Dog Park Preparation and Etiquette

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 Dog Parka 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.Dog-dominates
    • 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.

Don’t Take:

  • 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

Do Take:

  • Bags for clean up, water, treats, leash, cell phone, something to break up fights (see below)

At the Dog Park:Dog-Chase

  • 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.

Addressing problems:

  • 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.Dog-Fight
    • 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.
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Cats and Punishment

Cats don’t do well with punishment, especially interactive social punishment. Swatting, thumping, grabbing and spanking are more likely to cause the pet to be fearful of you and, perhaps aggressive, than to learn your rules.

Mr-Darcy-photo-WAH

Yelling isn’t even a good idea. Cat’s often begin exhibiting avoidance behaviors after being yelled at a few times. For example, if you repeatedly yell at your cat for scratching furniture, it won’t be long before you notice that the pet is leaving the room whenever you enter.

Another downside to interactive social punishment is that smart cats quickly learn to be sneaky and only engage in the behavior when family members are not around.

Think positive
You really need to take a positive approach when it comes to shaping a cat’s behavior. If the pet scratches furniture, provide a scratching post and toss a treat to it every time it makes contact. If it gets on counters, provide climbing areas, perches and “kitty condos” for the pet to climb around on. Boxes and paper grocery bags also provide exploration areas to substitute for counter tops. Hide treats in those areas to encourage the pet to explore them.

If using distractions and rewarding desirable behavior doesn’t get the job done, then you may need to consider using something aversive to stop the behavior. But is is very important that you do this in a way so that the cat doesn’t associate anything he dislikes with you.

Stopping behaviors
Cat on furniture
A squirt from a water gun may be helpful to stop unwanted behavior but you should use it without saying anything or looking directly at the cat. If the he doesn’t realize the interruption is coming from you, you are less likely to bruise your relationship with him.

Scraminal - Motion-activated alarm to keep pets off furniture, counters, plants, etc.

Scraminal

There are also products available, like the “Scraminal”, that make a loud noise when a pet gets on a counter top, sofa or Christmas tree. The Scraminal is very effective, and applies a correction without anyone being near the pet. It is one of our more popular behavior products.

Doorknob alarm

Doorknob alarm

Door knob alarms which can be purchased at travel stores, electronic stores and home security stores can also be used to keep cats away from problem areas. They can be hung on trash cans, plants, drapes and pantry door handles.

Alarms should not be used with pets that are extremely sound sensitive or nervous. The volume can easily be reduced, though, by taping gauze over the front surface of the product where the sound comes out.

Still another way to keep a cat off the sofa is to take a section of vinyl carpet protector and turn it upside down so the knubs (which are normally are used to keep it from sliding around on the surface of the carpet) are facing up.

Environmental Enrichment for Cats – More than just providing a scratching post.

As cool as your house might be it can’t compare to the outdoors as a stimulating environment for kitties. Lizards to chase, mousies to eat, tom cat pee-mail to read, flower pots to dig up and more keep an active cat entertained for hours. Unfortunately, the outdoor world is also full of danger. Rude dogs, fast cars, sly foxes, cats with an attitude and swooping owls are all hazards. This makes the indoors the safest place to be. But unless your cat can operate the TV remote control, fire up the stove for a tasty lunch or surf the net, it can be a pretty boring place.

Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to make your home a fun place for your cat to spend time. First, make time for play. Cats love chasing strings, ribbons, feather toys and a variety of tossed objects. Fun for both of you and great for the relationship. And just because Fuzzy is a cat, don’t neglect obedience and trick training. With some patience, cats can be trained to do almost anything dogs can do, and sometimes better. Take that, Mr. Smarty Pants Rover.      Look for a future blog to learn how.

Young cats are usually good at entertaining themselves so providing lots of interesting toys will help keep them busy. Older cats are less inclined to play with toys.  If that is the case, look for toys that dispense small treats or catnip when the cat pushes them around. You can make a treat dispensing toy by simply cutting a few small holes in a plastic water bottle. Place a dozen or so tasty treats in side that will fall out though the holes when the pet pushes it around. Just be careful to watch the pet’s weight. Too many treats can have the opposite effect, turning a playful cat into a couch potato. Ping pong balls make inexpensive toys as do aluminum foil balls (a protruding feather or short piece of yarn will increase interest). For more ideas, Google ‘Homemade cat toys’ on the internet.

You can add vertical perching areas around a small apartment to increase its size. Place a towel or bedding on a shelf, counter top or dresser. A tall ‘kitty condo’ will also provide more area for the pet. Perches can be purchased that affix to a window frame to provide nice perching real estate with a view.  Some cats like to munch on greens. For these kids, you can make a little garden by planting wheat berries (live wheat seed available in health food stores) or catnip.

Scratching a normal part of most cats’ behavioral repertoires so be sure to provide a scratching post. You may need to try several different types to decide which your cat likes. Most cats like the carpet covered posts, while others like sisal or cardboard surfaces to scratch. You might even consider making a ‘natural’ post by securing a fireplace log upright. To make sure the pet uses it, be sure to toss a small treat to it each time it makes contact.

Occasionally have a kitty scavenger hunt. Hide ten small treats in various areas of a room. Place them in obvious places to start, then gradually move them to more out of the way places in the room during subsequent ‘hunts.’ Now the cat’s doing what outdoor cats do – spending time hunting for food.

Kitties are like kids. Keep them busy and they’ll be happy and stay out of trouble – well, at least they’ll get into less trouble.