A dog park can be a great place to take your dog for both exercise and socialization. It can also be a scary place for a new pup. It is important to properly prepare your dog before taking him or her to an off-leash dog park for the first time. The following are a list of ways to prepare your dog for the dog park, safety and etiquette while you are at the park, as well as a list of qualities that make a dog suitable or not suitable for dog parks.
Ways to Prepare Your Dog for the Dog Park:
Know your Dog
- Understand how dogs communicate through body language. You need to have a good understanding of how your dog and other dogs signal that they are happy, playful, stressed, fearful or angry.
- Know what types of dogs your dog gets along with, is happy around or stressed around. If you have a small dog they may be fearful of larger dogs so be aware of this and avoid parks that do not have a separate small dog area.
- Know if your dog is stressful around a group of dogs.
- Know how your dog reacts around people touching him. At the dog park there may be lots of people trying to pat your dog and if he doesn’t like it or needs time to build up people’s trust before they can touch him then you need to be aware of this and be ready to tell people not to pat your dog or you should avoid the dog park as to not have a stressful situation occur.
- Be aware if your dog has any fears of specific types of people.
- Not all dogs like socializing with other dogs. It is important that your dog is friendly and likes socializing with other dogs if they are going to the dog park.
Make sure your dog has a valid city license and ID tag
- Your dog must wear a city license on his or her collar as per city regulations.
- City employees often check parks to make sure all dogs have a valid license.
- This is also useful for identification and return home if your dog runs away or is lost.
Make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations
- For new puppies they must be finished their full course of puppy vaccinations before attending a dog park.
- For any other dog make sure he or she is up to date on all vaccinations as recommended by your vet.
- If your dog is very young, recently ill or malnourished be sure to consult a vet prior to going to the dog park even after vaccinations as they may need to build an immunity.
- Your dog should be on flea medications.
Make sure you train your dog on basic obedience or seek help from a trainer
- Your dog should know and follow at least basic cues of sit, down, stay, come, off and leave it.
- Knowing basic obedience is important when a dog is off-leash so you are able to call them away from any dangerous or stressful situations.
- Do not go to a dog park unless you are confident you have control over your dog’s behaviours.
Socialize your dog with other dogs and humans
- If your dog is a new puppy and not socialized yet with other humans don’t make your dog park visit his or her first experience. Plan visits with people you know of both sexes, different sizes, different races, people in specific clothing, with certain objects such as umbrellas so that they are comfortable around anyone who may be in the park.
- Do not make the dog park your dog’s first interaction with other dogs either. Plan play dates with other dogs or sign your dog up for puppy socialization classes which are also great for teaching your dog proper play behaviour.
Know what appropriate and inappropriate play styles look like
- You need to know what appropriate and inappropriate play looks like so that if your dog is playing inappropriately or if another dog is playing inappropriately with your dog you can stop play.
- Proper play styles include: lateral movements, giving plenty of space, no body slamming, no biting of the neck or back of legs.
- Improper play styles include: dog always on top, humping, space invader, antagonizing of another dog, pinning, multiple dogs picking on one dog, excessive neck biting
- Signals that may result in a fight: nose to nose sniffing longer than 2 seconds, circling, mounting, multiple dogs approaching one dog.
Learn what to do incase of a fight
- Be aware of signs of stress and aggression in dogs.
- Know how to avoid a fight.
- Know what to do when a fight occurs.
- If a fight occurs: yell “hey” at the top of your lungs, clap your hands, throw water on the dogs, pull out the back legs of the instigator dog if the dogs do not stop fighting.
- DO NOT throw your hands in and grab a collar.
Get your dog used to other dogs in the neighbourhood
- Walk your dog regularly around the neighbourhood to meet other dogs. Take note of how he or she reacts to different breeds, sizes or sex of dogs. This will give you an idea of what types of dogs your dog is comfortable around or fearful around. This will be helpful so that when you see the dogs your dog may be fearful around at the dog park you may want to avoid the park until you know that your dog is comfortable around them.
Do a walk by the park so your dog is familiar with the surroundings
- Take your dog on leash to the park and walk the perimeter or along the fence so they can sniff and meet dogs but still be on a leash with you incase there is any fear or hesitation.
Start your dog out at the park slowly
- Go to the park for the first time on a quiet day when there is only a few dogs that are relatively your dog’s size and a breed you know he or she is normally comfortable around.
- Avoid evenings and weekends at first as they tend to be busier
- Start in the small dog area if available and your dog is small. If there is no separate small dog area in the park and there is only large dogs when you go, you may want to come back another time
Choose the parks you decide to go to wisely
- Look for parks with a small dog / big dog separator if needed.
- If you are not 100% confident in your dog’s training choose a park with a fence.
- Look for parks with a separate entrance and exit and do not have 90 degree angles so your dog cannot be cornered by another dog.
- Avoid parks next to busy roads unless your dog knows to stay away.
- Look for parks with shaded areas, water and space to run around.
- Make sure the park is well lit if you plan to go at night.
Observe the dogs before entering
- Observe the dogs that are at the park before you go, if the dogs appear to be too aggressive come back another time
- Look for dogs that are around your dog’s size. If they are all larger and dominant come back another time.
Keep visits short in the beginning
- Start with a short visit maximum 20 minutes and build up the time spent each time in the park based on your dog’s comfort level.
Exercise your dog prior to going to the dog park
- If you walk your dog prior to the park they will burn off some energy and will be less excited when they get to the park.
- An excited dog may elicit attention and aggression of other dogs who may not like overly excited younger dogs and this may lead to a fight
Etiquette and Safety When at the Dog Park
Now that your dog is ready to try out the dog park it is important to know what to keep in mind and look out for when you are there.
Keep an eye on your own dog at all times
- You must keep a watch on your dog and know where he or she is at all times. You want to make sure he or she is playing appropriately.
- You want to watch out for any signs of stressful or dangerous situations.
- Make sure your dog isn’t eating anything like leftover pieces of toys, other dogs’ feces, drinking puddle water or anything else that may be on the ground.
- Be aware of signs that your dog has had enough and is ready to go.
Pick up after your dog
- Always watch out for when your dog eliminates and pick it up immediately.
Avoid fights and stressful situations
- If you see any signs that a fight may occur call your dog away immediately.
- If your dog shows signs of fear you should take him or her out of the situation in the chance he or she may have a negative experience.
Practise the “come” cue several times in the park
- Call your dog to “come” to you at the dog park and reward with treats multiple times during play so that when you actually leave he or she does not associate being called to “come” as a negative thing out of punishment for being bad and therefore having to leave the park. When you do call your dog to leave the park make sure you reward him or her for coming with treats as well.
- Practising “come” is also important so that you are confident that if you do need to call your dog away from a stressful or dangerous situation that he or she will “come” on cue.
Keep toys at home
- If you know your dog has a possessive tendency towards toys do not bring them with you to the park as that will potentially cause a fight with another dog.
- You should also avoid the park if other dogs are playing with a ball or other toy if you know your dog is also possessive of other dogs’ toys as well.
Keep an eye on your dog’s water intake
- Make sure you bring water with you if the park does not have a water station available.
- Offer your dog water regularly during your time at the park.
- Dogs read their owner’s emotions. If you are anxious when a group of dogs come up to sniff your puppy for the first time at the park, your dog will also become nervous. It is normal for a group of dogs at the park to want to welcome and sniff out a new dog at the park. Do not overreact and stress out before there is anything to stress over.
Let other dog owners know your dog is new to the dog park
- If other owners know your dog is new to the park they will likely keep a better eye out on their dogs and make sure they play nicely with yours.
Dog Park Suitability
Even though you may think your dog will enjoy the dog park and want to take him or her there, not all dogs are suitable for the dog park. Outlined below are qualities of dogs that do well and enjoy dog parks as well as a list of dogs who should avoid the dog park.
Dogs Who Enjoy the Dog Park:
- Dogs who are confident
- Dogs who are energetic
- Dogs who are playful and friendly
- Dogs who play nicely with other dogs
Dogs Who Should Avoid the Dog Park:
- Female dogs in heat
- Any unaltered dogs over the age of 6 months (it may start a fight between intact and neutered males especially if a female in heat is around)
- Aggressive dogs
- Sick dogs
- Reactive dogs or fearful dogs
- Unvaccinated dogs
- Young puppies
- Senior dogs