Dog Park Manners
It's always the other person's dog that is misbehaving. I heard this all the time from my pet parents. "My dog is usually so good, but the other dog was OUT of control!" Yes. I believe you. Of course. But... it wouldn't hurt to take a peek at my suggestions, which were made with the kindest regards to your lovely pet.
These are for parks that both humans and dogs go to. Off leash dog parks are slightly different.
1. And this goes without saying, but register your dog and get him or her vaccinated. This is to protect your dog, other dogs, and other people.
2. Make sure your dog is good on a leash ( http://tallglassofsass.hubpages.com/hub/LeashMannersandGettingYourDogNottobeaJerkPart1), and understands simple commands such as come, wait, and off. It doesn't need to be perfect and there is always room for improvement. You're the ones with the opposable thumbs, you're the one that needs to be in charge. (Also, children under 14 are not in charge. The adult should be in control of the dog. Kids can help, sure, but please don't hand your kid the leash and hope for the best.) If your dog is still in the process of learning it's still important to take them out, but do keep them on a short leash grasped firmly in your two hands.
3. Relax. It's ok if your dog barks or growls. Most barking is just letting other dogs know they are there and is not "aggressive." Barking that isn't exactly friendly is ok too. You have to remember not to take a dog's growl away with discouragement. Dogs have warning systems: they bark, they bare teeth, they growl, they snap, they chomp. If you take away their growl, they'll just skip right ahead to the chomp and that's no good. If you don't like growling you can direct their attention to something else, but try not to discourage with a correction word. If you encounter another dog growling at your furry friend, just walk away. Not everyone understands how awesome your dog is.
4. Ask to greet other dogs. You can't just assume all dogs at parks are friendly or playful. Some dogs are service dogs and will be on alert if you walk by with yours. Some dogs just aren't friendly. Just so you know, that's ok too. We all know a grumpy old man. Imagine someone barricading him in his house just because he's salty. That is not acceptable, so it only goes that unfriendly dogs, minding their own business on a leash, not otherwise making any trouble should be able to take a walk in peace without your judgment. Keep your dog on a short leash around unfamiliar dogs until you get the green light to play.
5. Do not bring toys unless your dog is prepared to share.
6. It's not ok to let your dog wander and poke around out of your grasp. You wouldn't let your child run up and put his nose in someone's crotch, you shouldn't let your dog either. People on a picnic might not want to share that expensive cheese with your dog, so keep him with you and away from anywhere he isn't informally invited to.
7. Outings should be fun and not stressful. If you or your dog become stressed, it's only gonna get worse, not the other way around. Take her home if it gets ugly. You don't want to build anxiety about the park.
8. Not everyone is going to be as responsible as you. Be polite, but not passive. It's not useful to walk away, rolling your eyes, muttering loud enough for people to hear that you are pissed off. Take a deep breath, try not to get too angry, and state things plainly such as "There is a leash rule at this park." or "I don't think our dogs get along." And then go on your way. You're not going to get into a fist fight over it, right? ... Right?
9. If you like a dog trainer, talk them up at the park. How great would it be if every dog you encounter had taken training classes!?
10. I was going to make this #1, but I didn't want to insult your intelligence, however, it should be said, clean up after your dog. Bring poop bags. Also, don't let your dog pee right where people are playing ultimate frisbee. No one wants to walk through fresh dog pee, and no one, obviously, wants to step in poop. That being said, be forgiving as well. As a busy lady, sometimes, everyone once in a while, I'll forget a back up bag, and wouldn't you know, that'll be the day my Ollie wants to drop two deuces. This happened to me yesterday. I found a discarded clean-looking ziplocked bag and hoped there wasn't poison in it because I could not just leave it there. But what if there wasn't a mystery bag around? I'm certainly not touching poop with my hands. If someone else was around I would have asked for a bag, but looking up there was only tumbleweeds. So if you do encounter an abandoned land mine, just pick it up without too much fuss so some unsuspecting person doesn't step in it. Consider it your act of altruism for the day. Although if you saw the culprit, better to hand them one of your bags, and let them know they forgot something. Habitual poop-leavers are not to be tolerated.
The gloves and the leashes are off and it's an all out Royal Rumble. They go in as equals, they leave as tired equals. Dog parks are remarkable representations of a species working with each other. Don't be alarmed at how they play, all dogs play rough.
1. Dogs should be fully vaccinated, fixed and registered. Fixed because if you send in a dog who isn't, you will not be able to stop them from procreating. If you try, you can injure them as they become locked in the act. Also, it disrupts the power infrastructure. You send in an intact female, she'll be a target and become aggressive, or become very stressed. You send in your boy with all his parts, he could be challenged by the pack and hurt in a fight. Not to mention the statistics for dog bites from an intact male is sky high. Don't make your dog a statistic. It's just irresponsible all around. Keeping dogs intact for whatever reason is your choice and you shouldn't have to explain yourself to anyone, but do keep them out of the unleashed dog parks.
2. If the park has sections for puppies vs. full grown dogs or small dogs vs. big dogs, adhere to that. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes it's not. But if you are there and the only other people there are familiar and don't mind not sticking to the rules, if your Newfie and their Westie are best friends, fine whatever, but if a new person shows up, stick to the posted restrictions. You don't want to intimidate anyone or make them not want to come in because you're not doing the right thing.
3. Remember they play rough and that's normal. There will be growling, mounting, and biting. That's all ok. However, should your dog be unduly stressed or cause another dog to become unduly stressed, call it a day. Also I'm always very cautious about ear and neck nipping. The acts themselves aren't bad and it doesn't necessarily mean the dogs are being too aggressive, but dogs teeth are sharp and can puncture the sensitive skin around there by accident. Better to redirect when you see that.
4. You are the best judge of your own dog. Are you sure your dog is friendly and confident enough for off-leash play? Bringing a dog to a dog park who isn't will do so much more damage to your dog than you can know. Baby steps. Make sure your dog is socialized before your visit. If they aren't, work with them until they are. Every dog can be socialized with positive reinforcement.