Taking Your Dog to the Dog Park – A Guide for Active Dog Owners
What are some things I need to know before I take my dog to the dog park?
The park is a great place for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors, get some physical activity and socialize with others. The fresh air, warm sunshine and beauty that nature provides is a backdrop for our daily activities of exercise and time spent with others. Every season offers its own unique experience and the potential for making memories.
Spending time at a dog park with other dogs is the perfect place for your dog to socialize and make new friends. Cases of boredom can be dispelled by the playing with new dog friends and running free when we take them for a much-needed break at the dog park.
Before you decide to take your dog on an adventure to the dog park there are a few things you should know.
Prior to visiting your dog should be
- Up to date on shots
- Up to date on flea and tick meds
- Neutered or spayed
- Able to socialize and know how to interact with others
- Non-aggressive to people and dogs
Socialization and Knowing Your Dog
Most people think the dog park is for socialization, and this partly true. It is for socializing with other dogs but not necessarily the place to learn to socialize.
Since dog parks can have many dogs with a variety of behaviors and temperaments that are unknown, taking an dog with no social skills to a dog park can be a recipe for disaster as fear, aggression and stress can all come into play.
We all have triggers, certain things that set off our moods. Our dogs are no different in this regard. Knowing your dog’s specific triggers - types of people, other animals and situations - is important in order to avoid negative responses. This information can help you intercept and deal with a situation before it arises.
You can accomplish this by studying your dog’s behavior in different situations. For instance, if your dog tucks its tail and whimpers every time it hears a loud noise or encounters a big German Shepherd you can watch out for that at the park.
Prior to taking your dog to any park they should have good manners and behavior around other dogs and humans. Behaviors of whining, growling, barking and jumping should be under control for the most part to ensure a safe and happy visit to the dog park.
Part of having good manners and behavior is knowing who is in charge, you as their best friend and caregiver would be that person.
They should receive some form of training whether from you or a trained professional in the following commands:
- Leave it (for leaving dangerous areas or other dogs alone)
- Off (for if they get wild and jump on another dog)
These commands are the foundation of good dog behavior and manners in any situation, not just the dog park.
Practice inside the house first, then outside if you have a fenced in yard or other fenced in area prior to exposing them to the dog park.
Training upkeep is key to success in this area. It should be done over and over, repeatedly until it becomes second nature to them.
Visiting the Dog Park
It is a good idea to exercise your dog by taking a short walk to prevent excessive excitement when they get to the park. Parking a short distance from the park allows your dog to exercise immediately before entering the park. It also allows for some cool down time before back into the car.
The first few visits should be when it is less crowded during a weekday and short, no more than 30 minutes.
Upon entering, keep your dog on the leash and introduce to other dogs, be cautious of how all the dogs behave and react to each other. If the park has two gates you and your dog can pause between the two, allowing for greetings between the fences.
Making friends with the other dog owners is a great way to assist each other when negative behaviors arise between dogs, your main job however is keeping your own dog safe and happy.
Give you best friend ample time to explore the freedom of a dog park, run, play with other dogs and have a good time.
When you are ready to leave the park call your dog back with the come command. Offer your dog praise and a treat or two for their good behavior, then leash up and leave being sure as to not let other dogs out with you.
A Word About Fighting and Aggressive Behaviors in Dogs
We all have moments in life, we meet someone, and they rub us the wrong way. We might be in a bad mood or not feel well, or perhaps we don’t want to share something or just need space. Our dogs are no different regarding emotional, mental and physical health and well-being.
Despite out best efforts there are still going to be moments where the best trained and well-behaved dog will get out of line or forget themselves. Bad behaviors and moments happen to us all and we should be understanding of this even in other dogs.
Keeping a close eye on our dog always can minimize these types of situations from happening. As well as bullying from other dogs, cornering and territorial habits.
If a fight is about to start or already has, you can clap your hands or make a loud noise to try to end the confrontation. Give a moment to see if it stops (they usually do on their own), if the scuffle doesn’t cease use a water gun to quickly squirt the dogs so they separate. If that doesn’t stop them, you and the other owner should approach each dog from behind and grab the top of their hind legs to lift like a wheelbarrow to separate.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to use a water gun on your dog or are afraid to touch the dogs (and depending on the dogs it might be a good idea to NOT touch them), you can try wedging a stick or something between them to separate.
Once the situation has been remedied, if it was minor or your dog didn’t initiate the scuffle they can continue to play. If, however it was a major confrontation where the other dog or both got hurt you need to send a message to your dog that this behavior is unacceptable by leaving the park.
For those who are interested in learning about aggressive dog behaviors, information can be found here. This can be a great tool to have at the dog park where there are unknown dogs, there are certain mannerisms that all dogs show prior to an aggressive confrontation with another dog. Knowing the signs can alert owners, allowing them to act before a situation arises.
The Age and Health of Your Dog
A dog park is a great place for your dog to spend time playing, running and of course socializing with like minds but considerations must be made for the age and health of your dog prior to this activity.
It isn’t a good idea to take your puppy or senior dog to a dog park. Situations of aggression, fear and other emotions can arise between dogs that can come up suddenly without warning. Exposing your beloved best friend who is a puppy or aging dog to these potentials puts their health and well-being at risk.
If you truly must bring them to a dog park you should take them during off times when lots of dogs are not there. You might want to choose a park that is large so there is room to roam. Be prepared to leave the park if danger or troubles seem to be heating up between your puppy or senior and other dogs in the park.
What a Good Dog Park Should Have
- Some shady spots
- Safety in place (no broken fences or locks)
- Safety away from busy roads or hazards
- Segregation for dogs of different sizes or abilities (meaning different fenced off areas for each)
- Limited amounts of bushes or hedging (to lessen the chance of contact with wild animals)
- Requirements of an off-leash permit tag that shows other dog owners your dog is capable of good behavior and you are a responsible dog owner
Things to Bring to the Dog Park
- Water, a bowl or doggie drinking bottle
- A couple of toys, remember other dogs might be playing with these as well so don’t bring anything that is too loved
- Leash and collar, bring an extra set in case something happens to the first set, having a backup is always a good idea
- A dog first aid kit
- Poop bags
- Water gun – hopefully, won’t need this but you never know
- Current dog tags
- Paw wipes, hand wipes and/or hand sanatizer
- Towels, in case the paw wipes aren’t enough to get the job done
- Animal control number in case an aggressive dog is encountered and can’t be removed from the park
Taking your dog to a dog park can be a very enjoyable experience for your dog. Watching them romp and play with other dogs, making new friends and exploring new territory without the hindrance of a leash can provide them with carefree moments that may leave you both smiling and laughing. Who knows you may find yourself longing to participate with the pack of dogs by throwing a bunch of toys around for them to fetch and return? Life is good when we get to enjoy it with those, we care about most!