A day at the dog park can be a wonderful bonding experience. You and your puppy head to the park excited and energized and leave exercised and socialized. My poodle-mix Teddy is the quintessential social animal. He loves any opportunity to play with other dogs.
Still, before his first dog park excursion, I wanted to do a little research. After checking with a vet, a dog trainer, and numerous fellow dog owners—yes, I am an over-protective dog mamma—I discovered that with a little preparation, Teddy and I could have a wonderful experience.
Here are some tips and suggestions that I found extremely valuable.
First things first
Before you go, you should ensure that:
- Your dog is physically ready and healthy: Your dog should be at least 4 months old. You may want to check with your vet to find out if your dog is ready for a trip to the dog park. At the very least, make sure that your dog is up to date on vaccinations—Rabies, Distemper, Parvo, and Bordetella.
- Your dog has the necessary skills for a trip to the dog park: Your dog should be socialized, dog-friendly, and know basic obedience—particularly recall and settle.
- Your dog is not a bully, aggressive, or ill.
- Your female dog is not in heat. For a dog in heat, a trip to the park will give her a level of canine popularity that is overwhelming and potentially dangerous.
- Your dog is dressed for success: I’m talking about utility not style. A flat collar is the best choice at the dog park. A harness, a slip lead, or a training collar, may be great for other activities, but they can catch or snag on shrubs at the park.
- Your dog meets the weight limits for the park. Some dog parks differentiate between big and small dogs and restrict access accordingly. Your Great Dane may be the gentlest dog around. Your Chihuahua may want to run with the big dogs. Nonetheless, some dog parks have weight restrictions, and you will need to respect them.
Dog Park Deal breakers
There are some deal breakers for humans as well. When you decide to go to the dog park you are agreeing to follow the rules, which include:
- You will control and pay attention to your dog at all times. Please turn off the cell phone.
- You will not bring more dogs than you can control—this usually means no more than 3 dogs.
- You will clean up any messes that your dog makes while at the park
What to bring:
Water: Both you and your dog need to stay hydrated, so take your own water.
What to leave at home:
Food: Unlike water, food should NEVER be brought into the dog park. This includes treats. Bringing food can create protective and aggressive behaviors and trigger fights.
Toys: Like food, toys can be high-value items that can cause dominate and aggressive behaviors. Keep your dog’s toys at home. This includes, but is not limited to, squeaky toys and stuffed toys.
We’re here! Now what?
- Remember be a conscientious pet owner. Something as simple as closing the gates as you enter and leave the park is much appreciated.
- Make sure that you leave your leash on your dog until both of you are safely inside.
- Carry your dog’s leash with you.
- Keep an eye on your dog. Occasionally call him/her back to you. After a pet and a bit of playing, send him/her back to his/her friends.
- Remove your dog if (s)he’s begins to play too aggressively. Sometimes a dog, even the finest dog, may get over excited or stimulated. If this happens and (s)he’s having trouble behaving nicely, (s)he needs to be taken out of the park and given a chance to calm down. Perhaps (s)he can return in a few minutes, perhaps another day; either way, it’s better to remove him/her before things get out of hand
Should I stay or should I go?
- From what I’ve been told, the amount of time of a park visit seems to vary from 30 minutes to two hours. It is probably best to make your first few visits short, say 30 minutes, and then increase the length of the visit as your dog becomes accustomed to the environment.
- There are no hard fast rules. Let your dog be your guide and stay at the park only as long as your pooch is having fun.
- Some dogs adapt instantly to the park environment, others take more time, and some dogs never get into it. Your dog will let you know. Be patient, but be realistic about whether or not your puppy likes dog park play.
- Similarly, use your own good judgment when assessing a situation. If a dog or its owner makes you anxious, leave. You can come back another day.
- Remember that you are your dog’s advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up if another dog approaches yours in an aggressive manner. Politely let the owner know the situation, and move to another area if it continues.
Time to say good-bye
Before you leave the park, check your dog for burs, scrapes, cut paws, and other safety or health concerns.
Keeping these tips in mind, you’ll have a great time with your dog.
Gina Corell has written for a dog magazine, taken photographs used in dog calendars, helped with the rescue and transport of shelter dogs, and works with a local all-breed rescue group. She also knows firsthand the unconditional love and joy rescue dogs provide, having adopted an older special-needs dog. She shares her home and her life with a wonderful poodle-mix rescue that she originally fostered.
Currently, she is working on a book about dog ownership and is collecting pictures from owners to be used in the book. To learn more about Gina and how your enter your dog’s picture for consideration, go to www.ginac.com