Dogs have been selectively bred over thousand of years for high energy work, such as hunting, guarding, hauling, tracking, controlling pests and other activities. These jobs require intelligence, large amounts of energy and varying degrees of social interaction. Unfortunately, many modern dogs lack a satisfying way to engage in activities for which they have been bred. Inactive dogs can become fat. Bored dogs become problem dogs. Idle paws are certainly the “Devil’s workshop.” Providing physical exercise and mental stimulation is not only healthy for pets, it can also keep them out of trouble. Families living in urban environments may have limited options for satisfying a young dog’s needs. Dog parks provide a way to exercise mind and body, as well as social interaction. They can also be a lot of fun for their human friends. But dog parks are not for every dog or all family members. Dogs that are fearful, frail, tiny, aggressive or who play too rough are not good candidates. I’ve outlined below some important issues and tips you should take into consideration before taking your dog to a dog park.
Before you consider taking your dog to a dog park:
- Realize that there is always some risk in allowing your dog to interact with unfamiliar dogs, such as infections, injuries, worms and fleas
- Decide if your dog a “Dog Park Dog”
- Dogs that are aggressive are not suitable to visit dog parks.
- Is he a bully at play? Watch your dog interact with other dogs to determine his sociability. Does his play make other dogs anxious or elicit defensive aggression? Does he back off when the other dog is giving submissive or fear signals?
- Is he unruly and likely to jump all over people?
- Is he in good health?
- Is his age appropriate? Dog parks are not the place for young pups or frail older dogs.
- Is he big enough? Small dogs should only be taken to parks designated for small dogs.
Preparing your dog:
- Socialize your pet to other dogs frequently, especially during the first four months of life.
- Teach your dog to ‘Come’, ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave it’ on command.
- Be sure all vaccinations are up to date, a flea preventive has been applied and he has been tested for intestinal worms. Frequent visits to dog parks warrant more frequent fecal exams for intestinal parasites.
- Observe your dog’s behavior around unfamiliar dogs to get an idea if he is a candidate for a dog park visit. (See below)
- Understand dog body language. Read a good book or internet article that describes how to interpret facial expressions, body postures and social behavior of dogs. You want to be able to recognize signs of play, fear, stress and overt, as well as subtle, signals of aggression.
Choose a dog park that has:
- Enough area for the pets to run about without being too congested.
- Secure fences and double gates. Clean, safe environment.
- Separate areas for large and small dogs.
- Sheltered areas and water for drinking.
- Posted rules.
- Young children or babies in strollers
- Highly valuable toys
- A small dog to a park with large dogs running loose. Small dogs can trigger predatory behavior from other dogs in some situations.
- A dog that has not been fully vaccinated
- A dog to the park to treat aggression to other dogs or fear of other dogs
- Bags for clean up, water, treats, leash, cell phone, something to break up fights (see below)
At the Dog Park:
- Before entering, watch the behavior of other dogs in the park. Avoid entering if any dogs are showing behaviors suggesting aggression or inappropriate play behavior.
- Observe the behavior of owners. Are they supervising?
- If possible, wait until no dogs are near the gates before entering.
- Take the leash off your dog before allowing him to enter through the second gate into the park. A leashed dog may lunge excitedly, sending a message that he could be challenging nearby dogs. Keeping him on a leash might also make your dog feel vulnerable and the need to defend himself since he can’t escape a barrage of rushing dogs.
- Leave the gate area quickly so the pet is not rushed by a gang of dogs.
- Don’t forget about your dog. Pay attention to him, the other dogs and the other dog owners (Are they paying attention to their dogs, yelling at dogs or each other?). Be vigilant for potential problems. Keep your dog safe.
- Be careful about giving treats or playing with toys near other dogs.
- If a group of dogs seems to be getting too excited, call your dog to another area of the park.
- If your dog becomes aggressive, plays too rough or is overwhelmed by more assertive dogs, remove him from the area or the park.
- If another dog is aggressive to dogs in the park, the owner and the pet should be asked to leave. If the dog appears dangerous and the owner will not remove it, remove your dog and call animal control.
- An occasional light growl can be an appropriate way of telling another dog it is too close or playing too rough. If the behavior appears to be mild and appropriate for the situation, don’t yell or scold as this can create more tension. Use an upbeat recall, “Come”, to call your pet out of the situation.
- If a fight breaks out:
- Stay calm. Fights often end up being less serious than they seem.
- Yelling and screaming often make the situation worse
- Grabbing a dog by the collar should be avoided, since you’re likely to be bitten. Dog bites are serious and can result in a deep puncture, laceration or the loss of a finger.
- Spray Shield™ is a safe effective product that will break up most fights. It is a small canister containing citronella (non-toxic, non-irritating, exceptionally safe) under pressure. Triggering the product releases a strong stream. The effect is similar to tossing a small bucket of cold water in the dog’s face. A compressed air horn will also occasionally work to interrupt a fight, as may a water hose.
- There can be some very serious danger in physically pulling the dogs apart. If you are willing to accept the danger, then:
- Both pet owners should approach their dogs from the rear to separate the dogs at the same time.
- From behind, grab the front of the upper thighs where they connect to the body (Grabbing the lower legs can cause an injury.
- Lift the rear legs off the ground and pull the dogs away from each other.
- Turn your dog, put his leash on and move away from the situation.