In honor of Active Dog Month in April, we have been sharing key tips to keep your dog active inside and outside. We would be remiss if we didn't forget the best way to get your dog to be active: taking a trip to the dog park! But dog parks do have a bit of intimidation to them: is your dog too small? too wild? too big? What if your dog gets lost? What if your dog gets in a dog fight? We have all the answers to your burning dog park etiquette questions.
Read on for the top tips to make the best of a Dog Park: what you SHOULD do, and what you SHOULD NOT do!
We all want to make the best use of those off-leash dog parks, be safe while being there, and let our dogs run wild without getting too crazy. So how can you have the best experience at the dog park? While there are no rules, let’s put them in human terms. Think of the last time you went to a party. What happens to you when someone gets in your personal space? You feel uncomfortable and back away. What if someone talks too loud or laughs obnoxiously? You try for a fast break to escape. What if a person shakes your hand, and doesn’t let go? This seems kind of creepy. And no one is shaking hands now, thanks to Covid! Again, your instinct is to flee.
All of these experiences happen on the dog-level too. To be sure your dog isn’t an instigator of these bad behaviors, here are 5 things you should do when going to the dog park (and 5 things you should NOT do!).
5 things you should do at the dog park:
1. Do exercise your dog before going to the dog park
This seems to be the opposite of what you want to do. Consider if your dog has a lot of pent-up energy and needs to run around. Doing this at the dog park may create problems. If you take your dog for a long walk or give them some sort of mental and physical exercise before you go to the park, your dog will be more relaxed at the dog park.
2. Do have an understanding of dog body language
Hopefully, you understand your dog’s body language. Just in case, check out what most dogs look like when they are stressed out and be aware. This will help you identify the dogs with good dog park behavior from the dogs with bad dog park behavior. This is similar to our human party experience already discussed.
3. Do take your dog’s leash off of your dog
If you believe you will have more control over your dog by keeping them on a leash, you shouldn’t be taking your fur-baby to the dog park. Keeping your dog on a leash will add stress as other dogs are allowed to freely go up to him or her and your dog is held captive. Usually, there is an area in the fenced area of the park where you can take your dog off of their leash to get them used to the idea. But be forewarned: this is an area where dogs get into fights so make the transition from leash to no leash quickly and move on.
4.Do intervene when play gets rough
Some people believe dogs will work it out on their own. This is not true. Just like people, some dogs can be bullies. If dogs are playing together and it turns to growl and bite, do not try and break it up on your own by grabbing your dog. Try and use noises, such as your own voice or bring a whistle, to break it up. If it starts to get questionable, exit with your dog as soon as you can.
5. Do have a trained dog
If your dog has a habit of running away, it will be difficult to keep them under control at a dog park. For success at the dog park, your dog should know simple commands and adhere to your wishes. If your dog does not return when you call him, your dog may not be a good candidate at the dog park.
5 things you should NOT do at the dog park:
1. Do NOT bring a puppy Or A DOG IN HEAT to the dog park
Puppies under 12-weeks-old haven’t been properly immunized against common diseases older dogs with stronger immune systems easily combat. Dog parks have a ton of parasites and diseases traveling through the park. It’s best to leave a new puppy at home. As for a dog in heat, does this really need to be stated? Answer: yes. It still surprises me when I hear someone say something like: she’s in heat and thought running it off would help. Um, no. Not only will havoc happen, but you will also be the most hated person in the park for bringing your dog in heat.
2. Do NOT Have Your Dog in a Pinch COllar
Pinch collars are used to keep dogs from pulling on their leash. As a pet parent, I would never use this on my Labrador Retriever even though she notoriously pulls. However, some pet parents truly believe in these collars. If you have this type of collar on your dog, be sure to remove it in the dog park. Dog fights happen because something gets stuck on the cinching collar and causes pain, which may turn into a dog fight, injury or worse.
3. Do NOT pick up your dog on a leash and/or carry them through the park
If you are concerned for your dog enough to do this at the dog park, don’t go. The whole world is a place to walk your dog in your arms, in a back pack, or on a leash. The dog park is the one place your dog can RUN! I'm still surprised at how many people have their dogs on leashes at the dog park. Why? Go down the street on a trail if that's how you roll with your dog. If you have your dog leashed while every dog is not, it counter-intuitive for your dog and other dogs want to mess with your dog. I promise, the dogs in the most trouble at the park are those tethered by a leash or being held in their owner's arms. For most dogs, they are intuitive to know you have a treat and it's higher than them, in your hands. Carrying your dog is like having a dog-sized play toy in your arms. Larger dogs will want to jump up to get it. It triggers the feeling of treeing a cat or animal (think squirrel) and most dogs will want to try and chase it out of instinct. They will jump all over you, and it's hard for people to control their dog out of this behavior.
4. Do NOT allow your dog to be a bully
If you have a dominant dog known to be aggressive, do not try and break the behavior by going to the dog park. No pet parent ever wants altercations between dogs. If your dog doesn’t play nice with other dogs, try getting your dog to interact at your home with a guest and their dog. Then next time, go to their house, taking them out of their territory to see how they do. Hopefully, a few of these meetings will get them used to play with other dogs before adventuring out to the dog park.
5. Do NOT pay more attention to other people, your phone or anything else - besides your dog
When at the dog park, you must have full attention on your dog and the way they interact with other dogs. Not only should you be sure your dog is on good behavior, but you also need to be sure other dogs are on their good behavior too. This is a safety measure for all involved. I typically plug in my headphones when I'm on a leashed walk with my dogs. However, at the dog park, no headphones for me. Mostly because I want to hear what's going on. My Luna is notorious for running TOWARDS the fight, even if she's not part of it. If I hear a fight in the distance, I reward her for staying out of it with treats and keep her close, or duck off towards another trail to avoid it all together.
Like humans, dogs are active and highly social animals. Dogs are not bred to spend days inside, napping at home. A good excursion to the dog park can help mentally and physically exercise your dog. If you follow these dos and don’ts on how to behave at the dog park, you will have a successful outcome.
What other ideas do you have for success at the dog park? Let us know your ideas on our Facebook page. No matter what: enjoy your time together at the dog park as the social animals you are!