Things to Remember When Using the Dog Park
Things to remember when using the park.
Take off the leash. What’s the point of going to the dog park if you’re going to put a leash on your dog? If you're not comfortable with your dog off-leash at the park because they are too fearful or too aroused or aggressive around other dogs, then take your dog for a leash walk at a neighborhood park, instead. No dog should be subjected to terror at the dog park by other dogs wanting to play. If you're thinking, "this is socialization,” you're wrong. It's only socialization for dogs who are comfortable in the park. Leashes interfere with the natural body language of the dog. Dogs can get tangled up in them. Dogs who become stressed by constant pulling against a leash can act in undesirable ways. Lastly, most parks require that your dog be off-leash.
Puppies younger than 4 months are not safe in a dog park. This is an impressionable age. Being there is not about whether your puppy is friendly. It’s about whether he/she will experience inappropriate play from other dogs, or worse, an aggressive attack from a dog whose owner doesn’t know they shouldn’t be there.
Dog parks are not for timid or fearful dogs. This is not how to help your timid or fearful dog. Dog parks are completely unpredictable. Flooding your timid dog with a social experience out of their comfort zone only proves to the dog that they are right about not trusting other dogs or other people. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Small dogs need special consideration. Try to find a dog park with a small dog section, or specific small-dog playtimes. It’s so easy for a little guy to get overwhelmed—not to mention bowled over—by larger dogs. If you feel you have to carry your dog to keep them safe, leave the dog park. Being elevated can either give a dog a false sense of control because of the elevated position and close human backup, or entice other dogs to jump up at the dog being held to get a closer sniff.
Stay only as long as your dog is having fun. Visits to the dog park need to be fluid. If your dog isn’t enjoying the experience, or other dogs are getting out of control, you need to leave, whether or not you’re ready to go. On the other hand, if your dog is having a spectacularly good time, you might want to stay a little longer.
Be vigilant. Keep your focus on your dog no matter how enjoyable your human companions are. Don’t allow yourself to be part of stationary human clumps, because that will result in too many dogs gathering in one place. It is the humans’ responsibility to keep the park a safe and fun experience.
Save treats (and toys) for later. There’s just too much potential for dogs to engage in guarding or stealing behavior that can lead to aggression and fights.
Walk Around. Dogs who are moving with you are less likely to get into tiffs. If you want to talk with people, do it while you’re walking.
Always pick up after your dog, and use friendly reminders for others to do the same. “Oh, your dog left you a surprise!” for example. Pick up the occasional extra pile, if needed.
Relax and enjoy the experience. If for some reason you can’t relax—if you’re too concerned about your dog’s behavior, then the dog park isn’t for you and this dog. Hire a behaviorist or behavior oriented dog trainer and ask for help and advice about how your dog interacts with others.
Leave if you start to feel concerned about anything going on. Help to resolve the situation if you can, but your first responsibility is to keep your dog safe.