Dog Park Etiquette
Although dog parks can be a tad daunting, there are many ways to have fun and be responsible at the dog park. It's a fun and playful environment for your pal, and of course, an excellent way to socialize them; this is especially beneficial for a pup who is relatively new to the world. Dog parks provide an enclosed space to play, run, exercise, and mingle.
There is, however, some etiquette you should be aware of when you choose to take your dog for an outing, those guidelines are stated below.
Keep Your Dogs Health Up To Date
Before visiting a dog park, it's wise to have your dogs health checked. Make sure that vaccinations are up to date and your dog's health is in good standing. Your dog will be interacting with other dogs, some of whom may not be spayed/neutered or may suffer from common ailments such as kennel cough, parasites, or fungal infections. Protecting your dog with the proper treatments and medications will help to prevent unnecessary headaches.
Pick Up After Your Dog
Let's face it; no one likes stepping in poop. A dog park, or any park for that matter, is not your backyard. If your dog poops, pick it up. If you run into the issue of not having waste bags, don't be alarmed, the majority of dog parks have them readily available, and often have large signage showcasing where they are. Worst case, ask someone in the park to use one of theirs. I'm sure they will have no issue giving you a bag, and will likely respect your decision to clean up after your pal. So, don't be that person! Poop and scoop!
Watch Your Dog
Remember that you are there for your dog to socialize, not you. Instead of sitting on the bench chatting or checking your dog's Instagram (which is adorable, by the way), walk around and monitor their experience. This puts you at an advantage should an issue arise, you will be able to step in and immediately resolve the situation. Being present in the park also allows your dog to find your side should a break or safety net be needed. Furthermore, you will be better able to monitor your dog's behavior, looking out for signs of stress, fear, or aggression.
Encourage Good Behavior
Make sure that your dog is not being 'that dog.' You know, the one who is playing too roughly or chasing dogs that don't want to be chased. If your dog begins to get a little too over-excited, call them off to the side and practice some engagement training until relaxed. This little time out should be calming enough to play nicely.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Make sure the park entrance is visible in case someone forgets to close the gate. If there is a dog displaying behavior that is not beneficial to the group, it might be in your dog's best interest to leave. If there are already dogs in the park before you arrive, spend a few minutes watching them before you let your dog in to say hello. This allows you to take notice of their behavior so that your dog doesn't walk into an unwelcoming situation.
Also, take notice of the other dog owners. If there is an owner who seems distracted and their dog is causing trouble, let them know right away. It is just as important for other people to be attentive as it is for you. It will make the atmosphere at the park more enjoyable for everyone.
Close The Gate
Be cautious when entering/exiting the gated area and be sure to close the gate behind you, even if you are alone in the park. Many dogs are often running around and at any given moment they could run out. When they see someone new enter, this could send them into a frenzy of excitement, and although they innocently run over to interact, they may find an opportunity to run out and explore a larger space.
Don't Punish Someone Else's Dog
Unless a situation gets really out of hand, never punish someone else's dog. Now, I know what you're thinking; you want to be able to protect your dog from harm. Naturally, you will do just about anything for them, and many people feel the same way, but it is best to allow the owner to gain control of their own dog. Doing so will help you to avoid any unnecessary confrontation. Ideally, you'll want to alert the owner of their dog's behavior, and if that does not resolve it, you should just collect your dog and leave the park. However, if the situation escalates before you can react or leave, you should protect your dog first and foremost. All while trying to abandon the act of physically touching the other dog.
Know The Park Rules
Not all parks welcome toys and treats, so be cautious of what you're bringing with you. If it's your first visit to the park and you are unsure of the rules, it doesn't hurt to bring those items and just leave them in the car should they not be welcomed.
Some dogs have issues with resource guarding and bringing toys into the mix is sometimes more trouble than it is worth. Other dogs may sense that you have treats in your pocket and may become bothersome until they get at them.
A vast majority of parks offer an area for small dogs, an area for large dogs, and an area for all sizes. These rules are set in place for a reason, so be sure to know the size limitations before entering any particular area.
If the park you attend has separate areas for different sized dogs, take advantage of it. It is set up to allow all sized dogs to play safely.
As we know, our dog's personalities can sometimes be quite eccentric. For example, my 10 lbs Yorkie-Poo thinks he's comparable in size to a German Sheppard. So if your small dog happens to get along better with larger dogs, make sure you ask the owners in that designated area for permission to enter before you bring your little pal in to play. The same goes for larger dogs who are big softies. Although your pal may be friendly, some small dogs are naturally terrified of larger dogs, the owners in the designated area will advise you of this.
Know how to break up a fight safely. If you follow the guidelines above, chances are you will not have to deal with this. But you should still be prepared because realistically, anything can happen.
Any dog fight should be broken up by two people if possible, one person per dog. Keeping this in mind, firstly, try using a loud voice to startle the dogs into stopping. Typically a strong word i.e. "NO" will grab their attention. If this doesn't work, try getting a hold of the dogs, but never put your arms into the mix for the possibility of getting bitten. A good technique to separate two fighting dogs is to pick up the hind legs and walk away with the dog wheelbarrow style. Let someone leash the dog before you drop the hind legs. This technique may be difficult if you are wrangling the dogs on your own. In this case, determine which of the dogs is most aggressive and not too roughly, go for the rib cage. This will cause the dog to release anything from their mouth to catch a breath.
Identify Aggressive Behavior
Be aware of the typical body signals that an aggressive or uncomfortable dog will give out. Dogs can experience predatory drift at any time, so don't think that just because two dogs are playing everything is copacetic. Do not overreact when a dog corrects another dog for rude behavior; that is a typical reaction. However, you should be able to tell when a dog is stressed out by looking for rapid barking, intense eye contact, snapping, and a tense posture that is pushed forward.
Be Aware Of Toxic Treats
Unfortunately, not everyone loves animals as much as you and I. I have heard horror stories about toxic threats and harmful objects being left and planted in parks; I even have a friend who has experienced it; so be cautious. We can't control human behavior, but we certainly can be aware of our surroundings and prevent our dog from ingesting or picking up something they shouldn't. This is why it's so important to keep a close eye on your dog. And bear in mind that this sort of thing can happen anywhere, not just at your local dog park.
Finally, Have Fun!
Embrace the bonding time with your pal. Enjoy watching them play and interact with new friends. Bring water, toys/treats (if permitted), and any other items they may need to make their visit and yours, more enjoyable.
If you can keep these tips in mind, you and your dog will have a great time at the park.
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