Dog Park Rules…for Humans and Dogs!
Etiquette can be a fancy word for saying proper behavior and when visiting any social gathering we are, whether it be dog or human, considered to be on our best behavior. Dog parks are no exception and when visiting one, everyone there is expected to be on their best behavior or they may be asked to leave. Dog parks, in particular, are no place for miss behaving because in these environments it can lead to dog fights and injuries. While at the dog park always support your dog to help keep him stay positive and playful. All the other dogs and dog owners will be appreciative of your efforts.
Things to consider before you go to the dog park…
- It is always a good idea to check out the local dog park before taking your dog on their first outing. It’s best you know how the dog park is laid out and what amenities it does and does not provide. For example, some parks have a specific space for small dogs and large dogs. Some even have a special area for dogs who need to remain on a leash until they can be trained and trusted to go off leash. And there are those parks that provide agility equipment for added training and enjoyment. It is also best to find out when the park is least occupied and take your first trip at these times to help with your dog’s transition into a new environment.
- Make sure you go prepared by having everything you need to pick up after your dog. Most dog parks provide the necessary items needed to facilitate this but just in case, take along the essentials to scoop, bag and dispose of any presents your dog may wish to give you along the way to and from the dog park if it is within walking distance. It is always advisable to have these essentials just in case the dog park supplies are short or run out completely.
- Make sure your pet is up to date on all their vaccines. All dogs visiting the dog park must be current on all their vaccines and should have regular visits to their vet to insure they are healthy enough to socialize with others. If your dog is showing any signs of sickness or illness, keep them home, nurse them back to health and wait until they are their normal, healthy selves before planning an excursion to the local dog park.
- If your female is in heat, do not take her to a dog park. Dogs have very keen noses and can smell scents from a long way off. Taking your female dog to a dog park while in heat will cause undo stress on her and all the other dogs at the park. The smell of a dog in heat is a natural arousal for male dogs but even the other female dogs will become uneasy about the situation. Wait until she has gone out of heat completely before taking her on an outing to a dog park.
- Bring water for both, you and your dog. Pack water and a bowl for your dog so that your dog has access to clean water. Along with keeping your pup hydrated, you’ll be giving your dog a chance to touch base with you. This encourages your dog to take breaks and check in with you during their playtime. Also, the water facilities in parks are an excellent way for dogs to pass around illnesses so bringing your own water will ensure your dog stays healthy while enjoying his day at the park.
- Do not take any food into the park for you or your dog. Again, dogs have a very keen sense of smell and they will know when food is present. Some dogs may not have good manners around people enjoying a meal and can act aggressively toward you if they pick up the scent of the food you are eating. If your dog does his business or performs a command and usually gets a treat for it, take treats in a plastic container that will conceal their odor and only give them when no other dogs are around. Never give treats to other dogs as their owners may not approve and the dog in question may be allergic to your treats. If giving threats to your dog in private is not possible, consider giving them verbal praise and a good pet to reassure them that they still did a good job, reinforcing their good behavior. Dog treats are not the only special reward dogs are seeking from their pet parents!
- Small children should not be taken to the dog park. If you have infants or toddlers, please provide other care for them while you take Fido to the park for his playtime. Small children are easily knocked over by overly rambunctious dogs and some dogs may be strangers to dealing with kids, putting them at risk for a bad experience or injury. Dog parks will be full of dogs that are unfamiliar to you and your family so do not expect them to behave the way your dog does since you and your family are unfamiliar to them as well.
- Keep dog toys to a minimum. While you can bring your own dog toys like tennis balls or Frisbees, make sure that no other dogs will be competing for them. Much like toddlers, untrained dogs can throw a bit of a tantrum if they have to share their favorite toy. And while tug-of-war sounds like a good way for your dog to share his toy, it really depends on the group of dogs at the park. If it works, great; but if it causes more stress and anxiety in the play patterns of the dogs, it is best to put it back in the bag for another day.
- Always have a collar on your dog. While it is always recommended to keep a collar on your dog anyway, and dog parks are enclosed areas; there is still the chance of your dog racing for the exit and taking some unsuspecting dog owner by surprise! You can help keep him safe by being sure he always has his collar on with up-to-date information on his tags which should include his immunizations and your contact information.
- If this will be your dog’s first visit to the dog park, you will want to keep your outing short and sweet. You want your dog to have positive associations with the dog park, which is why it’s best to keep that first visit short. Go at a time when the park is quieter and let your dog get used to the setting. If there are other dogs around and your pup is interested, let them causally interact but be ready to step in if your dog starts to feel he is over his head. Dogs are curious about their surroundings and environment so help him feel safe and loved while exploring his new dog park.
A few things to remember while at the dog park…
- Always keep your leash with you and handy. Even though you go to an off-leash park, you may need to quickly remove your dog from an unpleasant or aggressive experience. Your leash is the best way to ensure your dog will succumb to your commands if he has gotten caught up in the experience of the moment. The leash is the best way to tell your dog you are now in charge of the situation and, once on the leash, he will expect you to be in command.
- Dogs communicate through body language but because dogs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, that communication can be extremely complicated. One example of this is the movement and posture of their tail. The meaning of this message alone can get complex simply by the differences in tails; some bushy, some short-haired, some docked, and even some with no tail. Knowing your dog and his specific signals is a must for his safety and others.
- Dogs also communicate with posture and movement of their ears. This is also tricky because some dogs have long, floppy ears that don’t move a lot, some dogs have small ears with tons of movement, and other dogs have such small cropped ears that they hardly move at all. Again, dogs are unique not only because of their differences in appearance but also because of their unique personalities. Knowing your dog’s communication signs and their personalities is a must to knowing what your dog is thinking and feeling at any given time.
- Another form of communication is the “dog play bow” which can indicate one dog is friendly and ready to play. Unfortunately, some short, large chested breeds, like dachshunds, can’t play bow. Again, the variety of dog breeds which result in a variety of sizes and shapes, can lead to miscommunication between dogs and between dogs and humans. If not monitored properly, this miscommunication can lead to inappropriate behavior and even fights. Always be vigilant while your dog is interacting with new dogs to see if they are willing to become friends, become enemies or just part ways.
- While at the dog park pay attention to your dog at all times. This is when it comes in handy if you can read your dogs unique communication style. Is he comfortable in his environment and with the other dogs? Are the other dogs comfortable with him? Constantly access the situation and be prepared to act if needed. Dogs are instinctual and can change their behavior and demeanor at a second’s notice. They are also instinctively pack animals and will go with the pack’s mentality which can be positive or negative, depending on the group of dogs and the situation. While under the pack mentality influence, your dog may not act or react the way they normally do. This would be a good time to remove him to another park of the park or make him take a break and interact with you until he is back to his normal behavioral patterns.
- Dogs are unique just like humans and part of their uniqueness is the ways they interact and play together. Some dogs like to play rough, and that’s okay. Some dogs wrestle, bark and growl and it can almost look scary! Other dogs prefer to play on their own or not be touched by other dogs. The most important thing to look for is the comfort level of your dog. If the play style seems to upset your dog, it may be time to take a break and go for a walk to steer him to another location in the park. If that doesn’t work, consider leaving the dog park for another day and returning your dog to the safely of his own home.
- Of course, while Fido is having a good time, this is your change to also open up to the other dog lovers around you and share information about your dog in exchange for information about theirs. It is especially appropriate if your dog likes to bark or roughhouse while playing. You can inform the owner of the other dog and ask if they and their dog are okay with this type of behavior. This gives both of you the opportunity to know more about your dogs and how they might react to the situation they are about to find themselves in.
- This is also a great opportunity to make “play dates” with other dogs that your dog gets along with. When dogs find a friend, they remember their scent and are always excited to see them again. Plus, you know already they play well together, so setting up a “play date” schedule with your pet’s new friend is well worth the time and effort.
Dog parks can be a very happy, fun and exciting place for your dog to visit. You don’t want to ruin that with a negative experience so that your dog starts to fear the dog park. Remember, you are responsible for your dog 100% of the time and especially while at a dog park facility. Know your dog and his signals and always keep your dog’s best interest at heart. At the end of the day all we really want is a happy, healthy and tired dog to go home with!