I have to admit that until recently I wasn’t well-versed in the dog park language. I knew it existed, knew the common words but wasn’t fluent. To a lot of people, a dog park seems like a pretty self-explanatory world. A place you take your dog to play with other dogs. Simple, right?
As usual with most things, no. It isn’t that simple. I’ve tried to compile a list of simple rules that I’ve learned (as well as the obvious ones) to make any person’s trip to the dog-park successful.
Always Be Prepared – Preparations Beforehand
1. Intact Dogs: Dogs that haven’t been spayed/neutered. If your dog does not respond to basic commands (sit, stay, come, leave it, etc), having an intact dog at a dog park can increase the chances of fighting or aggressive behavior. Notice I didn’t say ‘No Intact Dogs.’ I’ve seen many well-mannered, obedient intact dogs at dog parks. Make sure your dog’s commands are tried and true, not vague ideas that work occasionally. If your dog is in heat, I would stay as far away from the dog park as possible. Females in-heat can often elicit unpredictable responses from intact males. The two aren’t a good mix in a social setting that is suppose to promote safe, fun exercise and interaction.
2. Puppies: I cringe each time I see someone bring a young puppy to a dog park. Their heart is in the right place, I know it is. Having a well-socialized puppy is important. However, if your puppy is not current on their vaccine series as recommended by a veterinarian, the immune system is still susceptible to picking up any little nasty bugs floating around. And nasty they are. Parvovirus is nothing to play with. Fully vaccinated puppies (around 16 weeks of age) are always welcome! There are other ways to socialize puppies who are too young for dog parks.
3. Sick Dogs: If your dog has any kind of symptoms of illness (vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, eye or nose discharge, lethargy, etc), do not take him to the dog park. It is inconsiderate of you to take your dog to a place where he/she could potentially make another dog sick.
4. Aggressive or Overly Fearful Dogs: If your dog is any kind of dog-aggressive, you are a walking liability taking him/her to a dog park. It isn’t good enough that you are trying to “acclimate” them to the environment with other dogs. If a dog ceaselessly picks on other dogs, or starts fights, it doesn’t need to be there. Not only is this not doing any good (seek professional help!) but it is disrupting the positive environment many dogs have come to expect. Also, if your dog looks like he/she is having no fun because they are so scared that they don’t want to move, much less try to play, you are doing far more harm than good.
5. Vaccines: This seems self-explanatory. The vaccines exist for a reason. If your dog is not current on vaccines, skip the visit until you can get them updated. This isn’t just for other dog’s health, this also ensures your dog is protected. Talk to your veterinarian about any additional vaccines he/she may need due to exposure risk (or risk associated with lifestyle). There are some non-core vaccines that are beneficial for an active social life.
Dance Like No One is Watching – At the Dog Park
1. Pooper Scoop: This one is first for a reason. It is a bonus if your dog park provides bags, but if they don’t, come stocked with your own. You will lose major street-cred if you don’t clean up after your dog. ’nuff said.
2. Be Prepared: Whether this means bringing a water dish, an appropriate leash (non-retractable), or pooper scooping baggies, don’t show up to a dog park without some sort of plan.
3. Don’t Reprimand Others’ Dogs: I know that it isn’t your fault if some dog doesn’t have manners and jumps all over you, but people get touchy if you correct their dogs excessively. I’ve found that most people are nice and if you look like you aren’t having a good time with their dog, they usually call them off. The best thing you can do for a dog without manners is to ignore it. Anything else reinforces the behavior.
4. Watch Your Dog: I don’t mind people bringing books and settling down to socialize. However, it is pretty irritating when someone doesn’t keep an eye on their dog. Even if yours is the most well-behaved one of the lot, you never know how other dogs are going to behave. Watching your dog also helps to keep up the good will in the park if your dog decides to do something obnoxious – like steal someone else’s toy.
*** I feel inclined to add in here that if you have a brachycephalic breed (boxer, pug, bull dog, etc) with the smooshed-in nose, dog parks aren’t a good idea in the heat of the day. These dogs can’t cool themselves off efficiently and are prone to heat-stroke. Mornings and evenings are the name of the game for these guys.
5. Use Food/Treats Sparingly if At All: Some dogs that are perfectly fine in most social situations turn into nuts when confronted with food or treats. I’m all about training your dog using positive reinforcement, but take your dog out of the park if others are negatively stimulated by the treats you are giving. Don’t bring people-food into the dog park. This just spells disaster. A lot of people feed their dogs from their own plates at home. A 70lb lab is cute until it thinks your hamburger needs to be in his mouth.
6. Unsolicited Advice: With the “Dr. Google” syndrome running rampant, be careful what kind of advice you take from other people at the dog park. Cross-reference any suggestions with your veterinarian. That suggestion to use a choke collar to help teach manners might not be the best advice or might have been given without knowing all the ins and outs of your relationship with your dog.
Aftermath – Going Home
1. So Fresh and So Clean: Bathing your dog after coming home from the dog park is a great idea. This should be pretty self-explanatory.
2. Feeding: Your dog just got done running around, slobbering and munching on other dog’s ears. Wait until he/she has calmed down before introducing food. Give access to plenty of water, but watch for over-drinking.
3. Enjoy: The best thing about a trip to the dog park is the well-stimulated and well-worn out dog you have afterward.
I know this sounds like a lot of sacrificing to keep the peace. …that’s exactly what it is, lol. Going to the dog park can sometimes mean that you have to make sacrifices for the greater good of everyone there.