Daily trips to the dog park are becoming an increasingly popular activity, particularly for urban dwellers with little access to open spaces. If all users understand and follow the rules of the park, it can be a fun and social event for dogs and owners alike. If etiquette isn’t followed, it can quickly spoil the dog park for everyone and create an unsafe environment.
Remember, not all dogs are appropriate for dog parks or enjoy playing with others. Your dog should be at least six months old, in good health, fully vaccinated, enjoy the company of most other dogs, and be responsive to basic cues, such as “come,” “sit,” and “leave it,” so you can control him if necessary. Ideally, dogs should be spayed or neutered to reduce the likelihood of fights and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Your first few visits
Visit the park without your dog to observe the interactions between dogs and humans and to familiarize yourself with bylaws and posted rules. Do the dogs appear friendly? Are the humans cooperative? If satisfied, arrange to take your dog to the park the first few times during non-peak hours (mornings, weekday evenings and weekends are usually busiest).
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Bring water and plenty of bags for scooping poop. Leave your toys at home. Regardless of your dog’s reaction to toys, other dogs may have issues with guarding behaviour. Your dog should be wearing a flat buckle collar and remain leashed until safely in the park. Remove your dog’s leash as soon as you enter the off-leash area.
Help keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control by frequently (and briefly) interrupting the play to ask for a sit etc., then reward with a yummy treat. Dog parks are an excellent place to work on some basic cues with distractions.
Keep Play Fun & Safe
While many owners at dog parks socialize as much as their dogs, it’s important that playing dogs are monitored closely at all times for their own safety. Understand your dog’s body language and watch for signs of stress which indicate that he has had enough. Yawning, licking, turning away/turning of the head, laying down, freezing in place, and walking slowly may be some indicators that he wants a break.
If your dog is bullying, or is being bullied, leave the park. Bullying may occur when one dog (or a group of dogs) is persistently pursuing another dog. Chasing left uninterrupted can also turn into predatory behaviour – so interrupt it frequently to give the dogs a “time-out”. If you’re unsure if the other dog is enjoying your dog’s attentions, lead your dog away by the collar five steps and then watch. If the dog follows, then the play is appropriate and reciprocal.
Used appropriately, dog parks are a great way for dogs and owners to have fun and make new friends. Happy playing!