The dog park really is a magical place for dogs of all ages. I know I write about it a lot, but that’s because it’s a great bonding experience for my dogs and I as well as a great way to get outside, and get some sun and exercise together. It’s also the best way to burn off excess energy that may otherwise go into chewing your shoes. My dogs always return from the dog park exhausted, even if we’ve only been there for a short 15-30 minutes.
I have noticed three different types of dogs who enjoy a dog park (there are probably more ways to enjoy it, but these are experiences I’ve had with my own dogs). There are dogs like Fitzgerald, who want to meet every new person and dog at the park, say hello and try to play. There are dogs like Skeeter, who think the other dogs and people are okay, but really only want to sniff every inch of the whole place. And then there are dogs like my Annie who care about nothing but running and fetching with complete freedom!
I think all people and dogs should be able to enjoy dog parks, but there are some rules you and your doggy should follow. You will also want to make sure that your pup is ready for this experience. Will he get into any fights? Will he run away? You must be prepared! Ask yourself these questions before you take the plunge:
- Is your dog trained in recall and will he respond to your verbal commands? Before you take your dog to an off-leash park, make sure you have taught him recall. This is the most important thing your dog should know before going to a dog park!! You should practice first in a smaller fenced-in area until you are convinced your dog will return to you every time. Will your dog scent a raccoon and take off with no other thought on his mind? It is also a good idea to find out if your local dog park is fully fenced in.
- Can you commit to picking up your dog’s poop at the park? Will you remember to bring bags with you? Also, remember that a dog park is a place where you and your dog will probably get dirty. Be prepared for this and dress appropriately. Bring towels in your car to clean up before your dog jumps back in to drive home.
- Does your dog have any behavior problems or possible aggression issues? Is there a chance he will get into a fight or potentially harm another dog or person? Will your dog try to take another dog’s tennis ball and fight over it? If you think these things may happen, your dog is not a good candidate for a dog park. Work on socializing your dog in a smaller fenced-in setting with one or two other dogs and other adults to supervise first. Here is a guide to socializing your dog.
Here are a few things you should remember NOT to do at a dog park:
- DON’T bring a female in heat or intact male to the dog park!!! This can cause all kinds of problems from pregnancy to aggression to lost dogs.
- DON’T put up with bullying! Whether it’s your dog doing the bullying or someone else’s- step in and say something to the dogs or the owners. Bullying can lead to fights and the teaching of bad manners. It can also increase anxiety issues for the dogs being bullied. Some dog owners may think a rougher style of play is okay while others feel it is going too far. Remember to be tactful when talking to other dog owners and remember that you can simply walk away from the area if the play is too rough for your dog.
- DON’T bring a dog with high anxiety to a really crowded or small dog park. Try one with wide open spaces where she will not feel crowded. But also, make sure you know your dog will return to you if she’s off-leash!
- DON’T use treats or food at a dog park as this may spark fights. Be careful of playing with toys near other dogs. Judge your dog’s body language as well as other dogs nearby, and know in advance how your dog will react if another dog runs over and wants to join in the game. Get more information on how to judge the body language of dogs here: http://www.hollywoodfeed.com/10-ways-your-dog-is-telling-you-hes-stressed/.
It is also good to remember that some dogs just may not enjoy the dog park. If your dog’s body language says she is very uncomfortable and she does not calm down quickly, then you need to make a judgment call about her safety and the safety of other dogs and people at the park and decide whether you should stay or leave. It’s okay if your dog prefers a quiet stroll around the block with you as her form of exercise!
What’s your favorite dog park? What are your pack’s favorite dog park activities?