Dog Park Tips for a Fun, Safe Play Day
Visiting your neighborhood dog park is supposed to be a fun, engaging activity that allows your dog to socialize and get out some extra energy. But these spaces can also turn into a dangerous disaster if pet owners aren’t managing their animal properly. In order to have a good time during your next visit (whether it’s your first or fiftieth), follow these dog park tips to ensure you’re engaging in proper etiquette and keeping your pooch safe.
Preparing for a Dog Park Visit
Here are a few dog park tips to help you prepare for a successful visit:
- There is an unofficial age limit at the park
- Your pet needs to be vaccinated to play with other dogs
- Keep your pet with other dogs of similar size
- Choose wisely between off-leash and on-leash parks
- Prepare your dog with basic training and commands
Puppies Under Four Months Don’t Belong at the Dog Park
While a dog park might seem like a great place for your brand new puppy to socialize and play, it’s generally not advisable to bring a puppy to the dog park until after their four-month birthday. This means they should have completed all of their puppy vaccinations, learned some commands and etiquette, and be ready to engage with other dogs in an appropriate way (and stand up for himself, if he needs to).
Likewise, you shouldn’t bring an extremely old or fragile dog to the park if you are worried about their health. Injury can result easily if an older dog gets too excited while playing with other dogs, so the dog park might not be the safest place for a geriatric or senior pooch.
Ensure Your Pet’s Vaccines Are Up to Date
Another major part of your responsibility when it comes to preparing for a dog park visit is to make sure your dog’s shots and vaccines are up to date. The first year of puppy vaccinations are the most important. Vaccine schedules can vary a little depending on your dog’s individual risk factors and the area where you live.
If you adopt an adult dog and you don’t know about their medical history, you need to work with your veterinarian to ensure that they are protected from all the common illnesses. Likewise, you’ll need to work with your pet’s doctor to decide if your dog needs booster shots annually. It’s every pet parent’s responsibility to ensure their dog is vaccinated before entering the dog park and putting other pets at risk.
Size Matters During Dog Park Visits
You might have a Chihuahua who thinks she’s a Great Dane or a Mastiff who thinks he’s a Pomeranian, but you need to follow the size rules regardless of your pet’s self-image. Dog parks are often separated into sections for small dogs and large dogs, or they might even have a calendar with certain days reserved for large or small breeds. If your dog falls somewhere in the medium category, make a judgment based on the energy at the dog park that day and the type of dogs that are around.
Even if your dog is comfortable around other dogs that have a major size differential, you need to consider the comfort of other people and their pets as well. Some large dogs are triggered by small dogs, and vice versa. Always try to stick with similar-sized dogs so that if a scuffle breaks out, the dogs are at least somewhat well-matched.
Choose the Right Kind of Dog Park for Your Pet
There are off-leash and on-leash dog parks, and it’s important to know which one you are going to and make a conscious choice about having your pet there. Some dogs, like those who suffer from leash aggression, will have a very difficult time having fun at an on-leash dog park. If you go to an off-leash park, it’s important that you follow the trend and take off your dog’s leash. A disparity between the dogs, with one on leash and another not, can create tension and problems. Even at an off-leash park, keep the leash handy just in case and make sure it’s well-fitted. If you go to an on-leash dog park, don’t bring a retractable leash.
You’ll also want to consider the environment itself: Is the dog park dirt or grass? How big is the space? Is it fenced in? Do your research before showing up so you and your pup know what to expect.
Prepare Your Dog with Training and Basic Commands
Another one of the best dog park tips is to train your dog with some basic commands before visiting the park. Perhaps the most important one is “Come,” which can be used to get your dog’s attention and remove them from a situation they shouldn’t be in or one that seems to be getting heated. This can be a great way to avoid altercations between dogs at the park. Other important commands for the dog park include “Leave It,” so your dog doesn’t get into any dangerous left-behind items, and “Sit” so your pet can take a break when they are getting too excited.
Running through commands at the dog park will be harder than doing the commands at home without any distractions, so be patient with your dog as they learn.
Other Important Dog Park Tips
Here are a few other dog park tips to ensure you and Fido have a good time:
- Leave treats in the car
- Leave toys at home
- Stay alert
- Clean up your dog’s waste
Treats Can Be a Good Motivator, but Be Cautious
Bringing treats along can be a great way to train your dog to be on their best behavior at the dog park, but it’s important to be mindful of other dogs when handing those treats over. Food can easily cause tension among canines, and there is also the concern that a dog at the park might have an allergy to something that is in your pet’s treats. Never give a dog treat to another dog without asking the owner first. Typically, dog treats should be reserved for use outside of the confines of the dog park – perhaps as a reward when you get back to the car to head home.
Avoid Playing Fetch or Bringing Toys to Dog Parks
Leave the toys at home. Like treats, toys give dogs something to fight over and be territorial about. Find other ways to engage with your dog at the park, such as with a game of chase. Fetch with a stick might seem like a good idea, but it can also cause dogs to become irritable with each other. Territorial behavior is normal in canines, so avoid encouraging these instincts with play objects like sticks or balls.
Stay Alert and Engaged During Your Visit
Even if your dog has a history of being very well-behaved at the dog park, you need to stay alert and engaged for the entire visit, every time. Each dog park visit has a number of various factors that can be different – a new dog might be triggering for your pooch, or someone else might not understand dog park etiquette and be handing out treats. You need to pay attention to your dog’s play time and ensure that they are being on their best behavior and staying safe. Dog park visits are not the time to kick back with a book or get buried in your cell phone. If all the pet owners are paying attention to their animals and the social dynamics, there is less of a chance that something will go wrong.
Always Clean Up After Your Dog
This one might seem obvious, but a shocking number of people seem to think there is a designated cleaner at the dog park! Dog owners are in charge of cleaning up their dog’s poop at the park. That means it should be picked up in a bag, tied off, and thrown away in a trash can. Always clean up your dog’s waste at the dog park and anywhere else you go together.
Avoid Dog Parks If Your Dog Can’t Handle Them
The most important of all dog park tips is this: Don’t go to the park if your dog can’t handle it. Some dogs are just not cut out for dog park life. They might not feel comfortable around other canines, or they tend to get mouthy and loud when they are overexcited. Likewise, a dog that is not spayed or neutered or is experiencing an illness shouldn’t visit a dog park. Either way, it only takes one misbehaving dog to ruin the visit for all the other pets and their owners. Don’t be that person! The dog park is meant to be fun and enjoyable for both you and your dog. If it’s stressful, find an alternative way for your pet to enjoy the outdoors and get exercise.