Dog parks can be a lot of fun for many dogs but there are some rules of the road that everyone should follow to make it a pleasurable experience for all.
First and most importantly, not all dogs enjoy dog parks. Dogs don't and shouldn’t be expected to love every dog they meet. I don’t like every person I meet and as I age, I seem to like my dogs more and people even less! As dogs age, younger dogs offering poor behaviors like jumping, humping and mouthing, becomes less fun and more annoying. Sometimes if your dog has an old injury or arthritis, they can even cause pain. No dog should be forced to be uncomfortable or in pain, so if your dog isn't enjoying the dog park anymore, don't force it on them. Some dogs would much prefer a long sniff in a freshly cut corn field, or exploring a city park with you- their best friend. There are training classes and other ways to enrich your dog's life without the unruly dog park if your dog doesn't enjoy themselves.
Next important dog park rule is to get your dog healthy and if they're not, don't take them to a dog park. Rabies, Distemper/Parvo and Bordetella are all important to protect your dog. If your puppy is too young for vaccines, you should also assume they are too young for a dog park. Wait until they are fully vaccinated at 4-5 months old before visiting the dog park. If you want your puppy to interact with other dogs, select a puppy or training class that is held in a facility with good cleaning protocols instead. Internal parasites, giardia, fleas, ticks, and leptospirosis are all frequently found in dog parks, make sure your veterinarian knows you visit dog parks as they may have additional recommendations for your pup to keep them protected.
Next make sure to read the rules of that particular park. Most do not allow puppies, but do require city/county/state dog licenses, and may or may not allow intact animals. Knowing the rules is the first step to making sure you are following them.
Dog behavior in a dog park can vary from scared and hiding to absolutely crazy. It is your job as the parent to look out for and manage your dog's behavior. Make sure to have your dog's leash with you at all times. You are responsible for your dog's behavior at the park so if they are humping another dog, or playing too rough with a puppy, start heading their way to intervene. If you need help intervening, hopefully the other pet parent has also arrived.
Pro Tip: If you see two dogs playing and its vocal and leaves you wondering if it's good play or bullying, pause the play by holding on to the offending/bullying dog for 15 seconds, if the defending/bullied dog comes back and re-engages in play with the confined dog then it is ok to allow play to resume. If the defending dog walks away to do something else then they were not enjoying that play. Take the offending dog away and give them a little one on one play away from the defending dog. If they continue to re-engage despite attempts to separate, it may be time for one or both of the dogs to leave the park for the day as inappropriate play can escalate to a dog fight.
Dog fights are rare in a dog park as most dogs would prefer to deescalate tension rather than fight, but there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of being involved in an altercation.
- Don’t hang out near the entrance. When dogs first enter the park, they are sometimes aroused to the point of bad behavior. Don’t let your dog interact with a new dog until they have settled into the park. When leaving, select a time to approach the gate when it's calm and no new dogs are approaching.
- Leave the toys at home. Some dogs will guard toys or even attack if they want something another dog has. If you have a ball focused dog and want to play fetch, only bring out the ball when there aren’t many other dogs around. Other locations that might work well for playing fetch would be an open field outside of town, or a sniff spot (https://www.sniffspot.com/)
- Know when your pet is tired! Keeping them at the park too long will make them overtired. Anyone who has ever met or lived with a toddler can confirm that being overtired results in bad behavior!
- If a fight breaks out and your dog isn’t involved, leash them up immediately and head towards the exit. More dogs in the area will escalate tensions and your definitely don’t want your dogs involved.
- If your dog is involved in a fight, loud noises, water from hoses and a physical barrier such as a fence or chair are the best tools to separate them. Once separated, immediately remove both dogs from the park. No dog involved in a fight should stay in the park, even if they seem calm again. Check all dogs over for wounds. Even when the wounds seem minimal, owners should exchange contact information including the veterinarian where their pet was vaccinated for rabies. Depending on the area and city laws, animal control may need to be contacted and a report filed. Dog bite punctures can look small but can be very expansive under the skin so a veterinarian should check over any bite wounds that broke the skin.
- Finally, if your dog hasn’t gotten along with a certain dog in the past, don’t assume today will be any different. Protect your dog and leave the park if necessary or come another day. You are your dog's protector and best friend. Don’t take that job lightly and make good decisions for them! The easiest fight to break up is one that never happens!
Dog parks can be a great community resource and many dogs enjoy them. We are all responsible for keeping them clean and ready for use. Make sure to pick up after your pet when they defecate- and if you’re feeling extra kind, pick up an extra pile! Leave the park better than you found it.
First Published by Beatrice Daily Sun: https://beatricedailysun.com/news/opinion/dog-park-etiquette/article_b18d2bdc-ff36-5a04-8d3a-4f8fc80896c0.html