Simple Tips For Taking Your Dog to the Dog Park
It’s so obvious when someone comes to the dog park that has never been there before.
They cause all kinds of chaos, start tons of problems with their dog and the other dogs, and tend to offend most of the other owners there without even realizing it.
Not only have I been present when a seasoned dog park participator has had to approach the newbie and give them some advice to help smooth their visit, and that of everyone else, but I have been that seasoned dog park participator that has to give the advice.
I thought it appropriate to write a helpful, interesting, and thorough article outlining some basic tips for what to do and what not to do when taking your dog to a public dog park.
You may be used to taking your dog on walks, taking your dog to public parks, and even taking your dog to other public gatherings, but the rules are completely different apparently.
As with any other tips and advice, these are simply intended to assist you in helping the dog enjoy the experience as much as possible, as well as making your experience and that of everyone else at the dog park more pleasant and less stressful.
I hope they help!
What do you think is the biggest faux pas at the dog park?
Only Take Dogs You Know to Be Friendly to the Dog Park
If you know that your dog growls, bites, is very protective of you, or has any other very aggressive mannerisms, considering taking him or her to a training class before taking him or her to the dog park.
This also goes for dogs that have not been fixed. Dogs like to hump. It’s just in their nature. If you take a non-fixed female dog to the dog park while in heat, as 90% of all dogs at public dog parks are male, you are just asking for trouble.
If you take a non-fixed male to the public dog park, you can expect aggressive behaviors, outward and usually inappropriate signs of attraction to any female dogs there, and trouble with domination and fighting from your dog.
Signs are posted all over the gate warning you not to take an aggressive dog, or one that has not been fixed, into the park. If you choose to do so anyway, you are risking a lawsuit or the police to show up and ticket you if anything happens.
Only Take Dogs That You Know and Trust to the Park
In that same instance, do not take a dog that you do not know or do not trust to the park.
Too often people will bring dogs to the park that they admit were just dropped off on their doorstep that morning. One specific instance I remember, the lady brought a wolf with her to the dog park. Talk about a lawsuit!
If you have just adopted a dog from a shelter or the pound, or anywhere for that matter, he doesn’t know you, you don’t know him, and the dog park is not the shock he needs right off the bat.
Take him home, show him that he can trust you, develop a bond, teach him some tricks so he knows to follow your lead, and then take him.
Only Take Healthy Dogs to the Dog Park
This should be obvious. Too many people also bring dogs to the dog park that have kennel cough, distemper, parvo, and even rabies, and then don’t bother telling anyone until they’ve already been there for an hour.
All of these illnesses, and many more, are very contagious and can even be deadly when spread to other dogs.
You wouldn’t take your child to school with a contagious disease. Why would you do it with your dog and risk the lives of all of the other dogs at the park?
Some people just don’t seem to think about others when making decisions such as these.
These seem very obvious, but there are so many “unspoken rules” that may not seem so obvious when taking your dog for a visit to the park, especially if it’s your first time.
Take the Leash Off of Your Dog Before Entering the Main Park
One thing that many dog owners may not realize, usually because they don’t take their dog out around other people or other dogs much, is that leashes make your dog more agitable and nervous when around others that are not leashed.
I realize that there are appropriate times for your dog to be on a leash, but this is not one of them. The dog park is meant so dogs can have freedom.
When you are still holding them tight on their leash once you’ve entered the park, and they are excited to play, they think something is wrong and are more likely to bark and growl trying to protect you from whatever danger you seem to see.
Those new to the dog park seem to think that they can delay the inevitable attack from their dog, or maybe even protect them, by holding them close. But instead are making it a lot worse, possibly even causing a fight right at their feet.
All public dog parks are designed to have two gates, one to bring your dog in safely and take off the collar, and the other into the actual park, just for this purpose. Use it.
Stay Calm and Trust Your Dog
After all, if you cannot trust your dog to be friendly, you and he should not be there in the first place.
Dogs, all of them, feed off of your behaviors. If you are calm, laughing and having fun with the others at the park, your dog(s) will be comfortable and will feel free to run around and have fun with the others.
Obviously you are encouraged to correct him or her if your dog is doing something inappropriate, but there’s no reason you cannot stay calm and in control.
If you are following your dog around, yelling, barking orders, smacking your dog, or dragging him or her around every few seconds, at some point you are most certainly asking to end up in a brawl. Your tense, scared, and/or nervous behaviors are going to make all of the dogs feel that way. After all, you are acting that way for some reason, so they will all respond in kind.
Besides, you’ll just end up making every other person at the dog park tense, nervous, fearful, and even highly annoyed at what your aggressive behaviors are going to cause amongst the dogs.
Take Care of Any Problems Your Dog May Be Causing
Your dog is your responsibility and therefore anything he or she does is also your responsibility.
This could be something as simple as humping another dog, barking for no reason, or being too forward with another dog. This IS the dog park, so technically any dog-like behaviors are and should be expected, but an inappropriate behavior doesn’t necessarily have to be an aggressive one.
Many of these behaviors could simply be annoying or cause discomfort to another person or dog. For instance, one of my labs, Bruin, who is a 90 pound chocolate ball of love, absolutely loves humping other dogs’ sides.
Obviously he’s not doing any damage, but it’s just not a behavior many other dog owners like, so I pat him, tell him down, and might even gently pull him off if he’s not listening. No harm done, and if anything, my gesture will be seen as positive and the other owner will be more comfortable doing the same thing if he starts doing it again.
Stay Calm When Other Dogs Come to Greet You
Just like your dog is likely your baby, all of the other owners feel the same way about their dogs.
If you go to the dog park, go expecting to be jumped on at least once, to get slobbered on by at least one dog, to get a little wet, a little muddy, and to leave dirty. Many of the dogs will probably also approach you to get a rub down. They’re dogs. It happens.
I just heard a story last week where someone bringing their dog to the park sprayed mace in the eyes of a dog that approached her excitedly. That’s right, mace. She said that the dog rushed up to her and she was just protecting herself.
She was fined and removed from the dog park immediately. I think the owner even filed charges.
Some less violent examples of this are yelling at dogs (which we’ve already discussed), giving dirty looks, and yelling at the owners for their dogs’ normal behaviors. If you are not willing to handle the normal behaviors friendly dogs are known for, you do not belong at the dog park.
A Good Example of a Dog Park
Know That a Wagging Tail Means They're Having Fun
Many owner's, especially those visiting the dog park for the first few times, get really nervous around dogs' wrestling and having fun.
It may look scary and sound scary and yet, be perfectly harmless. When dog's play with each other, they can't exactly play a board game, play dress up, or even play video games together. They bark, and jump, and wrestle instead.
The key is to look at their tails. Do they participate? Are they rolling on their backs? Are they putting their paws on other dog's backs? Are they going back for more? All of these are good signs.
A wagging tail means they are having fun. Rolling on their backs is a submissive move like saying uncle. A dog on it's back is not fighting. When they are putting their paws on other dog's backs, this is a dominating move. This means they are not scared.
Along with barking, sniffing crotches, sniffing butts, and chasing each other, all of these behaviors are simply how dogs communicate.
If you hear serious growling, hear whining, or see tails tucked, that's when you need to intervene because at least one dog is now scared.
We've only been to the dog park once when another dog was being too forward with my other lab, Cody, who is a 90 pound yellow baby. He's a total wuss! lol The dog scared him, he tucked his tail, and he came and hid under my legs for protection.
As long as he was under my legs, the other dog left him alone. He wasn't trying to hurt Cody, he simply had a different way of playing that Cody didn't like.
It's actually very rare for fights to break out, as only friendly dogs are supposed to be brought to the dog park. But if it does happen, it's usually just one dog that your dog isn't getting along with, and it's usually due to a neglectful owner not watching their dog's behaviors.
In this instance, it might be the right time to politely ask the owner for help, or leave the park. If for some reason you do witness a fight, my husband always tells me to grab the back legs of the bigger (or more aggressive) dog, and wheelbarrow him or her away.
This will immediately stop the fight without putting you in harm's way.
As long as you are seeing positive behaviors like discussed above, and they are both going back for more action will tails wagging high, there's no need to intervene. Just let them have fun!
Pick Up Your Dog’s Poop
This sounds pretty common sense and pretty reasonable. If every dog pooped at the dog park, and no one ever picked it up, the dog park would be nasty, disease infected, and unfit to visit.
There are plenty of signs posted all over every dog park you might visit, likely a free poop bag machine or plenty of bags available for you to use when needed, and tons of trash cans to throw away your waste.
There are also plenty of signs explaining how to use dog poop bags correctly so that you don’t get your hand messy. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t at least have an eye on your dog so that you can pick up their waste when they leave it for you. It’s just courteous, and it’s your responsibility.
Just to do my part in keeping my local dog parks clean, as soon as I arrive, I grab 2-3 bags and walk around the perimeter of the dog park picking up any poop that I may find. I realize it is not mine, and not directly my responsibility, but it makes our dog parks cleaner and healthier for all of the dogs, including mine.
I normally pick up at least 2 full bags of poop as I finish making my rounds all the way around the park. I even pick up trash, which leads me into my last point.
Do Your Part in Keeping Your Park Clean
The biggest part of this is on the shoulders of cigarette smokers. Anything from water bottle caps, pieces of plastic, Styrofoam peanuts, and most especially cigarette butts can choke, harm, and even kill a dog.
When a smoker, at the dog park with their own dog, drops their cigarette butts on the ground when their finished with each one, not only are they putting their own dog at risk, but they are doing the same to every other dog at the park. (Not counting the damage they are doing to the lungs of every dog and every other person at the park.)
Of course, anyone who drops trash on the ground at the dog park, knowing that dogs eat just about anything and everything they find on the ground, is ironically putting even the pet they love, care for, and defend with their life, at risk for choking, intestinal damage, and death with their carelessness.
You’d think this would be common sense, but these people make numerous caring pet owners very angry with their inattentiveness. Someone will likely approach you to ask you to be careful with your trash, as they care greatly about their beloved pets as well.
By not thinking about others when you visit the dog park, you are putting yourself at risk for lawsuits, fines, complaints, and other very angry dog owners.
Be thoughtful, considerate and attentive when you go to the public dog park with your dog.
Know that others have brought their “children” to the park with them as well and will be very offended if you do anything to damage the park or put their dogs in harm’s way.
This is a park that all dog owners have the opportunity to use, and so please treat the park that way so that everyone can come and enjoy it.
This means bringing well-known, well-mannered, trustworthy dogs to the park with you, staying calm and in control of your emotions while there, treating others with respect, being responsible for your dog’s behaviors and messes, being respectful of the park and other dogs, and knowing what you’re in for before you go.
If you go heeding these tips, you and your dog are guaranteed to enjoy yourselves and enjoy each other’s company at the park. The dog park is one of my two dogs’ absolute favorite place to go! We’d like to keep it that way.
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© 2014 Victoria Van Ness