A day at the dog park is wonderfully beneficial in terms of physical and mental benefits for your pet. They get the chance to get off-leash and run around and play with other dogs. It keeps their weight down and their muscle tone up. And, just as important, it keeps them social. The downsides? Your pet mistakes a person's leg for a tree, or he gets hurt and needs to go to the vet. Take these steps to avoid an embarrassing scene or an injury.
- Take charge
Your dog needs to know that you're the alpha all the time. That’s key when they’re distracted by other canines. Teach your dog to come to you when called. Reward him with extra-special treats during training.
- Pause before you enter
A well-designed park will have a double entrance with two gates. Don't whirl through both gates at once. Enter the first gate with your dog on a leash, then pause to look around. If there are 20 dogs swarming the gates or if there’s a scuffle going on, this isn't the time to barge in. A pause will also allow other pooches to get used to yours and reduce hyperactivity when he does come in.
- Pay attention
Once inside, it's your job to keep an eye out for the dogs, not other humans. Always know where your four-legged friend is and what he’s doing. If you see trouble brewing, call him back right away. Know when your dog has pooped so you can pick it up right away. Many parks provide plastic bags, but you should always carry your own.
- Read the signals
Your dog must play well with others if you plan to take him to the park. But you need to be able to read canine behavior too. Dogs at play have relaxed ears, wagging tails, and may "play bow" with their front end down to the ground. Upset dogs hold their tails at half-mast or between their legs. Their ears are pinned back, and their pupils shrink so you can see the whites of the eyes. A dog that’s ready to rumble will be tense, hold his head high, and will lean forward. His ears will point up or forward, too. While growls are common in play, snarling with lips curled back isn’t. If you see these danger signs, redirect the dog with treats or a toy. You can also clap or make a loud noise. Use treats and toys only when needed in a dog park, in case they spark trouble.
- Know what to do if a fight breaks out
Despite your best efforts, it can happen. Make sure you're ready, but give it a moment. Most doggie duels end as quickly as they started. If they go at it for more than a few seconds, try to squirt them with a hose or water pistol, or use a long stick to push them apart. Don't step in with your hands or body. If they’re still fighting after about 3 seconds, you and the other owner should approach the dogs from the rear. Gently grab their back legs at the top of the leg and lift them up like a wheelbarrow then start moving back. Don't reach for the collar. Your dog could bite you by reflex. If your dog is the one starting fights and this happens often, discontinue bringing them to dog parks and always leash them around other animals.
- Don’t take a puppy to the park
Puppies can be hard to control. People find them cute, but older dogs often think they’re a pain. Plus, those who haven’t yet had all their shots can be exposed to diseases. Wait until your pup is 6 months old before you go. The dog park is not a place to learn socialization, but it's a good place to be social once they've learned.
- Know when to go.
Basic good manners should help you avoid most problems. A little extra effort on your part will help. But don't go to the dog park if your furry pal:
- Isn’t vaccinated or doesn't have flea and tick protection
- Isn't spayed or neutered
- Is what the ASPCA calls a "dog dork." These are dogs that just don't know how to interact, no matter how hard they try. Other canines may find them just as annoying as puppies.
- Is aggressive around other dogs