Dog Parks: The Five Things Every Dog Owner Should Know
If you already own a pup and have been to a dog park you know that it is, essentially, Disney World for dogs! They can run, socialize, play and just enjoy the company of other dogs. It's a great way to socialize your dog and to get them used to other dogs and people without worrying about offending anyone. Why? Because the parks are full of other owners who are used to getting jumped on and licked - unlike a walk around your neighborhood.
My puppy, Niko, and I are frequent visitors of the dog park because it's the only way for me to ensure that he gets the exercise he needs! Over the last year, I've learned a few things that I think every new or seasoned owner should know or expect when visiting a dog park. Enjoy!
# 1: Wear your play clothes!
I remember, as a kid, coming home from school and the very first thing out of my mom or dad's mouth would be, "Go change into your play clothes before you go outside". The dog park is no exception. My very first visit to a park with little Niko was a definite education. I showed up with my adorable husky groomed and gorgeous and I wore a cute outfit, ready to socialize! I guess I kind of thought it would be a pooch cocktail party or something...it was far from that.
Upon walking into the park, after I closed the gate behind Niko, literally every single dog was on us. We were new! We were exciting! And, in about two seconds, we were DIRTY! That's right, dogs were jumping, licking and getting mud all over my very cute shoes and capris. At that precise moment, a woman walked up to me. She looked outdoorsy, she was older, wiser and she cracked a little side smile.... And then she said, "Hun? Where are your play clothes?"
I quickly reverted back to the 2nd grade and felt a little ashamed. I should have known better. What was I expecting??? So... the motto? Wear your play clothes because you WILL get dirty!
#2: Don't forget the towels!
After an hour or so of glorious fun for my little Niko on his first visit to a dog park he was tired and, as a Husky, he was very hot. Luckily I brought plenty of water so he was very hydrated. In between fussing over him like a mother hen, I would talk to the other owners at the park. It was great to just get a sense of how other owners do things and I enjoyed getting to learn a little something. As I'm chatting with these wonderful people, one of them looks over, into the distance, in complete horror and says, "Oh my GOD whose dog is that?!" We all look over in unison and, in all of his Husky glory, there's my Niko....Swan diving into the mud puddles.
I wasn't sure what to feel. I mean, the little guy was five months old. Of COURSE he was jumping in the puddles. He went from that majestic charcoal coat to a very muted...very dirty brown. And then I realized, crap. I didn't bring towels.
SO, as you leave your house for the dog park just remember a few things. Water, some treats if you need to coax your pup and TOWELS! It will get dirty out.
# 3: If your dog poops, you scoop.
One of the biggest crimes you can commit at the dog park is not cleaning up after your pup. Seriously, it's a thing. From an owner's standpoint it's important that everyone chips in to keep the area clean and safe. It's almost like taking your kid to the daycare.... You want to make sure that your kid is clean and tidy because that's what you would expect other parents to do. Right? Right!
NOT cleaning up your dog's mess could result in being shunned by the dog park community. I have seen it first hand. I was out with Niko on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and he was frolicking with some other Huskies and having the time of his life. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very large shepherd take a very large poo in one corner of the park. The owner was watching. More importantly, everyone else was watching. Shortly after, the owner and her shepherd left the park. Immediately all of the other owners started gossiping about how "she NEVER cleans up after her dog" and "imagine what she must be like at home" etc... So, for your dog's sake, for the park's sake and for YOUR sake - clean it up!
# 4: Watch your dog
Dogs at the dog park are exactly like kids on a playground, they MUST be supervised. Now, if there's a scuffle and the dog's are trying to figure out their pecking order there's not much you can do about that except to let them work it out. However, if you realize that your dog is being aggressive, it's time to go. Why? Because the dog park is usually a friendly community for dogs who are well socialized or are working on socialization go to interact. Aggression is not welcome. It's important, as an owner, that you recognize and correct aggressive behavior. Especially if you are taking your dog to a place where it can run free.
As a new owner, I would take Niko to the park and timidly stand by and scoff over every yelp and growl and bark. This is NOT healthy. Remember, dogs are pack animals and as such figure out their own pecking order. What may appear to be aggressive behavior may just be a testing of limits and boundaries. If you're not sure that what your dog is doing is ok, just ask. The people who go to dog parks are usually outgoing and friendly and more than happy to talk about all things related to dogs. This is your chance to learn! \
I'm not a dog trainer or a veterinarian but I will offer this advice: If your dog is being bullied or is being aggressive, leash them up and take them home. Try it again a different day. Socialization takes time but, most importantly, it takes caution and supervision. This is not the time to read a book, remember to pay attention to your dog and all of its cues as it interacts with the other dogs and you'll be golden!
# 5: LEARN!
I'm a first-time Husky owner. If you own a Husky you are probably sighing in commiseration right now... if not, I'll tell you that it's not an easy breed. Luckily, there are plenty of other Husky owners at the park we go to. This has been paramount in understanding what's good for my pup. There have been so many helpful hints, tips and advice from the people I've met at the dog park and I'm eternally grateful.
Whether you have a perfect pup or are a new owner with a high-energy breed, the dog park is a great way to learn from other owners. It's an opportunity to ask your questions, empathize and socialize. I've been lucky enough to meet some really great people at the park an am always happy to run into them again. So take the opportunity to get to know other dog lovers and you'll be surprised by what you might learn!
I hope this little guide was helpful for those of you who are new to the dog park world. If not, I hope it was entertaining! Enjoy the time with your furry friend and remember, it's GOOD for them to go out and be social! I invite you to share your experiences or advice in the comments section - don't be shy!