In so many ways, dog parks are to pups what playgrounds are to children. Our four-legged companions get to socialize, play with friends, make new buddies, explore surroundings and exercise until they collapse in happy exhaustion. Now that’s a tail-wagging extravaganza, right? Well, it can be, but before you think about heading out to the park, how can you make sure your adventure is a success (for both of you)?
Puppy prep list
Even before your dog steps one paw into an off-leash dog park:
- Think about whether your pup is dog park material—meaning, does he like new environments, how is he around other canines, what about new sounds?
- Be certain your dog is current on all vaccinations.
- Make sure you can control your dog and that he understands (and follows) basic commands like come, sit, stay and leave it (or drop it in case leave it fails).
- Coordinate a pre-dog park playdate with a few other (well-behaved) pups to get your dog used to the concept.
- Do some reconnaissance on local parks to make sure they’re well maintained, don’t have hazards and aren’t full of weeds and debris.
- Plan your initial visits when the park isn’t too crowded.
Not all canines are dog park material, and that’s OK! Some will like it immediately, others will take time to adjust, and then there are those who just aren’t going enjoy it at all—ever. If you do venture to a dog park, let’s review some dos and don’ts.
- Keep your dog on his leash until you’re in the designated enclosed area, and then be sure to take it off before he joins in to play and explore.
- Pay attention because situations can change in an instant, and never, ever, not even for a minute leave your dog alone and unsupervised.
- Stay on the correct section if the park is divided into size-appropriate areas, so the risk of injuries between small and large dogs is minimized.
- Pick up after your dog, which seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating (and, frankly, is just good manners and helps prevent the spread of disease).
- Learn to recognize body language and watch for signs something is brewing with your dog or fellow canines who approach him.
- Leave the park if it’s best for you and your pup … even if another dog or owner is the problem.
Obedience faux paws
- Don’t take your puppy to a dog park until they’re at least 16-weeks old and have their vaccinations.
- Don’t bring your pup’s toys to avoid any aggressive behaviors or protective tendencies; plus, things can disappear.
- Don’t text, make calls, pop on social media, or do anything else that makes you distracted.
- Don’t bring a hyperactive pup to the park without first trying to expend some energy, say, by taking him for a walk or a jog.
- Don’t take an aggressive pup to a dog park in the hopes he’ll socialize. He won’t, and you’ll be taking a big risk.
- Don’t get in the middle of a dog fight if one breaks out. (Instead, make loud noises to try and interrupt them. If loud noises don’t work, try squirting the dogs with water. Never attempt to break up a fight by grabbing the dogs by their collars or by getting any part of yourself in between them. Touching dogs while they are fighting can result in “redirected aggression,” where a dog may bite you because he thinks you are part of the conflict.)
If the dog park isn’t for your pup, no worries! There are plenty of other things for you both to enjoy together and get the exercise and socialization your pup needs. Find a trail and go for a hike, take a long walk in your neighborhood or investigate dog agility training and course facilities. The possibilities are endless for continued fun!
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