Having Fun – Staying Safe
A trip to the dog park can be an exciting and fun adventure for you and your dog. While your dog will get to play and socialize with other dogs, you will get to meet and visit with fellow dog owners. It can be a social event for you both! You’ll have the opportunity to share information and recite your favorite dog stories while watching your dog run, play, and make new canine friends.
Just like humans, dogs are highly social animals that typically enjoy spending time with their own species. In addition to playtime, a dog park can be a great place for them to practice reading other dogs’ body language and learn what other dogs are trying to communicate. Learning to read a dog’s signal to “play or stay away” will become valuable when you meet other unfamiliar dogs in the future.
While many dogs are good candidates for the dog park, some are not. Like people, our canine friends have different personalities and dispositions. Not all dogs are amiable enough to partake in off-leash park activities. Learning more about dog parks, your dog’s own temperament, and general park etiquette, may help you determine if an off-leash dog park would be a good choice for you and your dog.
Before going to a dog park, it is important to make sure your dog is healthy and physically able to withstand rambunctious play. Equally important, your dog should have all of his vaccinations up to date and have a valid license. Unfortunately, like any place where animals congregate, contagious diseases and parasites can be present. Puppies under 12 weeks old, or puppies that have not been fully immunized, should never visit a dog park. While you would hope that all the dogs at the park are healthy and properly immunized, they may not be. Keeping your pet’s vaccinations current is the best defense against any possible contagious diseases.
Once you’ve evaluated your dog’s physical ability and vaccination history, you must also consider your dog’s overall temperament. You know your dog better than anyone. Is he sociable? Is he aggressive or extremely protective of you? Is he overly timid or fearful of other dogs? These are all questions you need to ask yourself. A sociable dog that is typically friendly with others and is obedient to your verbal commands should be well-suited for dog park activities. Aggressive dogs, for obvious reasons, should never be taken into a dog park. In contrast, those that are very timid or scared around other dogs would probably not enjoy their visit and may be bullied or feel intimidated. In general, if you don’t think your dog would enjoy the park or could be a risk to others, it would be best to find another more suitable activity.
If you determine that your dog is a good candidate for a dog park visit, it will be helpful to know some proper park etiquette before you go. While some of these things may not be official rules of the park, following these guidelines will help ensure a safe and enjoyable time for everyone:
- Keep your dog leashed at all times except in the designated “off leash” area.
- ALWAYS keep your attention on your dog, keeping your leash in hand. Be prepared to leash your dog quickly if necessary.
- Keep your dog in view at all times and never leave him unattended.
- Be sure to close all gates to the dog park after entering or exiting.
- Never bring a female dog in heat to the dog park.
- Do not bring food, dog toys, or dog treats inside the park.
- Infants and small children should not be brought into the “off-leash” area of the park.
- AND … Yes, you must pick up the poop! Be sure to clean up after your dog. Bags may or may not be provided at a particular park, so it would be best to bring a few bags with you.
Having a safe, fulfilling time at a dog park is ultimately determined by dog owners, not the dogs. Being attentive to your dog, as well as other dogs in the park, will help you foresee a potential problem ahead of time. Communicating and cooperating with other dog owners will help ensure that the dog park is a pleasant environment for everyone.