I’ve been taking Riggins to the dog park since he was a puppy. He grew up in a one-dog household with me as his only constant companion. I credit the socialization he got at the dog park, in large part, for the happy, playful, and sweet boy he is today.
Now that Riggins is nine years old, his activity at the dog park has changed from seeking out friends for wrestling matches to chasing the balls I throw with my trusty Chuckit. Recently, I’ve witnessed a number of dog park faux pas and thought it might be a good time for us all to brush up on etiquette. Here are eight tips for having a happy dog park experience.
1. Take a pre-park walk
With our busy schedules, we dog owners often use a trip to the dog park as a way to poop out our energetic pups. That means the dogs coming in are at their peak level of energy. This may be the first real exercise they have gotten in hours, sometimes all day. You know this is what happened whenever you see a dog charge through the gate and head face first into trouble.
The dog park should be used for socialization as well as mental and physical exercise, and to do that safely a pup needs to come in calm and relaxed. If your dog is unable to enter the park without the energy of a kid in a candy store, take a pre-park walk around a block or two.
2. Mind the gates
Most dog parks have two or even three gates you have to go through before getting in or out of the main park area. One of the reasons for these gates is to keep unleashed dogs inside. No matter how eager your dog is to get inside and join the fun or to go home, make sure you enter and exit safely. You should only go into the “leashing and unleashing” area when there is no one, or no other dog, inside. If someone is already in the process of going in or coming out, stop, step aside, and wait your turn.
Always close and secure each gate behind you as you move through it. Just because your dog is ready to move on safely, that doesn’t mean a dog on either side of the gate is ready to do the same.
3. Go leash-free
If a dog park is off-leash, you need to take the leash off your dog. Do so in that area between the two gates when there is no other dog around and you can make sure your dog is calm, cool, and collected before heading in to be with the masses.
A dog on a leash, when all others are off, can cause trouble. A leashed dog is a magnet for other dogs to come check out, and when that happens the poor pup on the leash can easily get scared because of his inability to react the way he wants: to get away. This can be a recipe for a brawl.
4. Stay calm
Us humans can really be a cuckoo bunch, especially when caged together in a dog park with our furry babies next to us. I’ve seen rational humans morph into insane lunatics in reaction to something or someone.
Calm down, take a deep breath, and walk away — do anything that helps you NOT become “that guy.” When you put a bunch of dogs together and then add very opinionated owners, you are bound to have a scuffle now and then. As long as no one is hurt, pick yourselves up, shake it off, and move on.
Dogs will react to the emotions of the humans around them, especially THEIR humans. When you go crazy, your dog is sure to follow, and that isn’t good!
5. Follow the rules regarding age and keep kids close
Many dog parks prohibit children under a certain age from entering. Even if they are allowed, they need to be closely watched (as in stay right next to them). Just because your dog is good with your kid, that doesn’t mean other dogs will be. Letting a child be unsupervised around unfamiliar dogs, who are just being dogs in a park designated for their kind, is unfair to both species.
6. Keep the party small
Be aware of any rules your dog park has limiting the number of dogs one person can bring inside. Even if there isn’t a rule, only take as many dogs as you can watch at once.
7. Leave human food at home
Don’t bring human food into a dog park — ever. You are just asking for trouble.
And be very careful with dog treats. If you MUST have them for training reasons, keep them wrapped up tight so other dogs can’t smell them, and only treat when no other dogs are around. You don’t know which dogs at your park are food-possessive, and triggering a fight isn’t a great way to find out!
8. Let the dogs teach each other
The BEST thing that ever happened to Riggins at a dog park was when he was a puppy. He pissed off an older dog by not heeding his “get back” warnings and found himself at the bottom of a dog pile. He was yelping, but it was obvious he was not being hurt. He was being taught a lesson. When I got to him, I did a quick check to make sure he was okay and told him to walk it off. Now if there is a scuffle at a dog park, Riggins does not run toward it like many dogs do. Instead he glances up and then goes on with his important job of peeing on things.
If you tend to be overprotective of your pooch and don’t let dog lessons happen, you may be inadvertently teaching your pup to be afraid of other dogs and react negatively. Which is the exact opposite of why you are going to the dog park in the first place!
Do you have any tips for the dog park? Share them in the comments below!
Read more stories by Wendy Newell:
- 8 Ways Having a Dog Can Get — and Keep — You Fit
- 5 Guidelines for Enjoying Off-Leash Dog Areas
- I Talk to Dogs All the Time — Don’t You?
About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.
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