a basic rule that should be enforced with all dogs all the time. Not being consistent with the “no jumping on people rule” will make your dog inconsistent in obeying elsewhere.* Bring water for your dog – There’s many travel water devices for dogs out there that make it easy to bring water along for your pooch wherever you two go. Your dog will get thirsty quickly and frequently with all the exercise he’ll be getting at the dog park. While some dog parks supply water, don’t assume it will be there or assume others will let your dog drink their dog’s water. Try to offer your dog water in private, for dogs may get possessive of a water bowl.
* Do not bring treats, dog food, or people food into the dog park – Not only will you have a pack of dogs following your every move, but it could cause tension/fights among the dogs. Also, PLEASE know what foods are toxic to dogs such as grapes and keep them away from the dog park. If you must bring treats as a reward for training your dog, try your best to contain their smell, conceal them and give them to your pup in secret.
* PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG!!! – Not only is it a health hazard to people and pets for doggie doo-doo to be lying around, but no one wants themselves or their dog to step or roll in it then track it perhaps along with roundworm eggs, into their car or homes. Doggy bags are usually supplied at the parks, but it doesn’t hurt to have a couple grocery or newspaper bags in your pocket in case they’re out. We don’t want to ruin our opportunity to enjoy dog parks, so everyone just needs to do their dooty!
*Be cautious of bringing toys to the park – Before engaging in play with a toy with your dog or another dog, sit back and observe all the dogs there. Some dogs are toy aggressive, once a toy is introduced to the environment, it could start fights for dogs getting possessive of a toy. Take away the toy if it negatively affects the dog pack behavior.
* SPREAD OUT! – Dogs love their owners and tend to hang out near them. When the owners congregate together, so do all the dogs… which can lead to aggression from too many dogs being too close together. Often dogs like to just play with one or two playmates at a time, and aggression can occur if they feel like they’re being ganged up on. Also, if everyone congregates in the same place on a daily basis, the ground gets worn and muddy in that spot resulting in dirty dogs and ruined grass.
*Know your dog! – Know your dog’s behavior and signals. Watch for signs that your dog has had enough. Dogs can become over stimulated which can cause anxiety and aggressiveness. Also, when your dog becomes tired, they may get cranky. I know when Clancy has had enough when he suddenly becomes barky.
*Always keep an eye on your dog (and any around you)! – Don’t let him crowd the gate making it difficult for others to leave or enter. Don’t let him dig which creates safety hazards. Always be on the look-out for your dog squatting to be quick to pick up any doggie doo. Be mindful of standing near playing dogs so you’re not knocked down. You even need to be aware of dogs lifting their leg to mark you. (Now don’t you really want to hang out a dog park now?)
While I can appreciate the concerns of those that avoid dog parks due to fear of dog diseases or dog bites, please keep in mind that the vast majority of dog park patrons are responsible dog owners. They have their dogs up to date on their vaccinations, have them on flea/tick prevention and have socialized their dogs. Be sure to do the same and follow the suggestions in this article and you, too, can become a respected dog park patron.
Though it’s best to consult with your veterinarian, until your puppy has completed all the series of vaccinations, it’s advisable to avoid all places where many dogs go until your pup is fully protected. As soon as they are finished, get them out to the dog park to build the necessary socialization skills to grow up to be a great dog!
To find a dog park near you or near your travel destination, ask other dog owners or anyone in a dog related business. Other good resources include your local Parks and Recreation or doing a search online.
Best friends do everything together! Be your dog’s best friend! -SSB
Please share with us! What and where is your favorite dog park and why??