For many of us who live in apartments or homes without yards, the dog park is a fun way to get our dogs some exercise and social playtime. However, good dogs can get into trouble at the dog park when owners are unsure of etiquette or how to handle problem behaviors. Here are some general guidelines to follow in order to keep your pup safe.
1. Train first!
Train your dog off-leash in a less distracting, less crowded environment. If you make sure to train a reliable off-leash "come," this will make your dog park experience MUCH more enjoyable and safe! Your dog isn't going to automatically follow commands in the park just because he's obedient at home. Set him up for success beforehand.
2. Bring your dog's favorite treat.
The dog park is the ultimately distracting place for your pup. To ensure that you've got his attention even in an off-leash park, bring turkey, cheese, hard boiled egg, or another favorite treat with you to the park. Your dog will be much more attentive if you reward him for "checking in" once in a while. (Keep in mind that some dogs are food possessive. Try not to treat your dog close to other dogs, just in case!)
3. Take the leash OFF!
If your dog is afraid, aggressive, or unmanageable at the dog park, you may be tempted to go in and just keep him leashed. However, this can actually make your dog a target to unleashed dogs! Dogs are also likely to become overly reactive and defensive if they are stuck on a leash around unleashed dogs. You don't want your dog to feel trapped and lash out!
4. Keep your dog from overwhelming newcomers.
Dogs often get overexcited when new dogs are entering the park at the gate. This can cause problems if the new dog does not appreciate all of the excited attention as they're coming in, and many of the fights at the park are caused right there at the entrance for this reason. The best way to let new dogs come in is to call your dog to you or just away from the gate when others are entering.
5. Stay close.
There's no need to hover over your pup at the dog park, but it's best to keep a close eye out. Problematic behaviors can escalate quickly in this environment and to avoid fighting or injury, all owners should be watchful and responsible.
6. Know where to draw the line.
Not all dogs at the dog park are going to be well-socialized, dog friendly, or trustworthy. If you see another dog being a bully, rudely jumping on other dogs or aggrivating them, etc, it is your responsibility to your little buddy to keep him safe. Don't assume that the dogs themselves will handle confrontations or know how to keep each other in line. Leave the dog park if you suspect a dog is causing too much trouble or seems to be causing fights.
7. Small children are at risk.
Young children (such as infants, toddlers, or those who are still too young to understand dog safety) should be included in trips to on-leash parks, but should never enter an off-leash dog park. Just because a dog likes other dogs and loves people, it does not mean that he's cool with kids. Many dogs have a fear of small children and will show aggressive behaviors towards little ones. Young children are also at risk for being injured during rough dog play.
8. Clean up after your dog.
This one is pretty obvious. Nobody wants to be chasing Fido only to step in some other dog's mess!
9. Umbrellas: not just for rainy days!
A great safety tip is to bring a small, pop-up umbrella with you to the park even on sunny days. In the event of a fight breaking out, an umbrella can be the perfect tool to put a temporary boundary between the two dogs without getting too close. Just be careful; any time you intervene in a dog fight, you're putting yourself at some level of risk.
10. Check your local park's rules, either online or posted at the park.
Some dog parks require that all dogs be fixed, or set an age limit, or require proof of vaccines. Make sure to check the rules before you head to the park!