Watch Tip: Dog Park Tips & Warnings

Posted on April 16th, 2012 by Trish Roman-Aquilino

Watch Tip LogoDog parks have become extremely popular with dog owners for a variety of different reasons, including exercise, opportunities for socializing dogs, and just plain canine fun.  But there are problems to consider, and precautions to be taken, so that “fun” trip to the dog park doesn’t turn into a tragedy.   Following are ten tips and warnings to take heed of, and to distribute to any dog parents you may know!

1.         Do your research first.

Check out the dog park before taking your dog for his or her first outing.  Whether it’s Fido’s first time at this particular park, or visiting a park away from home, it pays to know the “lay of the land” before the first outing, and see what amenities are available (drinking water? separate play areas for small and large dogs?).  Know what the rules of the park are – they will have signs posted, and often a website that goes over the rules in more detail.

2.         Complete basic training.

For your dog’s safety, and your sanity, be sure and at least have a grasp on the basic training commands – sit, stay, come – these are important basics that will give you control during an urgent situation, should one arise.

3.         Make sure your dog is physically ready.

Your pet should not venture to the park without being up-to-date on their immunizations and vaccinations; it would be also be a good idea to make sure they are treated with flea, tick, or wormer treatments to ensure that they do not spread any parasites at the park, and are protected from fleas or ticks that may be lurking there.  Also, do not bring a dog that is not spayed or neutered – an intact dog could very well spark a dogfight, and many dog parks prohibit bringing an intact animal to the park. Do not bring puppies under four months as the risk of disease to them is high (instead arrange play dates with dog pals that you know are disease-free and immunized, until your puppy is fully protected from disease).

4.         Don’t go when the park is overly-crowded.

Try to visit the dog park when it is less crowded, during off-times, if possible.  Crowds ramp up the energy level and could lead to tension and/or dogfights.  Especially if it is your dog’s first time – pick a quiet hour to visit.

5.         Know what a dogfight looks like.

Although playing sometimes looks like fighting, you should be mindful of play that is starting to get too aggressive or when your dog’s patience is wearing thin.  Know the signs of a dogfight brewing:

  • A hard, unwavering, targeted stare.
  • Dominance posturing, such as mounting.
  • Stiff body movements.
  • Extreme body language: the tail held stiffly up or down, lips pulled tight against the teeth.

6.         Keep a vigilant eye on your dog.

Often you will see humans gather in conversation groups while their dogs play without any supervision.  This is a dogfight waiting to happen.  Keep in mind you are at the dog park to enrich your dog’s social life, not your own.  It is imperative you keep a watchful eye on your dog for any problems that may arise.  If at all possible, only take one dog with you at a time, so that you can devote your full attention to your pet, and be sure to turn your mobile phone off, to avoid being distracted.

7.         Know how to break up a fight.

Even friendly, social dogs can end up in a spat with another dog for a variety of reasons.  Know what to do (creating a loud noise, squirting with water) and what not do (putting your hand near their heads to separate them).  Some dog owners bring spray bottles with them to the park, or loud whistles to aid them in an emergency.

8.         Leave kids at home.

Please leave small children at home since you cannot be sure that all dogs at the dog park are kid-friendly and safe; also, you cannot give your dog your full attention if you are also looking after small children.

9.         Outfit your dog properly.

Leave the chain collar at home, if you use one.  It can be a choking hazard.  Also, if you utilize a harness, be sure it is fitted properly and does not chafe when your dog is running – since he is there to play and run!  Also, although many parks include “doggie drinking fountains,” consider bringing your own portable bowl and water, as these fountains are often ground zero for passing on communicable diseases between canines.

10.       Be realistic.

Not all dogs enjoy the dog park – some are fearful, some enjoy only playing with a select few friends, etc.  If your dog exhibits signs that he or she is not enjoying themselves, cheerfully take your dog home, or for a walk outside of the park.  Again, it should be about your dog’s enjoyment and not your own.  Don’t find fault, and if your dog appears to have a behavioral condition that precludes his enjoyment of dog park play, consult a behaviorist and see what kind of help can be given, to help enrich their lives.

Important additional reading:

Give Paw Dog Training Discusses Dog Park Safety: Dog Fight Prevention and Beyond

APDT – Dog Park Tips

Dog Parks: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    One Response to “Watch Tip: Dog Park Tips & Warnings”

    1. PJ Langhoff says:

      Thanks for the great tips! I found that many people at dog parks are busy doing the socializing thing, and they are unaware of their dogs until they become a problem. Also, cleaning up after your dog is a critical aspect that should be a given, and which when done regularly enhances others’ enjoyment, or detracts from same if not done. So PLEASE treat the dog park with respect, and respect other people’s enjoyment as well. That way we can all have a great time!

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